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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/435

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THE INADEQUACY OF SPEECH

Europe. This is the usual assumption, but it must always remain a hypothesis like so many other explanations of prehistoric phenomena. That English resembles the Scandinavian languages more than it does the German will not surprise any one who takes account of the early history of Great Britain. But who will tell us what brought about the transformation of the prepositive article, as we find it in English and German into a suffix which is its normal position in the Danish-Norwegian and Swedish, a transposition that seems to have taken place less than a millennium ago?

It is probable then that the same psychic cause led to the formation of dialects that in remoter ages produced separate languages. We know that the primitive Germans were a migratory people. At one time and another they are heard from in almost every part of Europe except Russia, because their movements were always southward or westward. When they were constrained to adopt a more fixed mode of life, there was but little intercourse between the different tribes; the divergences of speech, therefore, that had doubtless already begun to manifest themselves, became more and more marked until the introduction of letters among them virtually put an end to the disintegration. We find a similar phenomenon in South Africa. That continent from the equator to the Cape is occupied by the Bantus, except a few enclaves, whose dialects have a clearly marked relationship. No philologist ventures to affirm where the starting-point is to be found, although the general movement seems to have been from north to south. It is remarkable with what tenacity the natives of any particular district cling to the vernacular which they have received by inheritance. The student of the oldest German is constantly surprised by many words, and especially by a pronunciation still in use in southwest Germany, a region in which the language was first reduced to writing, that have undergone but little change in six or seven centuries. We find the same thing in other countries and in England. The unlettered still use words that are only found in the dialect dictionaries; and, as these are a modern innovation, they must have been transmitted orally through many generations. It is more than probable that of the words in common use to-day not a few are pronounced as they were in Shakespeare's time, or even in Chaucer's. There is a considerable number in the former writer with which he evidently makes puns and rhymes, but which lose their point if we give to them the pronunciation now assigned to them by our dictionaries. Evidently beat and bait were pronounced alike; so were louse and luce, Moor and more, wode and wood, and so on. I remember hearing in my youth in Pennsylvania some of my father's neighbors say "yarbs" for herbs, "coo" for cow, but by a singular perversity "cowcumber" for cucumber, "af eard," "pore" (poor), "sturk," together with several other archaisms. As the people who talked in this way were very