Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/512

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France as the every-day language of the people in the isolated province of Brittany—a sort of philological fossil. It has withstood the influence of 2,000 years of contact, first with Latin, then with Frankish German, at last with French. In the same way, its Welsh sister tongue flourishes in spite of the Anglo-Saxon speech of the remainder of Great Britain. The original inhabitants of Spain were mostly of non-Aryan stock. Celtic, Roman and Gothic invasions have successively swept over them and finally left the language of the country Romance; but the original speech also survives the vicissitudes of thousands of years and is still spoken in the western Pyrenees as Basque. Ancient Egypt was conquered by the Shepherd, the Assyrian, the Persian, the Macedonian and the Roman, but whatever the official speech of the ruling class, the people continued to speak Egyptian. Finally, the Arab came and brought with him a new religion, which entailed the use of the Arabic language. Egypt has finally become Arabic-speaking, but until barely a century ago the Coptic language, the daughter of the ancient Egyptian tongue of 5,000 years ago, was kept alive by the native Christians along the Nile; and even to-day it survives in literature. While nations, like individuals, can learn and unlearn languages, as a rule they do so only with the utmost reluctance and with infinite slowness. Speech tends to be one of the most persistent and permanent ethnic characters.

Indian Linguistic Families

The seemingly endless Indian idioms are by classification reducible to about 150 groups or families, almost equally divided between North and South America. The first problem of American ethnology, after determining and mapping these families, is to deduce the probable migrations of peoples that can be inferred and the connection which existed between different tribes. The second task is to carry out similar inquiries within the bounds of each group or family, and in this way to ascertain the minor or more recent affiliations and movements.

The number of languages is large; the aboriginal population was relatively sparse; the necessary consequence is an unusually small number of people per distinct language. In California, where the linguistic diversity reached its height, there were spoken about 135 idioms belonging to 21 families. The total Indian population was 150,000 or a little less—an average for each dialect of almost exactly 1,000 souls, and only 7,000 for each linguistic family. There is something incongruous in comparing the tongue of a paltry 7,000 uncivilized people with, for instance, the whole group of Aryan languages that are the birthright of hundreds of millions of people of the most important nations. Yet to the ethnologist such comparisons are a necessity, for each group of related languages, whether extending only over a little valley, or spreading from continent to continent, is an ultimate unit in itself, which