Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/518

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

residence to a new home. Here again, as in all the historical conclusions which it is possible to draw from linguistic conditions in America, we are dealing with periods measurable at least by thousands of years; and yet in all this long lapse of time the Athabascan dialects have changed but slightly and superficially.

The Eskimo

The Eskimo have often been proclaimed as an Asiatic people. While confined to the shores of Arctic America, their east and west range is tremendous. If one follows the coast, as they must have done in their migrations, the distance between their eastern and western outposts in Greenland and Alaska is at least 5,000 miles. Yet over this whole stretch the language is so uniform that any one dialect is almost entirely intelligible to the people of regions thousands of miles away. The only divergent language belonging to the Eskimo stock is that of the Aleutian Islands. Where the Eskimo came from is still a moot problem, but as there is nothing in Asia to which their language bears any relationship, their Asiatic origin must at best be viewed as doubtful.

How the Languages Sound

Many popular misconceptions are still prevalent as to the nature of Indian languages. It is commonly supposed that they are characterized by strange and harsh sounds such as "clicks" and "gutturals." On examination the so-called clicks turn out to be nothing but a form of l produced more with one side of the tongue than the other and sounding nearly like tl or hi. This sound is perfectly well known in Welsh and in many other languages of the old world. The guttural sounds also are generally not abnormal, and often less conspicuous than in Hebrew and Asiatic languages. As a rule we may state that no native American language possesses any sound formations that can not be exactly paralleled and duplicated in one or more languages of the old world. What is more, it need hardly be said that among a thousand or more languages and dialects there is opportunity for every range of variation, and any attempt to characterize the phonetics of all Indian languages by one term or by a single description must necessarily be fallacious. As a matter of fact there are many forms of native speech that are exceedingly smooth, harmonious and pleasing even to English ears. On the whole the American Indian finds English as full of strange sounds and difficult sound-combinations as we think the Indian languages to be when first we hear them.

Writing of Indian

No American language was written in a native alphabet. So far as the Indians possessed a means of visible communication, it was by pic-