Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/520

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specialized and which sometimes require two letters, like ee or oo, to represent a single sound, and in other cases express a diphthong or double sound, such as a-i, by the single letter i.

In general very few students of American languages employ precisely the same set of modifications of the Roman alphabet, for the reason that the great majority of them are working with different languages, whose sounds are unlike, so that precisely the same set of diacritical marks would be inappropriate and even inaccurate. The foundation of the system is, however, universally accepted, and may be roughly described as consisting of the vowel characters with their continental values, the consonantal characters with their English values, plus diacritical and typographical modifications to meet particular requirements.

Number of Words

There has been particularly great misapprehension as to what may be called the extent or size of Indian languages—the range of their vocabulary. This is not surprising in view of the fact that similar misstatements are still current as to the number of words actually used by single individuals of civilized communities. It is true that no one, not even the most learned and prolific writer, uses all the words of the English language as they are found in an unabridged dictionary. All of us understand a great many words which we habitually encounter in reading and may even hear frequently spoken, but of which our speech faculties for some reason have not made us master. In short, every language, being the property and product of a community, possesses more words than can ever be used by a single individual, the sum total of whose ideas is necessarily much less than those of the whole body. Added to this are a certain mental sluggishness which restricts most of us to a greater or less degree, and the force of habit. Having spoken a certain word a number of times, our brain becomes accustomed to it and we are apt to employ it to the exclusion of its synonyms.

The degree to which all this affects the speech of the normal man has, however, been greatly exaggerated. Because there are, all told, including technical terms, a hundred thousand or more words given in our dictionaries, and because Shakespeare in all his writings used only fifteen thousand different words, and Milton only six thousand, it has been concluded that the average man, whose range of thought and power of expression is immeasurably below that of Shakespeare and Milton, must use an enormously smaller vocabulary. It has been stated that the average English peasant goes through life without ever using more than six or seven hundred words, that the vocabulary of Italian grand opera is only about three hundred words, and that most of us do well if we know a couple of thousand words. If such were the case it would only be natural that the uncivilized Indian, whose life is so