were in a position to prove that all known forms of speech could be classified into a single linguistic stock, the apparent parallel above referred to between linguistic and biological reconstruction would be a genuine one. As it is, we must content ourselves with operating with distinct and, as far as we can tell, genetically unrelated linguistic stocks. The documentary evidence and the reconstructive evidence gained by comparison enable us to reduce the bewildering mass of known languages to a far smaller number of such larger stock groups, yet the absolute number of these latter groups still remains disquietingly large. The distribution of linguistic stocks presents great irregularities. In Europe there are only three such represented: the Indogermanic or Aryan, which embraces nearly all the better known languages of the continent; the Ural-Altaic, the best known representatives of which are Finnish, Hungarian and Turkish; and the Basque of southwestern France and northern Spain. On the other hand, that part of aboriginal North America which lies north of Mexico alone embraces fifty or more distinct linguistic stocks. Some stocks, as, for instance, the Indogermanic just referred to and the Algonkin of North America, are spread over vast areas and include many peoples or tribes of varying cultures; others, such as the Basque and many of the aboriginal stocks of California, occupy surprisingly small territories. It is possible to adopt one of two attitudes towards this phenomenon of the multiplicity of the largest known genetic speech aggregates. On the one hand one may assume that the disintegrating effects of gradual linguistic change have in many cases produced such widely differing forms of speech as to make their comparison for reconstructive purposes of no avail, in other words, that what appear to us to-day to be independent linguistic stocks appear such not because they are in fact historically unrelated, but merely because the evidence of such historical connection has been so obscured by time as to be practically lost. On the other hand, one may prefer to see in the existence of mutually independent linguistic stocks evidence of the independent beginnings and development of human speech at different times and places in the course of the remote history of mankind; there is every reason to believe that in a similar manner many religious concepts and other forms of human thought and activity found widely distributed in time and place have had multiple origins, yet more or less parallel developments. It is naturally fruitless to attempt to decide between the monogenetic and polygenetic standpoints here briefly outlined. All that a conservative student will care to do is to shrug his shoulders and to say, "Thus far we can go and no further." It should be said, however, that more intensive study of linguistic data is from time to time connecting stocks that had hitherto been looked upon as unrelated. Yet it can hardly be expected that serious research will ever succeed in reducing the present Babel to a pristine unity.
Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/53
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