Popular Science Monthly/Volume 76/April 1910/The Growth of a Language




WE now and then come across the statement that Shakespeare uses about fifteen thousand words and that he is the most copious writer in the English language in the matter of vocabulary. It is not difficult to count the number of words in an author after they have been registered in a concordance, but the statement as to Shakespeare's copiousness is misleading if not positively erroneous. It is safe to affirm that Sir Walter Scott employs more words since he has written upon a larger number of subjects. The same statement may also be made of Mr. Gladstone and of others. Besides, the mere number of different words used by an author is no test of his mental capacity, since the same word may have several different meanings and he have occasion to employ it in but one or two. "A bad case," for example, means one thing to a lawyer, another to a physician, still another to the moralist, while "case" unqualified has several more significations according to the context. It is easy to select one thousand words in any large dictionary that have five thousand different meanings. The radical sense of a word is a sort of stem from which all kinds of derivations shoot forth, or upon which they are grafted. Some of these, when used in certain cases or in a figurative sense, have only a remote relation to the original. "Case" in grammar is a good illustration. The Oxford dictionary, as far as completed, embraces, in round numbers 211,000 words. Of this number 130,000 are main words; 34,000 are subordinate words; 25,000 represent special combinations; 21,000 obvious combinations. About one fourth of the entire list is obsolete. Nearly two thousand years ago the poet Horace had noted the tendency of words to drop out of use and of others to come into favor.

Yes, words long faded may again revive,
And words may fade, now blooming and alive.
If usage wills it so, to whom belongs
The rule, the law, the government of tongues.

The vagaries of usage are past finding out. It is easy to see that when a thing passes out of use the name by which it was known is forgotten except by special students of the past. Headers of medieval history meet with many such. On the other hand, certain forms of words are discarded, current expressions become obsolete, while others ara substituted because they embody a new thought and can not be dispensed with. For the former no reason can be given. For example, "afeard" is a more logical form than "afraid" because of its evident connection with fear, but it is no longer considered fit company for refined society. The history of "astun," "astony," "stun," "astonish," affords another instructive example. "Climbed" and "heated" have taken the place of "clomb" and "het," although they are longer and more expressive. Generally speaking those words that are the most used are the most irregular. Our verb of existence—am, was, been—is made up of three different stems. Our grammatical auxiliaries are very defective; the missing parts have to be supplied in various ways. We say "I must" for the present, but we can not say "I musted" for the preterit, nor is there such a verb in English as "to must" although it is found in the Anglo-Saxon. "Might" is usually classed as the preterit of "may," but in many of its uses it is not. In all the languages of the Aryan stock, and in their descendants, we find the same lack of parts and the same alien substitutions. The changes that have taken place within the historic period are just as difficult, in fact just as impossible, to account for as the earlier ones. If languages were constructed according to any system, or even according to the most elementary principles of common sense, they would differ widely from their present status. It may be said in passing that some of the languages of the Turanian stock, notably the Turkish, are to a considerable extent symmetrically built. It used to be said that many words have been modified in obedience to the general law that tends to ease of utterance; but this explanation is no longer accepted. If such a law was ever operative an inexplicable break in the continuity of the human psyche must have taken place at some remote period in the past. Such a break would be at variance with the wellestablished course of development. It seems probable that human speech originated at three or more points on the surface of the earth. As long as these primitive tongues were left to develop according to their innate laws the process was consistent, if not logical. But when two or more of these original stocks came into conflict, each party trying in its clumsy way to acquire the speech of the other, confusion set in. If ten crassly illiterate Frenchmen and ten equally illiterate Hungarians were placed together where they would be compelled to communicate with each other we may be sure that in two or three generations a language would be produced differing widely from either parent. We have practical examples in the mixture of Norman French and AngloSaxon, of Iberian with Latin, and elsewhere, although these instances are not precisely such as I have supposed above.

As the Oxford dictionary is about four sevenths completed, the entire work will include more than 350,000 words. It is claimed by the publishers of the Standard Dictionary that the latest edition contains 317,000 words. How many of these are obsolete or obsolescent can not be determined because it is impossible to draw a hard and fast line. Every successive work of this kind is larger than its predecessor, and the growth is very rapid. This is true not only of English, but of every living tongue, since all are in the process of accretion. And yet no English dictionary claims to include all the vocables that belong to the language, or at least are English. For the outlaws we have special vocabularies of localisms, dialect and vulgar terms, and so forth, which by themselves fill a number of large volumes.

We have an illuminating demonstration of the process by which word-lists grow in the case of certain compounds. In the eleventh English and the first American edition of Johnson the number of compounds with the prefix poly-is twenty-six; in the Century there are more than 550. Johnson gives no compounds with psycho-; the Century furnishes several columns. Lexicographers who aim at completeness can not exclude such compounds, yet many of them can not be classed as strictly a part of our language. With only a slight variation they may be found in the lexicons of every civilized tongue. They form a sort of international code. They are easily understood by every one who knows a little Greek and Latin, the former furnishing by far the largest contingent.

In this connection we are almost involuntarily led to ask the question, How many words does an ordinary man use? How many can he comprehend which he would not venture to use? How many words is the strongest memory capable of retaining? To the first question we have on record several answers. The late Max Müller in one of his lectures reports the testimony of an English clergyman to the effect that some of the agricultural laborers of his parish employed less than a thousand. A recent authority on the Gipsies declares that some of these people living in the villages of Sivas, in Asia Minor, although speaking a language that is clearly related to the Indie branch of the Aryan, do not have in their entire vocabulary more than six hundred words. Testimony of this kind should be received with distrust, although its falsity can not be proved. Some of the statements about the vocabulary of children before the age of five have been shown to be far too low. A person of fair natural ability, but of limited education, can comprehend a long list of vocables which he would not venture to use. There is no doubt that the popular audiences to whom Cicero addressed his Catilinarian orations followed him understandingly and with a fair degree of appreciation, although they were utter strangers to the beauty of his diction. Most persons understand preaching and popular lectures, even when the exact signification of many of the terms used by the speaker is not clear. The general run of the discourse has always a great deal of influence on the meaning of the separate words used by the speaker or writer.

Languages in which a written literature is not much developed, and a people among whom the art of writing is not much in vogue, take the factor of personal presence into account. Men who are familiar with the Turkish have noted a marked difference between its colloquial and its written form. It makes conversational sentences concise to the verge of obscurity, because in case of doubt the speaker can be asked to explain, whereas in writing it almost rejects the use of pronouns of the third person and employs a style like that of legal documents, full of repetitions of nouns coupled with "the said," "the afore mentioned," and so on. Discourses spoken, not read, to popular audiences are usually prolix. Every thought is elaborated; the same idea is presented in a number of different guises, as we may note in preaching, in political harangues, and especially in pleas before juries. How much the personal equation has to do with comprehension is easily realized if we read a drama, or even a monologue, and afterward hear the same from the lips of a competent actor or elocutionist. It is almost like a restoration of the dead to life. The ancient Greeks fully grasped the importance of the spoken word as compared with the dead letter of the written page. Homer's characters talk a great deal. Herodotus brings many of his men and women on the stage and lets them tell their own story. When Thucydides wishes to put before his readers the motives that inspire the different parties in their conflicts with each other he selects a representative of each, and brings him forward that he may present his side of the case in his own person. Plato traverses the whole domain of philosophy; but in order to relieve his doctrines as far as possible of their abstruse character he places before his readers a number of interlocutors in order to give them a lifelike setting. Few persons, when reading a novel, stop to think that the conversations so often reported to have taken place between two persons in strict privacy, or even soliloquies, are absurdly impossible.

The morphology and syntax of the Greek are so varied; their proper management requires such a high degree of grammatical and rhetorical skill; the precise meaning of a passage so often depends upon the nice choice and exact position of a particle; the tone of voice and stress with which it is uttered, that we can readily understand the aversion of those to whom it was native to the cold and lifeless word, even though we can not fully enter into the minutiæ of the causes which prompted the feeling. We have no means of knowing how many words with their definitions the human memory is capable of retaining.

There is, of course, a limit in practise; hardly in theory. The problem is closely related to that of the acquisition of foreign languages. There is not much difference between the ability to read several foreign languages and the ability to define the same number of words in one's own. Although the number of words in the largest English dictionaries seems greatly to exceed that in the standard Greek and Latin lexicons, the difference is apparent rather than real. English dictionaries give every form in which a word may occur, slight variations only being excepted. The so-called irregular verbs fill only a few pages in the English grammars; yet they are usually recorded in the dictionaries. The irregularities of Greek and Latin verbs can, for the most part, not be found in the lexicons, and when recorded separately, make a large book. The latest edition of Stephanus's Greek lexicon fills nine volumes folio and more than ten thousand-pages, while the definitive Latin lexicon now in course of publication will be as large as the Oxford dictionary. Languages grow by incretion as well as by accretion. A new invention or a new discovery may be named by using current words. Thus "steamboat" and "railway" are compounds of obvious meaning because the sense of the constituent parts is already known and is not changed by the combination. It is true, "railway" is slightly misleading. The first tracks were made of wooden rails; when they were replaced with iron the earlier name was retained. In most of the continental languages the term "ironway" is in vogue, as railways were not introduced beyond the channel until wooden rails had been discarded, although the French still employs the monosyllable "rail" in its English sense. But not all words that have been compounded have an obvious signification; one or all of the parts entering into the combination sometimes lose their former meaning. To this class belong such terms as "stirrup-cup," "dog-watch," "monkey-wrench," "manof-war," "horse-raddish," and many more. A dog-fight is a fight between or among dogs, just as a cock-fight is a duel between two cocks; in a bull-fight the combatants are bulls, horses and men. When the vocabularly of a language grows by accretion it is either by the incorporation of words borrowed from others that designate the same object or by the modification of a foreign word to designate some object previously unknown. To the first class belong paper, parchment, hippopotamus and a host of others. To the second, amoeba, protoplasm, biogenesis, bacteria and a long list of technical terms. Horace has observed this process in his day, for he wrote

New words will find acceptance, if they flow
Forth from the Greek with just a twist or so.

It is by this method that science has constructed a language which has become, in a sense, international. One needs to know very little Italian, or French, or Spanish, in order to be able to read a scientific work intelligently. The translator of a well-known French medical book once told me that he had a mere smattering of the language, but as he was familiar with the subject he had no difficulty in comprehending the author's meaning. If this man had undertaken to translate selections from French literature or familiar conversation he would have been swamped by the first sentence. When words pass from one language into another they are put through a transforming process before they can be naturalized. The republic of letters is, however, cosmopolitan and nationality counts for little; hence a term that is of interest only to savants needs to undergo but slight changes in order to be accepted everywhere. With popular words the case is different. An instructive example of this double genealogy is our familiar term "alms." It came into the English through the Anglo-Saxon from the Greek, in which language it has six syllables and is fairly well represented by our "eleemosynary," the form coined and introduced by scholars. The shorter word is the result of a gradual abridgment until but one syllable remains after it has been handed down by oral tradition through several centuries. If we trace this word in all its ramifications and transmutations in the languages of modern Europe we may see what strange freaks the laws of euphony play among the different nations. In Old Bulgarian it becomes almuzhina, in Polish jalmuzlma, in Hungarian alamizna, in Spanish limosna, in Portuguese esmola, in French aumône.

The ancient Greek philosophers must have given the phenomena of human speech a good deal of thought. As some of them came in contact with many tribes speaking different tongues, it would have been strange if they had not done so. As the problem presented itself to them it was whether language is a natural product of the human psyche, or the result of convention, a sort of social contract. Their speculations are, however, all lost and we have only the dialogue of Plato entitled "Cratylus" to give us an inkling of the discussions that had preceded the time of its composition.

Plato does not seem to have had a glimpse of the possibility that language might be an organic growth. He was unable to conceive that a work of such artistic excellence could be constructed by people so low in the scale of civilization that they had no conception of art. Too little was known in his day about the primitive instinct of men. Herein there is still much that is mysterious, if facts can be so designated. We know what is; how it came to be is veiled from our sight. As for Plato, there is no evidence in his writings that he knew any language but Greek. He shared the weakness common to his countrymen. In all Greek literature there are to be found comparatively few words that give the names of objects in other languages. From the era of Alexander's conquests until that of Constantine every intelligent person in the Roman empire spoke Greek; but not vice versa. Although Plutarch lived for some time in Rome and delivered lectures in that city, he knew Latin very imperfectly. Plato is willing to admit that words are subject to many changes and put on many disguises.

He acknowledges that the "poor creature" imitation is supplemented by another "poor creature" convention. But he does not see that "habit and repute "and their relation to other words are always exercising an influence over them. Words appear to be isolated, but they are really parts of an organism which is always being reproduced. They are refined by civilization, harmonized by poetry, emphasized by literature, technically applied in philosophy and art; they are used as symbols on the border-ground of human knowledge; they receive a fresh impress from individual genius, and come with new force and association to every lively-minded person. They are fixed by the simultaneous utterance of millions, and yet are always imperceptibly changing. They carry with them the faded recollection of their own past history; the use of a word in a striking and familiar passage gives a complexion to its use everywhere else, and the new use of an old and familiar phrase has also a peculiar power over us. But these and other subtilties of language escaped the observation of Plato. He was not aware that the languages of the world are organic structures and that every word in them is related to every other; nor does he conceive of language as the joint work of speaker and hearer, requiring in man a faculty not only of expressing his thoughts but of understanding those of others.

Language is one of the links that carry us back, if not to the origin of the human race, at least to the first articulate-speaking man. Words are the faded images, or the battered and bruised and worn coins, that have been handed down from the remotest ages. When they have received a form in literature they become in a measure fixed so that we can see how they looked to the eye, if we do not know precisely how they sounded to the ear, millenniums ago. We usually have a mere fragment of primitive words and are almost wholly in the dark as to their phonetic value.

The connection between thought and speech has long been recognized; sometimes the priority of the one, sometimes of the other has been maintained. One fact is indisputable: language greatly influences our modes of thinking; in our early years conditions it entirely. We learn to use words with the meaning attached to them by our environment. Our first ideas are exactly those of our parents, of older brothers and sisters, of schoolmates, and so on. When we begin to learn words from books our intellectual outlook gradually enlarges. The circle of our thoughts becomes wider, but only in rare cases does it extend beyond that of our generation. To the average man his mothertongue is a current that carries him gently, imperceptibly and slowly along; he rarely stops to consider whither he is drifting. We pass on to our successors the inheritance of words into which we have come, generally unchanged and unaugmented. Only once in a while does the deeper insight of some thinker enlarge the boundary of our intellectual horizon. He may not use a single new term, at least none of his own coinage, but he puts into those he employs a sense different from what they had before. Such terms as "evolution" and "development," and such phrases as "survival of the fittest," have now a totally different meaning from what they had half a century ago. And how pregnant with thought they are! While we have here no growth of vocabulary, we have an expansion of content that is of almost unbounded extent. We have a repetition of the same process which we find in the Greek when it began to be used as the language of philosophy. We may read page after page of Plato, knowing the radical or common meaning of his words; but if we are unfamiliar with Greek thought we get but a faint adumbration of his views. Our familiar "idea" is a good example of Plato's method with words. Its root is plainly a verb signifying "see." Herodotus says the horse can not endure the sight (idea) of the camel. In all Plato's writings it does not have reference to what is seen, but to what is mentally conceived, an archetype, or immaterial pattern of an object. In our day it is so common that everybody uses it. The colloquial forms "idee" and "idear" have grown out of it, and it may mean almost any form of intellectual activity. "Graft" is a recent and familiar example of a like process. Dictionaries ten years old do not give the definition with which we are all well acquainted. Some one made use of the word in its recent sense. Its appropriateness was at once recognized. It was copied by one periodical after another and repeated orally until now it is literally in everybody's mouth.

The usual assumption is that language represents a static fact; that it is to be found in books and in other printed and written matter; on tablets of stone and bronze. Language is, however, kinetic; all living languages are in a constant condition of flux. Through the mind of every human being from infancy until death, whether sane or insane, there flows a perennial stream of words that is interrupted only by sound sleep. When we read or listen to spoken discourse our thoughts usually run in an alien channel; but not necessarily. All languages are in a process of change which, although slow, is continuous. The English of Shakespeare or of Bacon is only a little more than three hundred years old, yet it is by no means the English of to-day. No matter how well we know current German, we can not read Luther's Bible intelligently. The same statement may be made of Rabelais's French, of Cervantes's Castilian and of Dante's Italian. It is a common error to speak of Greek and Latin as dead languages. The Romance tongues are nothing more than the latest phase of a development that has been going on since the earliest period of the Latin. If the Latin is dead now, when did the process of dissolution begin? The oldest French as preserved in the Strasburg oaths of A.D. 842 is about midway, as we may say, between the French of Hugo and the Latin of Cicero's age; a knowledge of either tongue enables one to read them with a fair degree of understanding.

The process of change is comparatively slow at present, and has been ever since the invention of printing, because readers endeavor to conform to the language of the past as preserved by the types. Albeit, we do not teach the language of Shakespeare or even of Addison, for the reason they have become archaic. What is taken as the best English of to-day contains a considerable number of expressions that are not found in Macaulay or DeQuincey, even when the matter dealt with is the same. We take as models English that is less than a century old. In some respects speech orally transmitted is more conservative than that which has been handed down in books; it represents a less advanced type of thought. The speech of the average man is not much influenced by books or by any printed matter. He repeats over and over again the formulas he learned in boyhood until language becomes his master rather than his servant. He does not reflect upon the speech he uses, but expresses the old familiar thoughts in the old familiar way; of other thoughts he has but few. At school he may have studied formal grammar, and wasted most of the time he put upon it. Grammar may give us an insight into the structure of a language, but it does not instruct us how to use it. If we take a boy into a shop, teach him the names of the tools and let him look on while others handle them without letting him do anything himself, he will never become a mechanic. Even if he has learned to manipulate the tools and machinery of a bygone era and refuses to change he is hopelessly handicapped. We can not discuss modern scientific themes with Bacon's vocabulary. There is an intersting passage in one of Herbert Spencer's essays that I have quoted more than once because it bears upon the matter of teaching the mother-tongue. Few men had a greater command of English and knew better how to make themselves understood than he. In "Facts and Comments " he gives his experience as follows:

Down to the present hour I remain ignorant of those authoritative directions for writing English which the grammars contain. I can not repeat a single rule of syntax as given in the books, and were it not that the context has shown me the interpretation of the word when I have met it in reading, I should not know what syntax means. . . . In the absence of punishment my lessons in Latin grammar were never properly learned, and my progress was so slow that I did not master all the conjugations. Still smaller was the knowledge of the Greek which I acquired. In neither case did I reach that division which treats of the division of sentences. . . . Of the French grammar the same has to be said—I never reached the end of the conjugations. Thus neither directly nor indirectly have I received any of that discipline which is supposed to be an indispensable means of insuring correctness of speech.

This and much more to the same effect is interesting. But it would be a serious mistake to assume that the study of grammar is necessarily a waste of time. We might as well argue that because Franklin, Lincoln and others became masters of English without living teachers, schools are of no use. Spencer's remarks quoted above are followed by some logical and lucid directions as to the proper place of formal grammar in the ordinary school curriculum. If we learn to do by doing, we learn to speak and to write by writing correctly. It was in this way that the masters of Greek and Latin literature acquired their skill. They heard these languages correctly spoken; they saw them correctly written; they were taught rhetoric, but not grammar. Later the rules of the art were deduced from the study of connected discourse, among others of Homer. Here is a matter that defies analysis or explanation. We can only say that the masters of speech knew by a sort of instinct how to give their inflected words one form when occupying a certain place in the sentence and another when occupying another. Every word in the Homeric poems can be "parsed," that is, its position in the sentence can be logically and historically explained; yet they are the production of hundreds of men of whom probably not one could write. In its earliest stages language was correctly used by instinct; we later-comers are compelled to do so by a laborious process because we do not hear it correctly used. Instruction in the native tongue is a comparatively recent innovation. Why should an Englishman be taught English when he learned it in childhood? He was put to the study of Latin, and perhaps of Greek; English was left out of the account. Bacon says:

Words are formed at the will of the generality, and there arises from a bad and unapt formation of words a wonderful obstruction to the mind. Nor can the definitions and explanations with which learned men are wont to guard and protect themselves in some instances afford a complete remedy—words still manifestly force the understanding, throw everything into confusion and lead mankind into vain and innumerable controversies and fallacies.

That is, as speech always represents the past, those who use it are unconsciously influenced by the thoughts of those who employed it in former times. There is thus an inherent weakness in adhering to what is commonly called a classic style, the style after which the literary man strives. On the other hand, the scientist is always on the lookout for something new; he must use new terms, if not new forms of expression. While a scientist may set forth general principles in a model style, when he becomes technical and precise this is no longer possible. Thus there is a certain degree of incompatibility between the scientist and the litterateur.

In the consideration of human speech we must take into account two factors: one subjective, the other objective. They are as nut and screw, as lock and key, as hand and glove. These two factors must grow up together, so to speak; they must at least become thoroughly familiar through long association. Viewed in respect to language, the human mind may be compared to a hard substance upon which it is difficult to produce impressions, upon which impressions can be made only by oft-repeated blows. But impressions is merely a make shift word borrowed from the material world for lack of a better. The passive mind does not comprehend the meaning of a word or phrase until its form or sound and signification have been thrust upon it over and over again. How many thousand times are familiar expressions repeated in the hearing of the infant before it understands what they mean, at least with any degree of definiteness. The adult foreigner is almost in the same predicament. After a familiarity between sound or character and idea has been established comprehension proceeds with amazing rapidity. We can run our eyes over a printed page and get its meaning much more quickly than we can pronounce the words. Like a skillful pianist who reads an unfamiliar piece of music at sight, since only the particular combinations of notes are new to him, but not the general principles upon which the score is constructed, so the reader of the printed or written page is familiar with the words before him even when their arrangement and combination are new. Words and phrases may repose passive in the subconscious mind for many years, dead and forgotten as it seemed, when suddenly either by conscious effort or by an accident of association they spring into life. It is doubtful whether we can ever forget a language learned in childhood, although lack of practise may make us awkward in its use in after time. Sometimes we may grope, so to say, for years in the effort to recall a word, especially a proper name, when something suggests it to us at an unexpected moment. It is like the powder which lies dead as so much dust until a spark falls upon it, when it bursts into flame. The latent image, figuratively speaking again, can usually be called into life more quickly if the eye and the ear cooperate, than when only one of these two organs is called into requisition. It is, however, easier to learn a language through the eye than the ear; in fact, many languages can be learned only in this way, since they have been preserved solely upon inscribed materials. If a word is unfamiliar at first sight we can keep the eye upon it until it is either recognized or until we have convinced ourselves that recognition is impossible. A dead language is, however, a good deal like a cadaver; the important thing, life, is wanting.

A visible fact connected with the internal growth of a language is its geographical expansion. The ancient Greek furnishes a remarkable example. Four or five centuries before the Christian era it had already spread over the greater part of the known ancient world. By the conquests of Alexander it was still farther extended. In the course of time it was in some degree superseded by the Latin, at least in Europe. Albeit, Latin never became the popular speech that Greek had been, although it was the medium of communication between ecclesiastics and scholars and so continued until displaced by the modern languages of which French had for a time the precedence. The lectures in the universities were given in Latin; hence we find the same distinguished scholars teaching in succession in half a dozen different countries and their books circulating even more widely. The tradition was first abrogated in England and was longest adhered to in Germany, in which country university lectures were delivered in Latin by a few professors within the memory of the present generation. To some extent French was for a long time the most generally spoken language. Professor Fouillée, in his "Psychology of the French People," asserts that toward the end of the seventeenth century France had twenty millions of inhabitants; Great Britain and Ireland, about nine millions; Germany, nineteen millions; Austria, somewhat less than thirteen millions, and that among the fifty million inhabitants of Europe France comprised about forty per cent.[1] Besides, if a person spoke two languages, one of them was almost invariably French. In 1789, according to the same authority, France had a population of twenty-six millions; Great Britain and Ireland, of twelve millions; Russia, of twenty-five millions; Germany, of twenty-eight millions, and Austria, of about eighteen millions. France now represented only twenty-seven per cent, of the inhabitants of Europe, Russia having meanwhile taken its place among the great powers. France continued to decline until the close of the nineteenth century, when it included only about eleven per cent, of the population of Europe. Nobody knows how many persons speak Russian in the proper sense of the word, but probably a good deal fewer than one half of the citizens of the empire.

Let us now glance at the career of the Castilian tongue. At the death of Philip the Second the population of Spain is estimated to have been about eight and a half millions. Towards the close of the seventeenth century it is supposed to have sunk to about six millions, since many villages were deserted and long stretches of country lay uncultivated. Within the next eight or ten decades there was considerable improvement, so that by the beginning of the nineteenth century the population is believed to have doubled. The number of inhabitants in the Spanish American states is estimated at about thirty-six millions. Outside of these countries, and including Cuba but excluding the mother-country, there may be one or two millions of Spanish-speaking people; this makes the entire number between thirty-eight and forty millions. But so badly managed are the internal affairs of the Central American states that the best possible "guess" at the number of their inhabitants may be wide of the mark. Of this total population not one tenth, more likely not one twentieth, has received systematic instruction in any language or in anything else. Besides, the number of persons of pure Spanish descent outside of the mother-country is comparatively small. As it is reputed to be but nineteen per cent, in Mexico, the total number of Spaniards at the present day may fall far short of the above estimate: that is to say, if we credit Spain with eighteen millions and the rest of the world with nine millions we get a total of twentyseven millions, which is probably a liberal allowance. We are, however, here concerned with the language of the Spanish-speaking people, not with their ethnology.

Coming now to England, it is calculated on the basis of the parish registers, as no one in those days thought of taking a census, that its population, including that of Wales, at the middle of the sixteenth century was about five millions. Two centuries later it had risen to six and a half millions. At the present time the number of persons whose native speech is English, or one of them if they speak two, falls not far short of one hundred and fifty millions. There are many persons in Wales, in Canada, and in other parts of the world who use two languages with about equal facility, but who would not claim English as their mothertongue. Probably as many as three fourths of this number have received, or are receiving, systematic instruction in the English language. It is probable that an equal, if not a larger, proportion are of AngloSaxon, or at least of Germanic stock.

I have spoken above of the aversion of the ancient Greeks to the acquisition of foreign languages. In modern times the French have manifested a similar reluctance. As "France marches at the head of civilization," why should Frenchmen concern themselves about those who are behind them? When almost every intelligent person in continental Europe knew French a Frenchman rarely took the trouble to learn a language spoken outside of his native country. This ignorance eventually cost the nation dear; for if Frenchmen had kept themselves informed of what was going on beyond the Rhine they would have been less eager to engage in a war with the nation that dwelt there. The same charge is frequently brought against English and American representatives of commercial houses in foreign countries. We have been told many times that the United States lose a great deal of trade because their agents will not take the trouble to learn the language of the natives with whom they desire to do business and that the Germans far outstrip them in this respect. It may be said further that the efforts of the Germans to preserve their speech in foreign countries meets with small success. The children of German immigrants rarely learn the language of their parents so well that they are able to use it as readily as that of their new habitat.

We have here what seems to be the only practical solution of the problem of a universal language. When we take note of the rapid expansion of English within the last century, it does not seem a fanciful prediction that before the end of another century all persons who wish to learn another language besides their own will choose English. German received a serious set-back by the Thirty Years war. The population of the country in 1618 is estimated at twenty-five millions. There are good reasons for believing that it had been reduced to half this number by 1648. It is therefore not putting the case too strong to say that it required almost two centuries for Germany to recuperate from the effects of that terrible scourge. It is the most impressive lesson the world has received on the folly of war; but for this one, the history of the world would probably have been widely different. There is a sense in which a detriment of this kind can never be made good. Spain's linguistic losses at home may be ultimately restored and more than restored by conquests in her colonies. Conversely, Germany has thus far not been successful with her over-sea possessions, partly owing to bad management, partly owing to climatic and other unfavorable conditions.

English is the coming language. And it is coming rapidly; for while it is difficult to learn thoroughly, in the matter both of style and of pronunciation, it can readily be acquired with sufficient correctness for all commercial and practical purposes.

  1. Page 321. It will be noticed that if the figures are correct the per cent. can not be.