Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/160

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146
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

have, on the whole, undergone little change while remaining there, but some alterations are traced as due to migration into new climates. Even these are difficult to follow, masked as they are by the more striking changes produced by intermarriage of races. Now, the view that the races of man are to be accounted for as varied descendants of one original stock is zoologically probable from the close resemblance of all men in body and mind, and the freedom with which races intercross. If it was so, then the fact of the different races already existing early in the historical period compels the naturalist to look to a prehistoric period for their development to have taken place in. And, considering how strongly differenced are the negro and the Syrian, and how slowly such changes of complexion and feature take place within historical experience, this prehistoric period was probably of vast length. The evidence from the languages of the world points in the same direction. In times of ancient history we already meet with families of languages, such as the Aryan and the Semitic, and as later history goes on many other families of language come into view, such as the Bantu or Caffre of Africa, the Dravidian of South India, the Malayo-Polynesian, the Algonquin of North America, and other families. But what we do not find is the parent language of any of these families, the original language which all the other members are dialects of, so that this parent tongue should stand toward the rest in the relation which Latin holds to its descendants, Italian and French. It is, however, possible to work back by the method of philological comparison, so as to sketch the outlines of that early Aryan tongue which must have existed to produce Sanskrit and Persian, Greek and Latin, German, Russian, and "Welsh, or the outlines of that early Semitic tongue which must have existed to produce Assyrian, Phoenician, Hebrew, and Arabic. Though such theoretical reconstructions of parent language from their descendants may only show a vague and shadowy likeness to the reality, they give some idea of it. And what concerns us here is that theoretical early Aryan and Semitic, or other such reconstructed languages, do not bring our minds appreciably nearer to really primitive forms of speech. However far we get back, the signs of development from still earlier stages are there. The roots have mostly settled into forms which no longer show the reasons why they were originally chosen, while the inflections only in part preserve traces of their original senses, and the whole structure is such as only a long lost past can account for. To illustrate this important point, let us remember the system of grammatical gender in Greek or Gennan, how irrationally a classification by sex is applied to sexless objects and thoughts, while even the use of a neuter gender fails to set the confusion straight, and sometimes even twists it with a new perversity o| its own. Many a German and Frenchman wishes he could follow the example of our English forefathers who, long ago, threw overboard the whole worthless cargo of grammatical gender. But, looking at gender