Page:Notes and Queries - Series 9 - Volume 11.djvu/323

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

9" 8. XL APRIL 18, 1903.] NOTES AND QUERIES.




study and diffusion of a language are in proportion to national prestige seems at first sight natural, and just what we might expect; but while there are, no doubt, striking instances of this, it may perhaps be ques- tioned whether facts will bear out its general application.

Both Greece and Rome left the stamp of their language after their conquests, the one in the East, the other in the West ; but Carthage, whose power and prestige were at one time very great, left no such impress.

The Roman conquest of Greece did not substitute Latin for Greek, which more than held its own :

Grsecia capta ferum victorem cepit, et artes Intulit agresti Latio.

It was the language of the conquered country that became the study of its conquerors.

Again, while the gradual decay of Roman prestige was breaking up the Latin language into various kindred tongues, the Greek of the declining Eastern empire remained prac- tically intact down to the capture of Con- stantinople by the Turk in 1453, if not till a later period.

This same Turk was long the terror of

urope. His prestige and power were great, ut he did not diffuse his language, nor was it largely studied. Arabic, on the other hand, was, in consequence of the Saracenic conquests, widely diffused and eagerly studied. Nor did its vitality cease with the extinction of the Saracenic power. Though it only remains to-day as the language of those portions of Islam with which we connect the iaea of decay, it is still vigorous and flourishing, pushing its way rapidly down- wards throughout Africa.

Sweden under Gustavus Adolphus, and later under Charles XII., was a formidable power ; but its language was not, apparently, at those two periods much studied or diffused.

Italian seems to have been the fashionable study in Milton's time, and yet Italy was then under foreign rule. Its resurrection about 1870, and its leap from a a geographical expression " to a front-rank position among the nations, ought by this theory to have been followed by a corresponding revival of interest in its language and literature, but the note itself admits that this has not been the case.

German since Sedan has, it is true, re- ceived much more attention educationally ; but I am not aware that it is yet, to any great extent, superseding French as a medium of international communication, nor can I think it ever will do so, unless, indeed,

its accidence and syntax should submit to imperial interference, and be autocratically simplified.

It is remarkable that French alone of the Romance tongues has taken theproud position of the common language of Europe as successor to the Latin. Spain at one time had perhaps a greater prestige than France, but I am not aware that Spanish ever held such a position. If English should ultimately take the place of French in this respect, I doubt whether our national prestige will have very much to do with it. The victories of Nelson and Wellington do not appear to have given much impulse to the study of English on the Continent, and it is only of late years that our next-door neighbours, the French, have begun to study it in earnest.

Lastly, take the case of Russian. We all know that Russia's prestige is great and increasing ; but for all that do we see a corresponding study and diffusion of her language? I know not how far this may be the case in Asia, and especially in Persia, where her influence just now is ousting our own, but in Europe it is not t so, and the study of Russian does not yet enter into our school curriculum.

On the whole, I venture to think that, while national prestige is a very important factor in the case, the study and diffusion of any particular language depend as much, if not more, on other operative causes such, for instance, as the generic structure of the language itself, its adaptability to common use, and its affinity with other tongues ; national needs and aspirations, with fortu- nate concurrence of circumstances ; the greater or less tenacity of those forms of speech with which it comes in contact ; its own connexion with the history and litera- ture of the past, and its relation to the fashion, convenience, or prejudice of the present.

The note, I observe, recognizes "the tenacity of life of the classic tongues, in spite of their so called death." It is, intact, a misnomer, the term " dead languages." Both are living, not only in the sense of vitalizing modern thought and replenishing modern speech, but living as actually spoken tongues. For what are the Romance languages but modern dialects, as it were, of the ancient Latin 1 Has not ' N. & Q.' recently furnished a composition of some length, every word of which was equally Latin and Italian 1 ?* Greek, again, in the modern Romaic, not very essentially differing from the olden

  • See 9 th S. x, 245.