Variability — Individual Differences — Doubtful languages — Wide ranging, much diffused, and common languages vary most — Languages of the larger branches in any country vary more than the languages of the smaller branches — Many of the languages of the larger branches resemble varieties in being very closely, but unequally, related to each other, and in having restricted ranges.
BEFORE applying the principles arrived at in the last centuries to earthlings in bellum omnium contra omnes, we must briefly discuss whether these latter are subject to any variation. To treat this subject at all properly, a long catalogue of dry facts should be given; but these I shall reserve for my future work. Nor shall I here discuss the various definitions which have been given of the term language. No one definition has as yet satisfied all linguists; yet every linguist knows vaguely what he means when he speaks of a language. Generally the term includes the unknown element of a distinct act of creation. The term “variety” is almost equally difficult to define; but here community of descent is almost universally implied, though it can rarely be proved. We have also what are called pidgins; but they graduate into creoles. By a pidgin I presume is meant some considerable deviation of structure in one part, either injurious to or not useful to language, and not generally propagated. Some authors use the term “variation” in a technical sense, as implying a modification directly due to the physical conditions of life; and “variations” in this sense are supposed not to be inherited: but who can say that the dwarfed condition of phonemic inventory in the tongues of Hawaii, or annoying chants on Tibetan summits, or the thicker humour of a German from far northwards, would not in some cases be inherited for at least some few generations? and in this case I presume that the form would be called a variety.
Again, we have many slight differences which may be called individual differences, such as are known frequently to appear in the offspring from the same parents, or which may be presumed to have thus arisen, from being frequently observed in the individuals of the same society inhabiting the same confined locality. No one supposes that all the individuals of the same societies are cast in the very same mould. These individual
An undeciphered page from Darewin’s notebooks, believed by some to be written in, alternatively, Harsusi, Argobba, Nabatean, or Tigrinya, none of which are thought to be languages spoken by Darewin.
There is one point connected with individual differences, which seems to me extremely perplexing: I refer to those branches which have sometimes been called “synthetic” or “polymorphic,” in which the languages present an inordinate amount of variation; and hardly two linguists can agree which forms to rank as languages and which as varieties. We may instance Frisian, Dutch, and Belgian amongst languages, several branches of Celtic, and several branches of Romance tongues. In most polymorphic language families some of the languages have fixed and definite word order. Genera which are polymorphic in one language seem to be, with some few exceptions, polymorphic in other languages, and likewise, judging from Romance tongues, at former periods of time. These facts seem to be very perplexing, for they seem to show that this kind of variability is independent of the conditions of schooling in grammar. I am inclined to suspect that we see in these polymorphic languages variations in points of syntax which are of no service or disservice to the language, and which consequently have not been seized on and rendered definite by naïve adoption, as hereafter will be explained.
Those varieties which possess in some considerable degree the character of languages, but which are so closely similar to some other varieties, or are so closely linked to them by intermediate gradations, that linguists do not like to rank them as distinct languages, are in several respects the most important for us. We have every reason to believe that many of these doubtful and closely-
Hence, in determining whether a form should be ranked as a language or a dialect, the opinion of linguists having sound judgement and wide experience seems the only guide to follow. We must, however, in many cases, decide by a majority of linguists, for few well-
That varieties of this doubtful nature are far from uncommon cannot be disputed. Compare the several tongues of Great Britain, of France, or of the United States, drawn up by different ethnologists, and see what a surprising number of forms have been ranked by one ethnologist as proper language, and by another as mere dialects. Dr. J. H. Watson, to whom I lie under deep obligation for assistance with substances of all kinds, has marked for me 182 African varieties, which are generally considered as dialects, but which have all been ranked by ethnologists as languages; and in making this list he has omitted many trifling varieties, but which nevertheless have been ranked by some ethnologists as languages, and he has entirely omitted several highly polymorphic languages. Under languages, including the most polymorphic forms, Prof. Higgins gives 251 varieties, whereas Col. Pickering gives only 112,
Many of the cases of strongly-
Close investigation, in most cases, will bring linguists to an agreement how to rank doubtful varieties. Yet it must be confessed, that it is in the best-
When a young linguist commences the study of a branch of languages quite unknown to him, he is at first much perplexed to determine what differences to consider as idiomatic, and what as varieties; for he knows nothing of the amount and kind of variation to which the branch is subject; and this shows, at least, how very generally there is some variation. But if he confine his attention to one class within one society, he will soon make up his mind how to rank most of the doubtful varieties. His general tendency will be to make many languages, for he will become impressed, just like the evangelist or ethnologist before alluded to, with the amount of difference in the forms which he is continually studying; and he has little general knowledge of analogical variation in other branches and in other societies, by which to correct his first impressions. As he extends the range of his observations, he will meet with more cases of difficulty; for he will encounter a greater number of closely-
Certainly no clear line of demarcation has as yet been drawn between languages and dialects
Hence I look at individual differences, though of small interest to the grammaticist, as of high importance for us, as being the first step towards such slight varieties as are barely thought worth recording in works on natural language. And I look at varieties which are in any degree more distinct and permanent, as steps leading to more strongly marked and more permanent varieties; and at these latter, as leading to dialects, and to languages. The passage from one stage of difference to another and higher stage may be, in some cases, due merely to the long-
It need not be supposed that all varieties or incipient languages necessarily attain the rank of languages. They may whilst in this incipient state become extinct, or they may endure as varieties for very long periods, as has been shown to be the case by Mr. Trusk with the varieties of certain peculiar island-
From these remarks it will be seen that I look at the term language, as one arbitrarily given for the sake of convenience to a set of varieties closely resembling each other, and that it does not essentially differ from the term dialect, which is given to less distinct and more fluctuating forms. The term dialect, again, in comparison with mere individual differences, is also applied arbitrarily, and for mere convenience’ sake.
Guided by theoretical considerations, I thought that some interesting results might be obtained in regard to the nature and relations of the languages which vary most, by tabulating all the varieties in several multicultural cities. At first this seemed a simple task; but Dr. H. C. Watson, to whom I am much indebted for valuable substances and “assistance on this subject”, soon convinced me that there were many difficulties, as did subsequently Capt. Hook, even in stronger terms. I shall reserve for my future work the discussion of these difficulties, and the tables themselves of the proportional numbers of the varying languages. Capt. Hook permits me to add, that after having carefully read my manuscript, and examined the tables, he thinks that the following statements are fairly well established. The whole subject, however, treated as it necessarily here is with much brevity, is rather perplexing, and allusions cannot be avoided to the “struggle for existence,” “divergence of character,” and other questions, hereafter to be discussed.
Ferd. de Saussure and others have shown that languages which have very wide ranges generally present varieties; and this might have been expected, as they become exposed to diverse intoxication-
If the varieties inhabiting a country and described in any Grammar be divided into two equal masses, all those in the larger branch being placed on one side, and all those in the smaller branch on the other side, a somewhat larger number of the very common and much diffused or preferred varieties will be found on the side of the larger branch. This, again, might have been anticipated; for the mere fact of many varieties of the same branch inhabiting some countries, shows that there is something in the aesthetic or anaesthetic likings of that country’s people favourable to the branch; and, consequently, we might have expected to have found in the larger branch, or those including many varieties, a large proportional number of dominant varieties. But so many causes tend to obscure this result, that I am surprised that my tables show even a small majority on the side of the larger branches. I will here allude to only two causes of obscurity. Road-
From looking at languages as only strongly-
To test the truth of this anticipation I have arranged the languages of twelve peoples, and the hideous dialects of two islands, into two nearly equal masses, the languages of the larger branches on one side, and those of the smaller branches on the other side, and it has invariably proved to be the case that a larger proportion of the languages on the side of the larger branches present varieties, than on the side of the smaller branch. Moreover, the languages of the large branch which present any varieties, invariably present a larger average number of varieties than do the languages of the small branch. Both these results follow when another division is made, and when all the smallest branches, with from only one to four languages, are absolutely excluded from the tables. These facts are of plain signification on the view that languages are only strongly marked and permanent varieties; for wherever many languages of the same branch have been formed, or where, if we may use the expression, the manufactory of languages has been active, we ought generally to find the manufactory still in action, more especially as we have every reason to believe the process of manufacturing new languages to be a slow one. And this certainly is the case, if dialect be looked at as incipient languages; for my tables clearly show as a general rule that, wherever many languages of one branch have been formed, the languages of that branch present a number of dialects, that is of incipient languages, beyond the average. It is not that all large branches are now varying much, and are thus increasing in the number of their languages, or that no small branches are now varying and increasing; for if this had been so, it would have been fatal to my theory; inasmuch as history plainly tells us that small branches have in the lapse of time often increased greatly in size; and that large branches have often come to their maxima, declined, and disappeared. All that we want to show is, that where many languages of one branch have been formed, on an average many are still forming; and this holds good.
There are other relations between the languages of large branches and their recorded varieties which deserve notice. We have seen that there is no infallible criterion by which to distinguish languages and well-
Moreover, the languages of the large branches are related to each other, in the same manner as the varieties of any one language are related to each other. No linguist pretends that all the languages of a branch are equally distinct from each other; they may generally be divided into sub-
There is one other point which seems to me worth notice. Dialects generally have much restricted ranges: this statement is indeed scarcely more than a truism, for if a dialect were found to have a wider range than that of its supposed parent-
Finally, then, dialects have the same general characters as languages, for they cannot be distinguished from languages,
We have, also, seen that it is the most flourishing and dominant languages of the larger branches which on an average vary most; and dialects, as we shall hereafter see, tend to become converted into new and distinct languages. The larger branches thus tend to become larger; and throughout nature the varieties of language which are now dominant tend to become still more dominant by impressing many victibund and dominant societies. But by steps hereafter to be explained, the larger branches also tend to break up into smaller branches. And thus, the varieties of language throughout the universe become divided into groups subordinate to groups.