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American Languages, and Why We Should Study Them   By: (1837-1899)

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Text originally printed in Greek characters is surrounded with ~.

The following codes are used for characters not found in the character set used for this book:

[=a] a with macron [)e] e with breve

AMERICAN LANGUAGES, AND WHY WE SHOULD STUDY THEM.

AN ADDRESS

DELIVERED BEFORE THE PENNSYLVANIA HISTORICAL SOCIETY, MARCH 9, 1885,

BY

DANIEL G. BRINTON, M.D., PROFESSOR OF ETHNOLOGY AND ARCHÆOLOGY AT THE ACADEMY OF NATURAL SCIENCES, PHILADELPHIA.

REPRINTED FROM THE PENNSYLVANIA MAGAZINE OF HISTORY AND BIOGRAPHY.

PRINTED BY J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY, PHILADELPHIA. 1885.

AMERICAN LANGUAGES, AND WHY WE SHOULD STUDY THEM.

MR. PRESIDENT, ETC.:

I appear before you to night to enter a plea for one of the most neglected branches of learning, for a study usually considered hopelessly dry and unproductive, that of American aboriginal languages.

It might be thought that such a topic, in America and among Americans, would attract a reasonably large number of students. The interest which attaches to our native soil and to the homes of our ancestors an interest which it is the praiseworthy purpose of this Society to inculcate and cherish this interest might be supposed to extend to the languages of those nations who for uncounted generations possessed the land which we have occupied relatively so short a time.

This supposition would seem the more reasonable in view of the fact that in one sense these languages have not died out among us. True, they are no longer media of intercourse, but they survive in thousands of geographical names all over our land. In the State of Connecticut alone there are over six hundred, and even more in Pennsylvania.

Certainly it would be a most legitimate anxiety which should direct itself to the preservation of the correct forms and precise meanings of these numerous and peculiarly national designations. One would think that this alone would not fail to excite something more than a languid curiosity in American linguistics, at least in our institutions of learning and societies for historical research.

Such a motive applies to the future as well as to the past. We have yet thousands of names to affix to localities, ships, cars, country seats, and the like. Why should we fall back on the dreary repetition of the Old World nomenclature? I turn to a Gazetteer of the United States, and I find the name Athens repeated 34 times to as many villages and towns in our land, Rome and Palmyra each 29 times, Troy 58 times, not to speak of Washington, which is entered for 331 different places in this Gazetteer!

What poverty of invention does this manifest!

Evidently the forefathers of our christened West were, like Sir John Falstaff, at a loss where a commodity of good names was to be had.

Yet it lay immediately at their hands. The native tongues supply an inexhaustible store of sonorous, appropriate, and unused names. As has well been said by an earlier writer, "No class of terms could be applied more expressive and more American. The titles of the Old World certainly need not be copied, when those that are fresh and fragrant with our natal soil await adoption."[1]

That this study has received so slight attention I attribute to the comparatively recent understanding of the value of the study of languages in general, and more particularly to the fact that no one, so far as I know, has set forth the purposes for which we should investigate these tongues, and the results which we expect to reach by means of them. This it is my present purpose to attempt, so far as it can be accomplished in the scope of an evening address.

The time has not long passed when the only good reasons for studying a language were held to be either that we might thereby acquaint ourselves with its literature; or that certain business, trading, or political interests might be subserved; or that the nation speaking it might be made acquainted with the blessings of civilization and Christianity... Continue reading book >>




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