Language eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 226 pages of information about Language.

IX

HOW LANGUAGES INFLUENCE EACH OTHER

Languages, like cultures, are rarely sufficient unto themselves.  The necessities of intercourse bring the speakers of one language into direct or indirect contact with those of neighboring or culturally dominant languages.  The intercourse may be friendly or hostile.  It may move on the humdrum plane of business and trade relations or it may consist of a borrowing or interchange of spiritual goods—­art, science, religion.  It would be difficult to point to a completely isolated language or dialect, least of all among the primitive peoples.  The tribe is often so small that intermarriages with alien tribes that speak other dialects or even totally unrelated languages are not uncommon.  It may even be doubted whether intermarriage, intertribal trade, and general cultural interchanges are not of greater relative significance on primitive levels than on our own.  Whatever the degree or nature of contact between neighboring peoples, it is generally sufficient to lead to some kind of linguistic interinfluencing.  Frequently the influence runs heavily in one direction.  The language of a people that is looked upon as a center of culture is naturally far more likely to exert an appreciable influence on other languages spoken in its vicinity than to be influenced by them.  Chinese has flooded the vocabularies of Corean, Japanese, and Annamite for centuries, but has received nothing in return.  In the western Europe of medieval and modern times French has exercised a similar, though probably a less overwhelming, influence.  English borrowed an immense number of words from the French of the Norman invaders, later also from the court French of Isle de France, appropriated a certain number of affixed elements of derivational value (e.g., _-ess_ of princess, _-ard_ of drunkard, _-ty_ of royalty), may have been somewhat stimulated in its general analytic drift by contact with French,[164] and even allowed French to modify its phonetic pattern slightly (e.g., initial v and j in words like veal and judge; in words of Anglo-Saxon origin v and j can only occur after vowels, e.g., over, hedge).  But English has exerted practically no influence on French.

[Footnote 164:  The earlier students of English, however, grossly exaggerated the general “disintegrating” effect of French on middle English.  English was moving fast toward a more analytic structure long before the French influence set in.]

The simplest kind of influence that one language may exert on another is the “borrowing” of words.  When there is cultural borrowing there is always the likelihood that the associated words may be borrowed too.  When the early Germanic peoples of northern Europe first learned of wine-culture and of paved streets from their commercial or warlike contact with the Romans, it was only natural that they

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Language from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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