1. The comparison of languages, the determination of their similarities and differences, their comparative characterization and classification can be studied from three points of view:
1) Historical affinity, actual affinity of languages as a result of transmission and borrowing between generations by way of tradition, i.e., in a direct line of historical succession, or through communication, both articulatory-auditory and graphic-visual, among speakers of different languages (among peoples of different origin) This viewpoint involves questions of linguistic kinship, linguistic families, “genealogical trees” (Stammbäume), “proto-languages” (Ursprachen), primary languages (Grundsprachen), and secondary ones. But it is also concerned with the question of the “polygenesis” of each language, with the fact that each language is the result of fusion and interaction of various languages.
2) Affinity, based on the communality and similarity of features in languages that are in geographic contiguity and share the same substratum.
3) Similarities and differences common to all mankind, dependent neither on genealogy (historical kinship) nor on spatial contiguity (geography).
The first type of comparison makes reference to a substratum which is mainly historical; the second, to a substratum which is mainly geographical, and the third, to a substratum which is physiological-psychological. But in all three types the explanation of facts requires simultaneous reference to history and geography, physiology and psychology, and even to physics and mechanics.
2. Here, as in other branches of linguistics, we are faced with the deep-rooted habit of personifying and spiritualizing language, that is, with the habit of treating languages as if they were individual beings, “living organisms,” independent of their speakers. It is this habit which accounts for both the theory of the “genealogical tree” of related languages (Stammbaumtheorie) and the “wave theory (Wellentheorie). According to the first theory language is a living being, animal or vegetable (as Schleicher says, “Sprachen, wie alle Naturorganismen”), whereas according to the second theory (Wellentheorie), first advanced by Johann Schmidt, waves spread out from individual centers with tendencies toward a particular kind of change emanating from neighbors. Language is accordingly divorced from man and is viewed as a flowing, liquid substance, something like water or a poison gas.
The concept of isoglosses, which is connected with the wave theory, has in fact, however, a solid foundation and must figure in any sober approach that treats language as an anthropological phenomenon involving the subject, or man as a speaking being.
I have already criticized the one-sidedness of the genealogical tree and wave theories in my Petersburg doctoral dissertation, Očerk fonetiki rez’janskix govorov, and I have emphasized the importance of linguistic fusion for any comparative characterization and classification of languages in my various later works (for example, in “On the Mixed Character of all Languages”) and lectures at scientific congresses. At the same time I was able to refer to the concurring views of such outstanding scholars as Hugo Schuchardt and G. I. Ascoli.
3. The disintegration and fusion of languages can and must be considered with relation to the history of interacting human communities.
Even individual languages are to be treated as products of fusion, inasmuch as each individual language is the result of interaction of the existing individual languages.
Even within one and the same family the formation of individual languages allows for great variations. Given a free range of development along a certain line, these variations may increase to such an extent that children of the same parents, brought up under the same roof, will eventually begin to speak different dialects, if not entirely different languages.
Individual peculiarities of the articulatory-auditory apparatus, and the system of associations that underlies the formation of morphological types, account for the tendency to substitute some of the articulatory processes and their concomitant auditory impressions (for example, the substitution of u for ł velar and uvular r for apical r), and to replace complex morphological types with simpler ones (for example, płaka instead of placze, from płakać). Environmental influence and standards of grammatical correctness tend to suppress these deviations from the prevailing norms of a given speech community. But the embryonic deviations do not disappear without trace: as long as the descendants reiterate the incipient (individual or hereditary) tendencies of their ancestors, and as long as the same process recurs over successive generations, the gradually accruing tendencies may become strong enough to resist the pressure of the existing linguistic norm and to affect its structure by way of “neologisms” which the given and following speech communities will consider correct and obligatory.
In general, however, the individual and embryonic deviations from the social norm decrease in the process of linguistic intercourse within a given social environment; the individual languages are drawn closer together and are eventually unified.
4. We are familiar with mixed languages, that is, languages that everyone (both linguists and the ordinary speakers of the language) recognize as being mixed.
One such typical mixed language is the Russian-Chinese language of Kjaxta and Majmačina on the Siberian-Chinese border, or the “Kjaxta dialect of the Russian language.” Its lexicon, its inventory of words, is almost exclusively Russian, but its structure, its morphology bear a clear imprint of Chinese.
In the same way there arose English-Chinese, Portuguese-Chinese, and other dialects. The study of these dialects was primarily advanced by Hugo Schuchardt, who also directed his attention to the mixed Creole containing Romance material.
A Romance base was also assumed by G. I. Ascoli when he tried to explain the strikingly common properties of the linguistic area that he called Zona Ladina (the area of Friuli in the provinces of Udirie and Gorica, the Ladins in Tyrol, and the Grisons in Switzerland). According to G. I. Ascoli, to whom we are indebted for the hypothesis of linguistic fusion, various parts of this territory that is now occupied by the Friulians, Ladins, and Grisons was at one time settled by foreign tribes which assimilated Latin, or Romance linguistic material into their native idioms. The problem of the Zona Ladina is closely connected with the problem of the diffusion of the Franco-Gallic dialects.
English and Roumanian are similarly considered to be “mixed” languages. The former absorbed Germanic, Romance, and some Celtic elements, and the latter, Romance and Slavic elements.
5. The historical emergence of Latvian was due to the fusion of the Aistian or Baltic language (which is now represented by Lithuanian, but which at one time also included Old Prussian) with a Finnic, or rather Finno-Ugric language. As the famous LatvianGerman investigator, Pastor Bielenstein, was able to show on the basis of historical documents the Finnic tribe of the Courlanders gradually lost its linguistic identity during the thirteenth century when it came into contact with an Indo-European population, the presumed ancestors of the present-day Lithuanians.
6. We could observe with our own eyes the formation of mixed German-Slavic dialects on a Slovenian base in the former southwestern part of Austria (now in Yugoslavia and partly in Italy, which occupied a large part of purely Slavic territory after World War I). The Germans from Tyrol and Bavaria who had settled various parts of Krajna and Gorica were concentrated mostly in Kočevje (Gotschee) around Novo Mesto, in Ribnica (Reifniz) in Lower Krajna (Dolenjsko), in several scattered villages of Upper Krajna (Gorenjsko), and in the province of Gorica. Here and there we still encounter the name Nemški Rovt (Deutschreuth). Upon my visit to these places in 1872 and 1873, I came right at at transitional period: old people spoke German with each other, but they understood Slovenian; middle-aged people spoke mainly Slovenian with each other, but German with the older generation; young people and children generally understood German, but spoke Slovenian with each other as well as with their parents and grandparents. When heard at some distance so that separate words could not be distinguished, this Slovenian speech of theirs sounded just like German. From an articulatory-auditory viewpoint it was nothing but a precise replica of German phonetics and psychophonetics. But even the morphology, word-formation, syntax, and other areas of linguistic thought were based on the German linguistic system of previous generations. The pulpit, school, military service in Slovenian regiments of the Austrian army, as well as the constant contact with other Slovenians had eventually exerted an influence on this German-Slovenian dialect, cleansing it, as it were, of its German substratum, and Slavicizing it. What happened to this dialect is similar to what happens in the language of children, whose embryonic individual deviations are exposed to the pressures of the normal language of the family and nation to which I have alluded above. I suppose that the present-day Slovenian spoken in these formerly German areas no longer gives the impression of a German dialect and no longer contains enough elements to qualify it as German in a linguistic analysis.
Let us suppose, however, that in the period of transition, that is, at the time of my visit at the beginning of the second half of the past century, a significant part of the speakers of this unique Slovenian dialect which had to be qualified as mixed GermanSlovenian, had to emigrate and settle either on an uninhabited island or in foreign, non-Slavic surroundings (let us say, in Romance, Germanic, Finnic, or Altaic areas) without abandoning their peculiar dialect for a number of generations. Each unprejudiced investigator would then have the right, and duty, to acknowledge the existence of a particular Slavic linguistic community along with the other Slavic linguistic communities. We may recall the descendants of the Serbo-Croats from Dalmatia and neighboring districts and the descendants of the Albanians who, after the death of Skanderbeg in the fifteenth century, fled from Turkish persecution to the Campobasso Province in Southern Italy, and who have to this day retained even the articulatory-auditory nuances of their native languages. In the same way the descendants of our hypothetical German-Slovenian emigrants from the Krajna and Gorica could have retained for generations the peculiarities of their dialect of the middle of the nineteenth century caught at a stage of transition.
Some Slovenian and Serbo-Croatian dialects of Istria, Gorica, and Krajna bear distinct traces of the Roumanian language of colonists who were assimilated by the neighboring Slavs, but whose survival in the modern language could not be explained without recourse to this hypothesis, a hypothesis which is, furthermore, supported by the presence of Roumanian speakers, the so-called Ciribiri, in Istria, near Mt. Učka (Montemaggiore). (I am not sure, by the way, whether the inhabitants of this place still speak a Roumanian dialect.)
7. As a typical example of how a given language may adopt the traits of a totally different language (including its articulatory and auditory features), I can cite the situation of the valley of Rezija with its neighboring Ucce (Wolf) Valley, which have been the subject of my investigations. This territory has only a few settlements (Bil ja or San Giorgio, Ravanca or Sul Prato, Niva, Kori to, Stolbica or Stolvizza, Osojane and Ucce) with a population (in 1873) of about 3250 persons. The differences between the Slavic dialects spoken here were, nevertheless, so great, that here and there they divided entire linguistic territories, and could serve as the basis for drawing isoglosses. For example, one Rezian dialect had at the time the difference between g and h (x) (,ga, gora, gnat, grébit . . ., xódi or húdi, xüd or hüd . . .), another between y and x (ya, y óra, y nat, yrdbit . . ., xódi, xüd . . .), a third fused both into h (ha, hora, hnat, hrábit . . . , hódi, hüd . . .), and a fourth had a zero phoneme in place of both (a, óra, nat, rábit . . . 9 odi, üd. . .). In some Rezian dialects Z was retained at the end of a syllable (dal, bil, sul . . .), in others it was replaced by (da, bi, suu. . .). In some dialects j is retained at the beginning of a syllable (ja, jama, jdsno, jœzœrû . . .), in others this j is absent (a, ama, ásno, œzœrû. . .). This diversity permits the separation of these dialects to roughly the same degree as that of Slovak and Czech, or of Kashubian and Polish.
The Rezian people must, in effect, be viewed as speakers of one language as opposed to the neighboring Slavs (i.e., the various Slovenians, the Slavs of Ter who derive their name from the river Ter [Torre], the inhabitants of Nadisko [Natisone] also known as Šempeter [San Pietro al Natisone, or San Pietro degli Slavi], the Serbo-Croats, etc.), inasmuch as their language had a common foreign substratum of a Finno-Ugric type which exhibited synharmonism, i.e., assimilation of vowels in dependent, secondary syllables to the vowels of dominating syllables. The Rezians were furthermore bound into one linguistic-national unit by a foreign, non-Slavic superstratum.
Thus, the multidialectal Rezian “language” is derived from a number of “protolanguages”: from many Slavic dialects, from some unknown Finno-Ugric or Uralo-Altaic (“Turanian”) language. It includes, in addition, recent heterogeneous elements which the Rezians borrowed from their Slavic, Romance, and Germanic neighbors, as well as from inhabitants of more distant places (Italy, former Austria, Hungary, Germany, Poland, and Russia, including Siberia, and all of the Balkan peninsula), with which the Rezians came into contact when they were forced to travel in search of work and a living.
8. The accumulation of similar deposits and layers on a given linguistic base can be stated or assumed to have existed in a number of places.
Contemporary speakers of Polish in the vicinity of Bialystok, Bielsk, and Sokółka do not have nasal vowels in their speech, having replaced them by combinations of oral vowels with nasal consonants of a varying position: e.g., domp, demba, kempa, skompy, penta, p’onty, mondry, mendžec, monce, śv’eńće, mońći, p’eńć, reŋka, šeŋga, roŋk, ośoŋga . . . , as well as monš, donži, m’enso, menža, v’enźi, genśi. . . . This inherited articulatory-acoustic peculiarity must be explained by the fact that the ancestors of these speakers of Polish were Byelorussians or other non-Poles who, at some point, at a period of transition, where they were subject to linguistic Polonization, were unable to pronounce nasal vowels, splitting them into two successive phonemes: a purely oral vowel and an occlusive consonant of different localization in the oral cavity, but involving the lowering of the soft palate with concomitant nasal resonance.
In the Balkan peninsula, in Macedonia and near Lake Ohrid there are likewise Bulgaro-Macedonian dialects which preserve the nasal resonance in morphemes corresponding to the morphemes which contained nasal vowels in Old Church Slavonic and in proto-Slavic: jenzik, srenšta or sreńa, bendem, etc. This is not at all some kind of “archaism,” but on the contrary is a consequence of the fact that the Slavicized former speakers of a foreign language were unable to precisely render the Slavic pronunciation; they split the perceived single nasal vowels into two successive articulations. The same kind of substitution is encountered in the vicinity of Gorica which had a Slovenian base: srenča, venč or vanč, sa kompat, etc.
I shall take this opportunity to remark that the views of Prince Trubetzkoy on the proto-Slavic and Slavic nasal vowels, recently stated in the journal Slavia1, are, in my opinion, mistaken.
9. Since linguistic fusion and the emergence of mixed languages is a recurrent and necessary aspect of language and of all individual and social interaction, we are entitled, and even obliged, to state that a considerable foreign admixture also pervades Polish and the other northwest Slavic languages.
For it is hard to imagine that having preserved a complex system of inflection and productive morphological forms, a language could simply renounce such a useful ancillary device as mobile stress, i.e., stress which is not bound to a particular syllable of the word or syntagm or which does not have a syntactic function but rather a morphologized stress which characterizes some morphemes in the word in contradistinction to other ones. Such a loss of the morphological stress could have come about only when the speakers of a certain language in which the formants (i.e., the suffixes, endings, and prefixes) but not the stress were strongly morphologized, acquired a new language. The speakers of this new language could not cope with the morphological mobility of stress, and they eliminated it. Such a linguistically Slavicized people could have been any of the Finno-Ugric tribes whose morphological system is suffixal-inflectional but which lacks a morphologized stress and intonation. And since the Finnic languages do not distinguish three series of apical spirants (s, z, c, ; š, ž, č, ; ś, ź, ć ), using at most only two, I venture to ascribe the so-called phenomenon of mazurzenie (i.e., the fusion of š ž č with s, z, c, Ʒ, which is found in most Polish dialects) to the Polonization and linguistic Slavicization of a Finnic tribe that had at one time occupied the same territory as the Slavic ancestors of the Poles. Research in other fields also seems to suggest that the Polish tribe originated with the merger of Slavs and Finns, just as the above-mentioned Latvians emerged through the Lithuanianization of the Finnish tribes of Courland and Livonia.
10. It is also most plausible that various languages of Europe were subjected to the influence of the Celts who spread throughout Europe and in Asia Minor, of the Iranians, Scythians, and Sarmatians, and of the Iberians (cf. the lack of distinction of b and v and the confusion of f and x which, by the way, are also found in some Slovenian dialects).
Professor N. J. Marr has recently advanced the popular japhetic theory which ascribes enormous influence to a certain tribe of “Japhetites” who were related to the Semites and widely spread “in prehistoric times”; their contemporary representatives are allegedly various tribes and nationalities of the Caucasus who were either direct descendants or speakers of other languages that had mixed with the “Japhetites” but preserved most elements of their own languages.
A representative of the second type might be Armenian. One must not forget that Armenian lacks the distinction of grammatical genders which is so characteristic of the Indo-European languages.
Some Armenian features are found in German; first of all, the so-called Lautverschiebung, that is, the special development of occlusive consonantal phonemes. Some plausibility cannot be denied the hypothesis that Armenian and Germanic are the result of the mixture of a common foreign substratum with various elements of Indo-European.
11. The above remarks lead us to conclude that there can be no question of a unilateral branching out from some homogeneous Ursprache, as if from a single tree trunk, of several parts that, in turn, undergo disintegration and splitting. It is clear that there is a continuous and steady process of disintegration, but there is also continuous mixing, fusing, integration, amalgamation, and reduction of diversity.
In the field of biology each four-legged, four-armed, or two-legged individual has 210 or 1024 ancestors for the 10 generations preceding him. In the field of tribal or collective linguistic genealogy, the situation is of more modest scope and, in any case, quite different. For example, when we think of the collective Polish language we may imagine a long chain of predecessors scattered in the East, West, North, and South and reaching back to older and more recent times. In addition to direct transmission along a straight line of historical succession, there are also lateral influences and forces, influences through direct contact and influences from a distance, articulatory and acoustic communication, as well as communication through graphic and visual signs.
In any case, even in the sphere of linguistic kinship we must posit the existence of n, i.e., of many ancestors.
12. A special kind of linguistic problem is the occurrence of common traits and peculiarities in languages of different nations that are in geographic proximity.
Thus, for example, we can discern a certain unity among the languages of the Scandinavian peninsula and the adjacent countries occupied by the Germans and Finns.
Special features unify the various languages of the Balkan peninsula: the postpositive article (which also exists in the Scandinavian languages), the absence of the infinitive, which is also characteristic of modern Greek whose distant ancestor, Classical Greek, had in this respect (in its various dialects) a veritable embarras de richesse. And thus it is from one extreme to another!
Geographic proximity also accounts for the common traits of the Caucasian languages. It is clear that the communality of features which is related to geographic proximity, is also due to linguistic “fusion” that follows the line of least resistance: the more difficult gives way to the easier, and the simpler wins over the more complex.
13. All aspects of language, linguistic thought, its expression and the produced auditory impressions are, of course, deeply affected by the linguistic changes that occur in time. There are changes in the articulatory-auditory aspect of language (that are matched in the optical field by changes in the graphic-visual representations, whether expressions or impressions) and in its very structure—in the morphology of the word (in morphology proper) and of the sentence (in syntax).
As living and growing beings are characterized and classified according to age and periods of transition, so tribal and national languages can be characterized and classified according to the various stages in the history of their structure, and according to their complex and heterogeneous elements and interrelations of their simplest component parts.
For example, among the Indo-European languages (which have absorbed other languages) we can distinguish old and new languages, “primary” (that is, relatively primary) and “secondary” languages, languages of various periods, epochs, and stages which carry and transmit approximately the same, that is, identically named sets of linguistic concepts. Italo-Romance (Latin and the related Italic dialects) which was itself a product of fusion and mixture with old Italic languages (at first with Etruscan, and then with Volscan and Celtic), has in the course of time expanded far beyond its original Italic homeland giving rise, by way of separation and fusion with other languages, to a number of medieval Romance languages, which have in turn produced, as a result of uninterrupted, gradual change, a multitude of modern Romance dialects (Italian, Ladin, Gallo-Italie, Provençal, French, Walloon, Spanish, Catalan, Galician, Portuguese, Roumanian, etc.).
Similarly there are old and more recent Germanic languages and Slavic languages of different age and structure; there are old Indie (Vedic and Sanskrit) and old Iranian (Avestan or “Zend” and Old Persian languages, and more recent ones (Prakrit, Pali, Phalavi) in addition to the great variety of modern Indie and Iranian dialects.
In a comparative approach all these languages can be grouped and classified chronologically. For example, Latin and the other old Italic dialects can be grouped with old Indie and old Iranian, setting them off from the (1) later Romance languages and Prakrit dialects, and (2) still later stages of the modern Romance, Indie, and Iranian dialects.
14. In attempting a comparative characterization and classification of the agglutinative Uralo-Altaic, or Turco-Altaic languages, we are compelled to notice the existing contradiction in their word-structure and sentence-structure: the semantically dominating morpheme, the root, occupies the initial, principal position in the word, whereas the other wordand syntagm-forming (inflectional) morphemes are attached and phonetically assimilated to it; in the sentence, on the other hand, the formally dominating syntagm, the subject of the main sentence, occupies the end of the utterance, or phrase, whereas the other syntagms or members of the sentence, which are formally dependent on it, as well as the adverbial, determinative and complementary clauses, precede it.
15. Some forty years ago, shortly after the discovery of the Sumerian rock carvings (which were discovered in connection with Akkadian), I worked out for myself a general, though probably very superficial, idea of the structure of this language, which was assigned by some people hypothetically to the “Turanian” group of languages. Comparing the ancient structure of that language with that of its later linguistic stages, I came to the conclusion that in the course of time (of over a millennium) this structure was subjected to a series of radical changes. The once strongly morphologized suffixal-inflectional structure became gradually weakened and could no longer render its morphological functions. Consequently, more expressive, prefixai elements were called into play. Their role kept increasing, while the role of the suffixes continued to grow weaker, until they disappeared altogether. But the continuous increase of prefixation led at the end to the same result that had previously been the fate of suffixation. The purely suffixal structure changed into a structure with weakened suffixes and with auxiliary prefixai markers; this in turn, changed into purely prefixai structure which, after some time, became weakened and replaced by a suffixal structure. The suffixal structure then changed into a mixed one, then into a prefixai; this became, in turn, mixed, and then again suffixal, and so on, da capo al fine. The result (of linguistic change) is thus constant oscillation, vibration, and external evolution which is reminiscent of the ebb and flow of the tides.
This “hypothesis” which I have formulated for myself, for my own personal use, I have called evolutiones linguarum terrestrium. But who knows whether some kind of misunderstanding and confusion of concepts does not lurk in this expression?
1. N.S. Trubetzkoy, “On the Reflexes of Common Slavic ę in Czech,” (in Russian) Slavia, vol. VI, 1927/28, pp. 662-84 (Sov. ed.).