Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

shewn that a like relation exists internally between the two main subdivisions of the Gothic family. These two parts are the High Dutch and the Low Dutch. The Modern or New High Dutch is what we now call 'German,' the great literary language of Central Europe, inaugurated by Luther in his translation of the Bible. Behind this great modern speech we have two receding stages of its earlier forms, the Middle High Dutch or the language of the Epic of the Nibelungen, and the Old High Dutch or the language of the Scripture paraphrasts Otfrid and Notker. The Alt-Hoch-Deutsch goes back to the tenth century; the Mittel-Hoch-Deutsch goes back to the thirteenth; and the Neu-Hoch-Deutsch dates from the Reformation of the sixteenth century. This is the High Dutch division of the Gothic languages.

Round about these, in a broken curve, are found the representatives of the Low Dutch family. Their earliest literary traces go back to the fourth century, and appear in the villages of Dacia, in lands which slope to the Danube; where the country is by foreigners called Wallachia. It is from this region that we have the Mcesogothic Gospels and other relics of the planting of Christianity. But the greatest body of the Low Dutch is to the north and west of Germany. Along the shores of the Baltic, and far inland, where High Dutch is established in the educated ranks, the mass of the folk speak Low Dutch, which locally passes by the name of Platt-Deutsch. The kingdom of the Netherlands, where it is a truly national speech, the speech of all ranks of the community—the kingdom of Belgium, where, under the name of Flemish, it is striving for recognition, and has gained a place in literature through the pen of Hendrik Conscience— the old district of the Hanseatic cities, the Lower Elbe, Hamburgh, Liibeck, Bremen,—all this is Nieder-Deutsch, Low Dutch.

8. To this family belongs the English language in respect of that which is the oldest and most material part of it. It has received so many additions from other sources, and has worked them up with so much individuality of effect, as to have in fact produced a new language, and a language which, from external circumstances, seems likely to become the parent of a new strain of languages. But all the outgrowth and exuberance of the English language clusters round a Low Dutch centre.

It would be a departure from the general way of philologers to include under the term of Low Dutch the languages of Scandinavia. The latter have very strong individualising features of their own, such as the post-positive article, and a form for the passive verb. The post-positive article is highly curious. In modern Danish or Swedish the indefinite article a or an is represented by en for masculine and feminine, and et for neuter. Thus en skov signifies a wood (shaw) and el tree signifies a tree. But if you want to say the wood, the tree, you suffix these syllables to the nouns, and then they have the effect of the definite article": skoven, the wood; irael, the tree; Juletrael, the Christmas tree.

9. The possession of a form for the passive is hardly less remarkable, when we consider that the Gothic languages in general make the passive, as we do in English, by the aid of the verb to be. Active to love, passive to be loved. But the Scandinavian dialects just add an s to the active, and that makes it passive. This s is a relic of an old reflexive pronoun, so that it is most like the French habit of getting a sort of a passive by prefixing the reflexive pronoun se. Thus in French marier is to marry (active), of parents who marry their children; but if you have to express to marry in the sense of to get married or to be married, you say se marier. Examples of the Danish passive form:—

Active. Passive.

at give, to give at gives, to be given

at elske, to love at elskes, to be loved

at iinde, to find at findes, to be found

at faae, to get at faaes, to be gotten

at drive, to drive at drives, to be driven

There is only one other language of this great family that has preserved any traces of a passive verb, and that is the Mcesogothic. Here the form was more elaborate than in the Scandinavian dialects, but it was already far gone towards dissolution at the date of the extant writings. But though such features as a passive form, and a post-positive article, have a strong characterising effect, they do not take languages out of those lines of classification which separate the High from the Low Dutch. Between the Icelandic, or, to speak more generally, the Northern (Norrsena) speech on the one side, and the Mcesogothic on the other, we may describe the position of the Low Dutch half of the Gothic family.

10. The cycle of letter-change which has been described above as taking place externally between the Classic tongues on the one hand and the Gothic on the other, will be found, upon a comparison of High with Low Dutch, to repeat itself also internally. The very same mnemonic which there proved a true guide, will substantially hold good also here. The consonantal variations between the High Dutch on the one hand, and the Low Dutch on the other, may be symbolised by writing the German word [cunt over the English word tame, thus—

fa m t
t a me

In this mnemonic, the final e of tame is there merely to make an English word of it, in order to indicate that the symbols, T, A, M, in this place, are doing duty for the English group, that is, the Low Dutch group, in the comparison; while the letters fa, m, t, which form a German word, represent the High Dutch side of the comparison. The combination of fa is useful as a reminder that in High Dutch the sibilant f or j is the substitute for an aspirated dental (such as our th) which that language does not possess.

The action of this law is most readily exhibited with the dentals, because in these we can employ modern German as the representative of High Dutch. The first group illustrates the law that where the Low Dutch has a tenuis, the High Dutch has an aspirate (or the sibilant which supplies their want of a dental aspirate), and this law is represented by the formula

[table]

The second group shews that where the Low Dutch has an aspirate the High Dutch has a medial, and this is represented by the formula

[table]

The third formula represents the law that where the Low Dutch has a medial the High Dutch has a tenuis:

[table]
« IndietroContinua »