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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Philology, Comparative

The importance which this subject has assumed in modern science as a key to the history of national origin justifies its admission and brief discussion here, with special reference to the two Biblical tongues.

The ethnographical. table contained in the tenth chapter of Genesis has derived no little corroboration and illustration from the researches of modern philology. It has thus been clearly established that all the languages which have furnished a polished literature are reducible to two great families, corresponding, with a few sporadic variations, to the lineage of the two older sons of Noah respectively, namely, Shem and Japheth. The former of these, which is in fact usually designated as the Shemitic, is emphatically Oriental, and embraces the Hebrew and Arabic, with their cognates, the Samaritan, the eastern and western Aramaean, or Chaldee and Syriac, and the Ethiopic. The latter, which is conveniently styled the Indo-Germanic group, includes the Sanscrit, with its sister the Zend, and their offshoots, the Greek, the Latin, the Gallic, the Saxon in a word, the stock of the Occidental or European languages. The analogies and coincidences subsisting between the members of the Shemitic family have been pretty fully exhibited by Castell, Gesenius, and First in their lexicons, and by Ewald and Nordheimer in their grammars; while the relationship existing among the Indo-Germanic group has been extensively traced by Bopp in his Comparative Granmar, by Pott in his Etymologische Forschungen, and by Benfey in his Wurzel-Lexicon. Other philologists, among whom De Sacy, Bournouf, Max Muller, and Renan may be especially mentioned, have somewhat extended the range of these comparisons, and occasional resemblances have been pointed out in particular forms between the Shemitic and Indo-Germanic branches; but no systematic collation of these latter coincidences, so far as we are aware, has been instituted, unless we accept such fanciful attempts as those of Parkhurst, who derives most of the Greek primitives from Hebrew roots! Yet notwithstanding the confusion at Babel and many a later linguistic misadventure, the common Noachian parentage ought to be capable of vindication by some distinct traces, at least of analogy if not of identity, in early forms of speech existing among both these great branches of the human family as represented by their written records. We propose in this article briefly to exhibit a few of these resemblances which have presented themselves in our own ilvestigations as arguing a common origin, although a remote one, between the Shemitic and the Indo-Germanic tongues; the most of them are certainly too striking to have been accidental. Lest we should venture beyond our own or our readers' depth, and make our pages bristle with an unnecessary display of foreign characters, we shall confine our illustrations to the Hebrew, on the one hand, and to the Greek. Latin, French, German, and English, on the other, as sufficient representatives of the two linlgual families which we are comparing.

I. Identity of Roots. The following is a table, compiled from notes made in the course of our own reading, of such Hebrew roots as recur among the European dialects so strikingly similar in tolrn auin significanlce as to leave little doubt in most cases of their original identity. We have carefully excluded all those that betray evidences of later or artificial introduction from one language to the other, such as commercial, mechanical, or scientific terms, mere technicals, obvious onomatopoetics, names of animals, plants, minerals, official titles, etc., and we have selected words representing families as far divergent as possible, rather than those exhibiting the most striking resemblance. It will be interesting to observe how a root has sometimes slipped out of one or more of the cognate dialects, in the line of descent, and reappears in another representative; a few only are found in all the columns. In some of them again the signification or form has become disguised in one or another of the affiliated languages, but becomes clear again in a later representative. We have restored the digamma wherever it was necessary in order to bring out the relationship in the Greek roots. Those marked with an asterisk are Chaldee. A few out of their proper column are included in brackets.

This list is sufficiently copious, after deducting those which further researches may show to be merely fortuitous, to prove a more than accidental agreement in words of frequent use. Many of the roots are evidently related to each other, and most of them are found in sevral kindred forms. Among these the selection has here been made not so much for the purpose of exhibiting the most palpable similarity, as to include the greatest variety of distinct etymons in each line of descent. We have not room to express the numerous cognates and derivatives of each, to trace the connection of their meanings with the common or generic import, nor to note the various orthographical changes that they have undergone. If the reader will take the trouble to investigate these points at his leisure, as he may readily do with the help of good lexicons of the respective languages, he will soon satisfy himself how widely these radices have ramified and how intimately they are connected. A comparison with their Arabic and Sanscrit parallels would still further verify the foregoing results.

II. Monosyllabic Roots. It is well settled that the so-called weak radicals in Hebrew verbs, technically denominated Pe-Aleph, Pe-Nun, Pe- Yod, Lamed-He, etc., which drop away in the course of inflection, were not in reality originally triliteral at all, but that these letters were oily added in those forms in which they appear for the sake of uniformity with regular verbs. But these constitute in the aggregate a very large part, we apprehend a decided majority, of all the verbs most frequently employed in the language. Besides these, there is another very large class of roots of kindred or analogous signification with each other, and having two radicals in common. All these, as Gesenius has ingeniously shown in his Lexicon, are likewise to be regarded as essentially identical, the idea clinging in the two letters possessed by them in common. Thus we have reduced nearly the other moiety of Hebrew verbs, and these it must be remembered are the ground or stock of the entire vocabulary, to biliterals. The presumption is not an unwarrantable one that all the roots might etymologically be similarly retrenched. The few quadriliterals that occur are unceremoniously treated in this manner, being regarded as formed from ordinary roots by reduplication or interpolation. Now it is a remarkable coincidence that the ultimate theme of the primitive Greek verb has been ascertained, in like manner, by modern philologists to be a monosyllable, consisting of two consonants vocalized, in precise conformity with the Hebrew system of vowel points, by a single mutable vowel. Thus the basis of such protracted forms even as λανθάνω, μανθάνω, διδάσχω, becomes λαθ, μαθ, δαχ . Indeed, Noah Webster has applied the same principle to all the roots of English words; and in his Dictionary (we speak of the quarto edition, originally published at New Haven in two volumes) he has indicated them as "class Dg, No. 28," etc., although he seems never to have published the key or list of this classification.

III. Primitive Tenses. In nothing perhaps does the disparity between the Greek and the Hebrew verb strike the student at first more obviously than the multiplicity and variety of tense-forms in the former, compared with the meagre and vague array of tenses in the latter. A little further examination, however, shows that by means of the various so-called conjugations (Niphal, Hiphil, etc.) the Hebrews managed to extend their paradigm to pretty considerable dimensions. Here the Heb. Piel and other dageshed conjugations evidently correspond with the reduplication of the Greek perfect and pluperfect tenses, while the prefixed syllable of Hiphil, etc., affords a clew to the device of the simple augment in Greek. These, however, are comparatively unimportant, although interesting analogies.

The root of the Hebrew verb is found in its least disguised form in the praeter Kal. The future is but a modification of this, as is especially evident from the facility with which it resumes the preterit import with "vav conversive." The past is naturally the first and most frequent tense in use, because it is historical. In all these respects the prseter answers to the Greek second aorist. The augment of this tense was a secondary or subsequent invention, and, accordingly, Homer habitually disregards it. The "Attic reduplication" (for example, ἤγαγον ) had a still later origin. The second aorist gives the root in its simplest if not purest form. It is further remarkable that none but primitive verbs have this tense, and no Greek verbs are primitive but those which exhibit a monosyllabic root as found in the stem of the second aorist. We invite the attention of scholars especially to these last enunciated principles. They show that this tense was originally the ground-form of the verb. No tense in Greek exhibits greater modifications of the root than the present. This argues that the tense itself was of comparatively late date. Accordingly the derivative verbs most usually have it, although defective in many other parts and the variety of forms under which it appears occasions most of the so-called irregularities set down in tables of Greek verbs. Now the Hebrew has properly no present tense. Present time can only be expressed by means of the participle, with the substantive verb (regularly understood) like our "periphrastic present" ("I am doing," etc.). True to the analogy which we have indicated, the junior members of the Hebraistic family, especially the Chaldee and Syriac, have constructed a present tense out of the participle by annexing the inflective terminations appropriate to the different numbers and persons. This process illustrates the formation of

IV. Verb Inflections. In Greek, as in Hebrew, the personal endings are obviously but fragments of the personal pronouns, appended to the verbal root or tensestem. This is so generally recognized to be the fact with respect to both these languages that we need dwell upon it only for the purpose of explaining, by its means, some of the peculiarities of the Greek verbs in μι . This termination, which reappears in the optative of other verbs, was doubtless the original and proper sign of the first person, rather than the ending in ω. The former is the basis of the oblique cases of the pronoun of the first person, μέ , me; as the latter is the last, but nonradical, syllable of the nominative, ἐγώ, I. It is in keeping with this that the verbs in μι are some of the oldest in the language, for example, the substantive verb, εἰμί . The passive terminal μαι is doubtless but a modification of the same. Now the principle or fact to which we wish to call particular attention in this connection is this: Every primitive "pure" verb in Greek is a verb in μι. By this rule the student may always know them, as there are no others, except the few factitious verbs in υμι, and very rare exceptions like ῥέω, τίω, πίνω, which are attributable to disguises of the true root. Let it now be further noted, in confirmation of what we have stated above concerning the Greek primal tense, that verbs in μι have substantially the same inflection as the second aorist, and they have only those tenses with which these inflections are compatible. Neither of these last-named principles, it is true, is carried out with exactness, for the aorists passive of other verbs seem to have usurped these active terminations; but we are persuaded they are in general the real clew to the defectiveness and peculiar inflection of the forms in μι . We therefore look upon the verbs in question as interesting links in the descent from the older Hebrew type.

V. Declensional Endings. In the absence of any real declensions whatever in the Hebrew, or any proper cases unless the "construct state" be entitled to be regarded as a genitive there is little ground of comparison with the copious series of modifications of the Greek noun and adjective. Yet Webster has noted the resemblance of the plural ים and Chaldee ין to the English oxen (archaic housen, etc.). The ν "ephelcustic" has its analogue in the "paragogic" ן, and is strikingly generalized in the "nunnation" of the Arabic.

VI. Vowel Changes. To the learner the Hebrew language seems very complicated in this respect; but the whole process of vocalization is wrought out under the following simple law: that "without the tone, a long vowel cannot stand in a closed syllable, nor a short vowel in an open syllable." From this results practically the alternative of a long vowel or an additional consonant (or dagesh forte) in every unaccented syllable. In the Greek the following fundamental principle prevails: that a long vowel (or diphthong) indicates the omission of a consonant, except where it represents two short vowels; and this latter is tantamount to the other, for there is one letter less. Thus the systems of syllabication in both languages essentially coincide in this: that length in the vowel is equivalent to another consonant. We might take room to exemplify these rules, but the modern scholar will readily see their truth. In none of the later cognate languages is this principle regarded with much uniformity, although from the nature of the vocal organs themselves, it follows, even in so arbitrary a tongue (or rather so historical a spelling) as the Engllsh, that a vowel is naturally long when it ends the syllable, and short when a consonant closes the sound. But in the Greek and Hebrew the law we have propounded is consistently carried out in a complete system of euphonic changes which lie at the very threshold of either language.

Accordingly, in exactness of phonetic representation these two languages have no rival, not even in the German, Italian, or Spanish. Though the original sounds are now somewhat uncertain, yet it is evident (unless we take the degenerate modern Greek, and the discrepant modern Rabbinical pronunciations as perfect guides) that each letter and vowel in both had its own peculiar power. The two alphabets, we know, were identical in origin; for if we distrust the story of the importation of the Phoenician characters by Cadmus into Greece, we have but to compare the names, order, and forms of the written signs (reversing them, as the two languages were read in opposite directions), in order to satisfy ourselves that they are essentially the same. Even the unappreciable א has its equivalent in the spiritus lenis (as the ע may be visually represented by the spiritus asper), and the old digamma (Γαῦ) reappears in the consonantal ו . Perhaps the reason why v initial always has the rough breathing is owing to its affinity to both these last named. (See ALPHABET).

We trust we have said enough to illustrate our proposition that these two lingual families, and especially their two chiefly interesting representatives which, widely variant as they are in age, culture, flexibility, and genius, yet by a remarkable Providence have been brought together in the only revelation written for man have no ordinary or casual points of resemblance. We would be glad to see the subject extended by some competent hand, especially by a comparison of the venerable and rich Sanscrit and Arabic. (See SHEMITIC LANGUAGES).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Philology, Comparative'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/p/philology-comparative.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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