Page images

we have what philologers call the moral qualities, or abstract substances of goodness, convenience, swiftness, whiteness, &c.

These are the distinguishing characteristics of radical words, and which every etymologist will naturally attend to; for, if we place between the radical words other words of more than one syllable, and words which only represent a figurative, or negative sense, there will be much difficulty in tracing the roots common to all languages. *

The names of animals peculiar to a country, material elements, parts of the body, natural objects and relations, strong affections of the mind, and other ideas common to the whole race of man, are the surest criterion for comparing the affinity of radical words in different languages. Ancient languages have their words less altered than modern, which renders it much easier to compare the ancient languages together than the modern. If, in analyzing the Celtic, or Gaelic language, we abstract from it all the compound words of two or three syllables, there will remain very few roots, or words of one syllable; and these few are what ought to be regarded as the elements of the language. The same observation is applicable to the Chinese, Sanscrit, and Arabic languages; and, notwithstanding the multiplicity of compound words in the Chinese language, it is rather singular to remark that the roots, or monosyllables, do not exceed three hundred and fifty.f The Arabic language yields to none in the number of its words and the precision of its phrases, yet it bears not the least resemblance, either in words or in the structure of them, to the Sanscrit, the greater parent of the Indian dialects. Like the Greek, Persian, and German, the Sanscrit delights in compounds, but in a much higher degree; and indeed to such an excess, that words of more than twenty syllables can be produced : while the Arabic, on the other hand, and all its sister-dialects, abhor the composition of words, and invariably express every complex idea by circumlocution. *. Sir William Jones tells us, † that “ the Sanscrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure ; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either; yet bearing to both a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed that no philologer could examine them all without believing them to have come from one common source, which perhaps no longer exists. There is a similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the Gothic and Celtic, though blended with a very different idiom, had the same origin with the Sanscrit; and the old Persian might be added to the same family.”

* Le Monde Primitif par Monsieur Gebellin, Vol. I. + Barrow's 'Travels, p. 469.

• Asiatic Researches, Vol. II. p. 6.

+ Ibid. Vol. I. p. 423. The word Sanscrit seems to be of Celtic origin, and is compounded of sean, old, and scribhadh, writing. The word khan is derived from the original Celtic word cean or kean, head; and it “ pervades Asia and Europe from the Ganges to the Garonne." Cean is compounded of the Celtic root ce, globular or round, and an the mascular termination for small. Griann, the sun, is compounded of gri, heat, and ann, a circle or body revolving, from which we have, in Gaelic, grisach, hot burning embers, and other derivatives.

Mr. Marsden, in his History of Sumatra, tells us, “ that one general language prevailed (however mutilated and changed in the course of time) throughout all the portion of the world, from Madagascar to the most distant discoveries eastward, of which the Malay is a dialect much corrupted or refined by a mixture of other tongues. This very extensive similarity of language, indicates a common origin of the inhabitants; but the circumstance and progress of their separation are wrapped in the darkest veil of obscurity.”

What Mr. Barrow says of the Chinese language, is truly applicable to the living remnants of the Celtic. “ It has not undergone any material alteration for more than two thousand years, nor has it ever borrowed a character or a syllable from any other language which now exists. As a proof of this, it may be mentioned, that every new article that has found its way in China, since its discovery to Europeans, has acquired a Chinese name, and entirely sunk that which is borne by the nation who introduces it. The proper names even of countries, nations, individuals, are changed, and assume new ones in their language. Thus Europe is called See Yang, the western country. The English are dignified by the name of Hung mow, or red heads; and the French, Spanish, Portuguese, and all others who visit China, have each a name in the language in the country, wholly distinct from that they bear in Europe.” This inflexibility in retaining the words in their own language, has led Mr. Barrow

[ocr errors]

to think, that Dr. Johnson had the Chinese in his mind when, in the inimitable piece of fine writing which prefaces his Dictionary, he niade this remark, “ the language most likely to continue long without alteration, would be that of a nation raised a little, and but a little, above barbarity, secluded from strangers, and totally employed in procuring the conveniencies of life:” an observation which is perfectly descriptive of that remnant of the Celtic people, whose language still exists as a living speech, in the mountainous regions of this island from the Grampian hills to the Hebrides, nearly in the same purity, as in the æra of Ossian ;*

All the living languages of Europe have words borrowed from the Greek and Latin; but the Gaelic, from the number and richness of its primitive roots, and the facility of forming a number of compound words, has distinct terms of its own in every art and science, and are so peculiarly descriptive of the sense, that an illiterate Highlander of this day easily comprehends their meaning. Thus astronomy

is in Gaelic Reul-eolas, from reul, star, and eolas, knowledge. The common name for a star reul (or ruithuil) signifies the guide to direct the course. Reann is the name for a planet, compounded of Re, a star, and ann, a circle, or revolution. That astronomy had been studied by the druids and Celtic nations, we have sufficient proofs; as well as that many

hazardous voyages were performed by men, in those days, without any chart, or compass, but the stars to guide

* Dr. Johnson's Dictionary was published in 1755, and his Tour to the Hebrides in 1775.

them. * Speur, in Gaelic, is the sky, or firmament. We have in Greek Spheira, Latin Sphæra, Persian Sipehr, sphere. The word speur frequently occurs in Ossian's

poems; "Talla nan speur,” hall of the skies, sometimes translated airy halls :

Fosgluibhse talla nan speur,
Aithriche Oscair nan cruai-bheum ;
Open ye the hall of the skies,
Ye fathers of Toscar of hard blows;

Solstice is grianstad, from grian, sun, and stad, stop. Zodiac is grian-chrios, from grian, sun, and chrios, belt. Eclipse is ur-dhubha, from ur, new, or fresh, and dubha, darkening. Automical is fein-gluasach, from fein, self, and gluasach, motion.

As no people have technical terms in their own language for any art or science, to the practice of which they can be supposed to have been ignorant, we may reasonably infer that all the arts and sciences, in which Celtic terms are found, have been practiced by the ancestors of that people, long before other nations borrowed or adopted in their language such techuical expressions from the Greeks or Romans. Having given two or three examples in astronomy, of the indigenous terms applicable to that science, we shall now, by way of further illustration exhibit a few in other sciences. Geography is expressed in Gaelic by cèghrabha, compounded of cè, globe, or earth, and grabha, description; and from this last are the words yñ and ypáow derived. Anatomy is expressed by corpshnasachd, from corp, body, and snasachd,

* Cæs. L. VI. c. 14. Smith's Hist, of the Druids, c. 4.

« PreviousContinue »