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13.7 Other Language Groups

In addition, the following other great language families are distinguished by the philologist. All the American-Indian languages, which vary widely among themselves, are separable from any Old World group. Here we may lump them together not so much as a family as a miscellany. There is one great group of languages in Africa, from a little way north of the equator to its southern extremity, the BANTU and in addition a complex of other languages across the centre of the continent about which we will not trouble here. There are also two probably separate groups, the DRAVIDIAN in South India, and the MALAY- POLYNESIAN stretched over Polynesia, and also now including Indian tongues.

Now it seems reasonable to conclude from these fundamental differences that about the time when men were beginning to form rather larger communities than the family tribe, when they were beginning to tell each other long stories and argue and exchange ideas, human beings were distributed about the world in a number of areas which communicated very little with each other. They were separated by oceans, seas, thick forests, deserts or mountains from one another. There may have been in that remote time, it may be 15,000 years ago or more, Aryan, Semitic, Hamitic, Turanian, American and Chinese-speaking tribes and families, wandering over their several areas of hunting and pasture, all at very much the same stage of culture, and each developing its linguistic instrument in its own way. Probably each of these original tribes was not more numerous altogether than the Indians in Hudson Bay Territory today. Systematic agriculture was barely beginning then, and until agriculture made a denser population possible men may have been almost as rare as the great apes have always been. If agriculture was becoming at all important in human life at that time, and if population was anywhere denser, it was probably in the Mediterranean region and possibly in areas now submerged.

In addition to these Neolithic tribes, there must have been various still more primitive forest folks in Africa and in India. Central Africa, from the Upper Nile, was then a vast forest, impenetrable to ordinary human life, a forest of which the Congo forests of today are the last shrunken remains.

Possibly the spread of men of a race higher than primitive Australoids into the East Indies,[1] and the development of the languages of the Malay- Polynesian type came later in time than the origination of these other language groups.

The language divisions of the philologist do tally, it is manifest, in a broad sort of way with the main race classes of the ethnologist, and they carry out the same idea of age-long separations between great divisions of mankind. In the Glacial Age, ice, or at least a climate too severe for the free spreading of peoples, extended from the north pole into Central Europe and across Russia and Siberia to the great tablelands of Central Asia. After the last Glacial Age, this cold north mitigated its severities very slowly, and was for long without any other population than the wandering hunters who spread eastward and across Bering Strait. North and Central Europe and Asia did not become sufficiently temperate for agriculture until quite recent times, times that is within the limit of 12,000 or possibly even 10,000 years, and a dense forest period intervened between the age of the hunter and the agricultural clearings.

This forest period was also a very wet period. It has been called the Pluvial or Lacustrine Age, the rain or pond period. It has to be remembered that the outlines of the land of the world have changed greatly even in the last hundred centuries. Across European Russia, from the Baltic to the Caspian Sea, as the ice receded there certainly spread much water and many impassable swamps; the Caspian Sea and the Sea of Aral and parts of the Desert of Turkestan, are the vestiges of a great extent of sea that reached far up to the Volga valley and sent an arm westward to join the Black Sea. Mountain barriers much higher than they are now, and the arm of the sea that is now the region of the Indus, completed the separation of the early Nordic races from the Mongolians and the Dravidians, and made the broad racial differentiation of those groups possible.

Again the blown-sand Desert of Sahara — it is not a dried-up sea, but a wind desert, and was once fertile and rich in life — becoming more and more dry and sandy, cut the Caucasians off from the sparse primitive Negro population in the central forest region of Africa.

The Persian Gulf extended very far to the north of its present head, and combined with the Syrian desert to cut off the Semitic peoples from the eastern areas, while on the other hand the south of Arabia, much more fertile than it is today, may have reached across what is now the Gulf of Aden towards Abyssinia and Somaliland. The Mediterranean and Red Sea may even have been fertile valleys containing a string of freshwater lakes during the Pluvial Age. The Himalayas and the higher and vaster massif of Central Asia and the northward extension of the Bay of Bengal up to the present Ganges valley divided off the Dravidians from the Mongolians, the canoe was the chief link between Dravidian and Southern Mongol, and the Gobi system of seas and lakes which presently became the Gobi desert, and the great system of mountain chains which follow one another across Asia from the centre to the northeast, split the Mongolian races into the Chinese and the Ural-Altaic language groups.

Bering Strait, when this came into existence, before or after the Pluvial Period, isolated the Amerindians.

We are not suggesting here, be it noted, that these ancient separations were absolute separations, but that they were effectual enough at least to prevent any great intermixture of blood or any great intermixture of speech in those days of man’s social beginnings. There was, nevertheless, some amount of meeting and exchange even then, some drift of knowledge that spread the crude patterns and use of various implements, and the seeds of a primitive agriculture about the world.

[1]The Polynesians appear to be a later eastward extension of the dark whites or brown peoples.

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