13.8 A Possible Primitive Language Group¶
The fundamental tongues of these nine main language groups we have noted were not by any means all the human speech beginnings of the Neolithic Age. They are the latest languages, the survivors, which have ousted their more primitive predecessors. There may have been other, and possibly many other, ineffective centres of speech which were afterwards overrun by the speakers of still surviving tongues, and of elementary languages which faded out. We find strange little patches of speech still in the world which do not seem to be connected with any other language about them. Sometimes, however, an exhaustive inquiry seems to affiliate these disconnected patches, seems to open out to us tantalizing glimpses of some simpler, wider, and more fundamental and universal form of human speech. One language group that has been keenly discussed is the Basque group of dialects. The Basques live now on the north and south slopes of the Pyrenees; they number perhaps 600,000 altogether in Europe, and to this day they are a very sturdy and independent- spirited people. Their language, as it exists today, is a fully developed one. But it is developed upon lines absolutely different from those of the Aryan languages about it. Basque newspapers have been published in the Argentine and in the United States to supply groups of prosperous emigrants. The earliest ?French? settlers in Canada were Basque, and Basque names are frequent among the French Canadians to this day. Ancient remains point to a much wider distribution of the Basque speech and people over Spain. For a long time this Basque language was a profound perplexity to scholars and its structural character led to the suggestion that it might be related to some Amerindian tongue. A. H. Keane, in Man, Past and Present, assembles, reasons for linking it — though remotely — with the Berber language of North Africa, and through the Berber with the general body of Hamitic languages, but this relationship is questioned by other philologists. They find Basque more akin to certain similarly stranded vestiges of speech found in the Caucasian Mountains, and they are disposed to regard it as a last surviving member, much changed and specialized of a very widely extended group of pre-Hamitic languages, otherwise extinct, spoken chiefly by peoples of that brunet Mediterranean race which once occupied most of western and southern Europe and western Asia, and which may have been very closely related to the Dravidians of India and the peoples with a heliolithic culture who spread eastward, thence through the East Indies to Polynesia and beyond.
It is quite possible that over western and southern Europe language groups extended eight or ten thousand years ago that have completely vanished before Aryan tongues. Later on we shall note, in passing, the possibility of three lost language groups represented by (1) Ancient Cretan, Lydian, and the like (though these may have belonged, says Sir H. H. Johnston, to the “Basque-Caucasian-Dravidian [!] group”), (2) Sumerian, and (3) Elamite. The suggestion has been made — it is a mere guess — that ancient Sumerian may have been a linking language between the early Basque?Caucasian and early Mongolian groups. If this is true, then we have in this “Basque-Caucasian-Dravidian-Sumerian-proto-Mongolian” group a still more ancient and more ancestral system of speech than the fundamental Hamitic. We have something more like the linguistic “missing link”, more like an ancestral language than anything else we can imagine at the present time. It may have been related to the Aryan and Semitic and Hamitic languages much as the primitive lizards of later Palaeozoic times were related to the mammals, birds, and dinosaurs respectively.