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THE ENGLISH PEOPLE AND OF
THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
COMPILED FROM THE BEST AND LATEST AUTHORITIES
JEAN ROEMER, LL. D.
PROFESSOR OF THE FRENCH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE AND VICE-PRESIDENT
OF THE COLLEGE OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK
The history of a language is, in a great measure, the history of the people who speak it, and of those who have spoken it. It is the history of the many populations, different in origin, manners, and in speech, who have at various epochs occupied the soil conjointly, sometimes in í endly, but more often in hostile, relations, until people of another race, more powerful than any, have crushed them all, and, taking possession of the land, have divided it among themselves, exterminating all who resisted them, and allowing the rest to live only on condition of their being quiet and doing all the work. In this movement of successive invasions, the elder races, dispersed and reduced in number, have often been compelled to make room for others, who, conquered in their turn, have become serfs of the soil which they once occupied as masters and as rulers. It is to these conquests, kept up throughout the Middle Ages, that the majority of European nations owe their geographical limits and even their present names. Their establishment was mainly the result of greed and military power; new societies have been formed out of the wrecks of the older ones violently de. stroyed, but in the work of reconstruction they have always retained something of their previous existence in their internal constitution, and especially in their language.
Languages, like nations, have their periods of growth, maturity, and decay, but while nineteen-twentieths of the vocabulary of a people lives in the literature and speech of the cultured classes only, the remainder has a robust life in the daily usage of the sons of toil; and this limited but more persistent portion of the national speech never fails to include the names of those objects which are the most familiar and the most beloved. Such are, for instance, the names of nearest relatives, father, mother, brother; of the parts of the body; of two or three of the commoner metals, tools, weapons, cereals, domestic animals; of the house, and things found in and near it; of the most striking features in the landscape, the mountain peaks and ranges, the valleys, lakes, and rivers; of the sun, the moon, the stars, the sky, the clouds, etc.; and as at all times, and in every region of the world, these names have had the same clear and well-defined meanings, their visible forms stand as a sort of material lexicon, explaining not only the more archaic forms of living languages, but even of tongues that have ceased to be vernacular.
Many nations have left no written records, and their history would be a blank volume, or nearly so, were it not that in the places where they have sojourned they have left traces of their migrations sufficiently clear to enable us to reconstruct the main outline of their history. The hills, the valleys, and the rivers are, in fact, the only writ. ing-tablets on which unlettered nations have been able to inscribe their annals, and these may be read in the names that still cling to the sites, and often contain the records of a class of events as to which written history is for the