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Concluding Remarks

 Native American Nations | Linguistic Families                    

The task involved in the foregoing classification has been accomplished by intermittent labors extending through more than twenty years of time. Many thousand printed vocabularies, embracing numerous larger lexic and grammatic works, have been studied and compared. In addition to the printed material, a very large body of manuscript matter has been used, which is now in the archives of the Bureau of Ethnology, and which, it is hoped, will ultimately be published. The author does not desire that his work shall be considered final, but rather as initiatory and tentative. The task of studying many hundreds of languages and deriving there from ultimate conclusions as contributions to the science of philology is one of great magnitude, and in its accomplishment an army of scholars must be employed. The wealth of this promised harvest appeals strongly to the scholars of America for systematic and patient labor. The languages are many and greatly diverse in their characteristics, in grammatic as well as in lexic elements. The author believes it is safe to affirm that the philosophy of language is some time to be greatly enriched from this source. From the materials which have been and may be gathered in this field the evolution of language can be studied from an early form, wherein words are usually not parts of speech, to a form where the parts of speech are somewhat differentiated; and where the growth of gender, number, and case systems, together with the development of tense and mode systems can be observed. The evolution of mind in the endeavor to express thought, by coining, combining, and contracting words and by organizing logical sentences through the development of parts of speech and 140 their syntactic arrangement, is abundantly illustrated. The languages are very unequally developed in their several parts. Low gender systems appear with high tense systems, highly evolved case systems with slightly developed mode systems; and there is scarcely any one of these languages, so far as they have been studied, which does not exhibit archaic devices in its grammar.

The author has delayed the present publication somewhat, expecting to supplement it with another paper on the characteristics of those languages which have been most fully recorded, but such supplementary paper has already grown too large for this place and is yet unfinished, while the necessity for speedy publication of the present results seems to be imperative. The needs of the Bureau of Ethnology, in directing the work of the linguists employed in it, and especially in securing and organizing the labor of a large body of collaborators throughout the country, call for this publication at the present time.

In arranging the scheme of linguistic families the author has proceeded very conservatively. Again and again languages have been thrown together as constituting one family and afterwards have been separated, while other languages at first deemed unrelated have ultimately been combined in one stock. Notwithstanding all this care, there remain a number of doubtful cases. For example, Buschmann has thrown the Shoshonean and Nahuatlan families into one. Now the Shoshonean languages are those best known to the author, and with some of them he has a tolerable speaking acquaintance. The evidence brought forward by Buschmann and others seems to be doubtful. A part is derived from jargon words, another part from adventitious similarities, while some facts seem to give warrant to the conclusion that they should be considered as one stock, but the author prefers, under the present state of knowledge, to hold them apart and await further evidence, being inclined to the opinion that the peoples speaking these languages have borrowed some part of their vocabularies from one another.

After considering the subject with such materials as are on hand, this general conclusion has been reached: That borrowed materials exist in all the languages; and that some of these borrowed materials can be traced to original sources, while the larger part of such acquisitions can not be thus relegated to known families. In fact, it is believed that the existing languages, great in number though they are, give evidence of a more primitive condition, when a far greater number were spoken. When there are two or more languages of the same stock, it appears that this differentiation into diverse tongues is due mainly to the absorption of other material, and that thus the multiplication of dialects and languages of the same group furnishes evidence that at some prior time there existed other languages which are now lost except as they are partially preserved in the divergent elements of the group. The conclusion which has been reached, therefore, does not accord with the hypothesis upon which the investigation began, namely, that common elements would be discovered in all these languages, for the longer the study has proceeded the more clear it has been made to appear that the grand process of linguistic development among the tribes of North America has been toward unification rather than toward multiplication, that is, that the multiplied languages of the same stock owe their origin very largely to absorbed languages that are lost. The data upon which this conclusion has been reached can not here be set forth, but the hope is entertained that the facts already collected may ultimately be marshaled in such a manner that philologists will be able to weigh the evidence and estimate it for what it may be worth.

The opinion that the differentiation of languages within a single stock is mainly due to the absorption of materials from other stocks, often to the extinguishment of the latter, has grown from year to year as the investigation has proceeded. Wherever the material has been sufficient to warrant a conclusion on this subject, no language has been found to be simple in its origin, but every language has been found to be composed of diverse elements. The processes of borrowing known in historic times are those which have been at work in prehistoric times, and it is not probable that any simple language derived from some single pristine group of roots can be discovered.

There is an opinion current that the lower languages change with great rapidity, and that, by reason of this, dialects and languages of the same stock are speedily differentiated. This widely spread opinion does not find warrant in the facts discovered in the course of this research. The author has everywhere been impressed with the fact that savage tongues are singularly persistent, and that a language which is dependent for its existence upon oral tradition is not easily modified. The same words in the same form are repeated from generation to generation, so that lexic and grammatic elements have a life that changes very slowly. This is especially true where the habitat of the tribe is unchanged. Migration introduces a potent agency of mutation, but a new environment impresses its characteristics upon a language more by a change in the semantic content or meaning of words than by change in their forms. There is another agency of change of profound influence, namely, association with other tongues. When peoples are absorbed by peaceful or militant agencies new materials are brought into their language, and the affiliation of such matter seems to be the chief factor in the differentiation of languages within the same stock. In the presence of opinions that have slowly grown in this direction, the author is inclined to think that some of the groups herein recognized as families will ultimately be divided, as the common materials of such languages, when they are more thoroughly studied, will be seen to have been borrowed.

142 In the studies which have been made as preliminary to this paper, I have had great assistance from Mr. James C. Pilling and Mr. Henry W. Henshaw. Mr. Pilling began by preparing a list of papers used by me, but his work has developed until it assumes the proportions of a great bibliographic research, and already he has published five bibliographies, amounting in all to about 1,200 pages. He is publishing this bibliographic material by linguistic families, as classified by myself in this paper. Scholars in this field of research will find their labors greatly abridged by the work of Mr. Pilling. Mr. Henshaw began the preparation of the list of tribes, but his work also has developed into an elaborate system of research into the synonymy of the North American tribes, and when his work is published it will constitute a great and valuable contribution to the subject. The present paper is but a preface to the works of Mr. Pilling and Mr. Henshaw, and would have been published in form as such had not their publications assumed such proportions as to preclude it. And finally, it is needful to say that I could not have found the time to make this classification, imperfect as it is, except with the aid of the great labors of the gentlemen mentioned, for they have gathered the literature and brought it ready to my hand. For the classification itself, however, I am wholly responsible.

I am also indebted to Mr. Albert S. Gatschet and Mr. J. Owen Dorsey for the preparation of many comparative lists necessary to my work.

The task of preparing the map accompanying this paper was greatly facilitated by the previously published map of Gallatin. I am especially indebted to Col. Garrick Mallery for work done in the early part of its preparation in this form. I have also received assistance from Messrs. Gatschet, Dorsey, Mooney and Curtin. The final form which it has taken is largely due to the labors of Mr. Henshaw, who has gathered many important facts relating to the habitat of North American tribes while preparing a synonymy of tribal names.

Indian Linguistic Families of America North of Mexico, 1891

Linguistic Families


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