The wealth or poverty of a language must be considered in the case of each of the three elements separately.
The question of phonology can be subdivided into two — sounds and accent. Since we Poles have an exceptional wealth of sounds, lets us put on record that our ć, cz, ś, sz, ń, ź, are to be found in the Basque tongue which is still a puzzle to scholars; ł, ń, ś in Mongol and Chinese; ą not only in French but also in Korean and Botocudo. The Japanese language possesses the consonants ć, cz, ś, dz, dź, dż, ł; on the other hand there is neither w nor l. In different parts of the world different consonants are regarded as special, and although Japanese has as many as seven of the special Polish sounds, it is in fact “very simple and poor in sounds”.529 The Chinese do not have the sounds r, d and t, and the Yakuts have no w — they substitute b or w.530 The Bushmen possess a quite different order of sounds: between six and eight labials, not identical in the various tribes. “They are made by the intake of breath by tongue, palate and side teeth”.531 And how many sounds are still unknown to European ears and await discoveries!
In Europe, accent is confined to the fixed and movable (in the Russian and Slovenian languages). Outside Europe, its scope is wider. In the African peul language, negation is indicated by accent.532 In the Chinese languages, in which accent gives a monosyllabic word various meanings. Sinologists reckon the number of these accents variously at between four and twelve. The expression tshen, for example, in accordance with one of its eight accents may mean ship, loquacity, arrow, basin, fire, shaft, a particular fish and a particular plant.533
Richness of vocabulary is of various kinds. Basically it is a question whether and to what extent new expressions are forthcoming as people acquire ideas. We have abandoned Latin as the universal language of learning, because it was increasingly difficult for its vocabulary to keep pace with the excess of new concepts. It was long artificially kept up to the mental level of the new Europe; from St. Thomas Aquinas to Bacon of Verulam Latin was in large measure, as far as vocabulary is concerned, an artificial language — until in the end the constantly increasing arfificiality became impossible. Put simply — we have grown out of Latin. It was a case of concepts multiplying quicker than words; vocabulary lagged behind mentality.
In a very primitive language, however, vocabulary may be rich, and in a language of a high degree of excellence, relatively scanty. In certain matters, peoples on a low level of development make more distinctions than highly civilised ones. The Yakuts, for example, indicate by separate terms various degrees of relationship and connection which we lump together under one and the same term, or ignore altogether, insensitive to such detailed gradation and definition. And the slendemess of Chinese dictionaries arouses surprise. For example in the dialect of the Peking mandarins a total of 420-460 monosyllables have been counted, in Cantonese 707, and in the richest, that of the Amoy district, 846.534
The German and Chinese languages, each in a different way, add to their vocabulary by composite expressions. The German expresses the idea rzeczpospolita (commonwealth) by the term Freistaat, while the Chinese puts together three terms signifying to debate, mildness, government.535
The most primitive languages excel beyond expectation in richness of vocabulary. The Botocudos stand on the lowest rung of civilisation, but in 1924, when collecting materials for a dictionary, Edouardo de Lima managed to write down about 3,000 expressions536 that is as many as suffice the average European of middle intelligence. But among the natives of Terra del Fuego 30.000 expressions have apparently been counted,537 even if the error were ten-fold, it would still be a lot.
Primitive languages also frequently offend “by excessive wealth of words, and over-great accuracy. The Eskimo from Hudson Bay has not one expression to signify washing, but as many as there are objects which may be washed. He uses one when he means washing a table, another for washing his face, for washing other people, for washing a spoon, a pot, etc. His talk must be extremely precise”.538
The heights of lexicographical wealth are reached with the existence of a separate male and female language539 so that although women understand the male language, they may not speak it to them. Every object then has two names, according to the sex of the speaker. Among the Caribs men speak Carib, and the women “Arowak”. Obviously both sexes understand both languages, for conversation would otherwise be impossible. Even stranger (for us) is the fact that sometimes different social positions involve the use of differing tongues. Among the autochthonous Javans, the superior addresses the inferior in the ngoko language, while the inferior replies in the kromo language.540
Science knows no name for linguistic riches of this kind; we shall call it the manifoldness of language. It is generally supposed that manifoldness only occurs among “savages”. Few know that the same thing — but on a still larger scale — occurs among the Japanese. “Japanese of the educated class use in letters a separate literary language”.541 And Sister Hiacynta Zaborowska, of the Polish Franciscan missionaries, reports as follows:
“Please do not be surprised that I do not know Japanese well. Experts say that in three years even very gifted persons may with difficulty learn Japanese. The thing is complicated by the fact that there are really several Japanese languages. There is a religious and liturgical language, and a colloquial language. Some expressions are fitting for men, and very different ones for women. Moreover I, as superior, cannot use the same expressions as my: subordinates. There are some twenty methods of reckoning alone! It would be an unforgiveable linguistic sin to count in the same way persons and animals, or flat and round objects: even the counting of full and empty cups is different”.542
Let us pass to the most complicated element. Here we find differences which at first sight appear improbable. Let us imagine Polish grammar relieved of the plural number, gender of nouns, personal and relative pronouns, temporal conjunctions, and we lose the ability to imagine the Polish language. Japanese gets on without any of these, and instead possesses many riches of a kind quite inconceivable to a Polish head. Relative pronouns are replaced by skilful description of the person where need arises. Conjunctions are used only to indicate spatial, never temporal relationship. “It is permissible to link objects standing alongside each other, it is not permissible to link events succeeding each other”. Plural number is indicated only by the numeral, definite or indefinite. “Two men” is expressed in Japanese as “man two individuals”, or by the Chinese in his pidgin English (which is simply Chinese spoken with English words) a “two pieces man”.543
At first sight, it would seem that we have to deal with linguistic poverty. But this is by no means the case. For example “nouns are declined in a simple way, the cases being expressed in suffixes. On the other hand the declension of adjectives is extraordinarily complicated, with derivative forms as long, as they are numerous, representing not only states but times”. It is not easy for us to understand how an adjective may also express time.544 On the other hand the Japanese language has no relative pronouns or conjunctions.545
Grammar pays no heed to logic, as witness, the grammatical genders to be found in the most highly developed languages and in Hottentot. They do not derive from the opposition of sex, for in that case why the neuter gender?546 All Indo-European, Semitic and Hamitic languages possess genders; in the incorporative American languages there is “weak development of the masculine and feminine article”,547 but they are not known in the Far East nor in the language of the Basques.548 It is incidentally truly miserably superficial to look for the source of grammatical genders in lust!
There are interesting observations as to how a change of language comes about. “Different vocabularies may be ground in the same grammatical mill”. Normally, when a new language is accepted, accentuation continues according to the old — but evidently not always, otherwise the Gauls would not have been sending teachers of elocution to Rome a hundred years after their country was conquered.549
The mixing of the three elements in various combinations can be shown in a few examples. Armenian gypsies speak with an Armenian accent, but also inflect according to Armenian grammar. In Hindustani, whole phrases are made up of Persian expressions used according to the rules of Hindi grammar.550 In America, Germans speak German with English word-order and syntax.551 In Switzerland on the linguistic border the French language is retreating in a certain area, where they translate literally from French into German words, so that “ideas are conceived in a French way in German terms”.552
Phraseology reveals no less fascinating phenomena. “Savages” are often adept at the most poetic self-expression, of which we have eloquent instances in the notes of Bronisław Piłsudski on the Ainus. There is real beauty in the expressions of the Malagasy in Madagascar, and in its day, great enthusiasm was aroused by the highly metaphoric language of the Indian Jivaros. But the contemporary missionary sees first of all the lack of general and abstract expressions, and virtual absence of syntax. So that constant metaphors and poetic exaggeration point rather to the poverty of a language which needs allegory to express thought. Jivaro-white half-castes still use diminutives unnecessarily, conducting entire conversations in this manner.553
Only after consideration of the three elements of any language does it become possible to give an answer to questions on the nearness, relationship and similarity of languages. Similarity may be of three kinds. Do we not understand the foreigner who makes a grammatical mistake with every word? But grammar decides the scholarly division. How much accent means in the understanding of speech is generally known — considerably more than grammar.554
It is certain that for history similarity or dissimilarity of grammar is indifferent, since peoples able to understand one another are historically close. The easier mutual understanding, the more easily the influences of civilisation are set in motion. In the reciprocal relations of peoples, vocabulary goes before grammar.
Consideration of the three elements of language thus makes possible a critical approach to the so-called wealth of languages. Rich in what — in phonology, or vocabulary, or morphology, or syntax? Riches in one element may go with poverty in a second, and a language which is entirely primitive may be rich in one aspect.