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"DURCH sie (Ortnamen), die ältesten und dauerndsten Denkmäler, erzählt eine längst vergangene Nation gleichsam selbst ihre eigenen Schicksale, und es fragt sich nur, ob ihre Stimme uns noch verständlich bleibt."
W. VON HUMBOLDT.
Through these (names of places), the oldest and most enduring monuments, a nation long passed away relates as it were its own destiny, and the only question is, whether we yet understand its voice.
ETHNOLOGY, the science that, in its widest extent, comprehends all the phenomena connected with Peoples, Dialects, and Superstitions, presents itself to us under a three-fold aspect. Any one of the departments, physiology, philology, psychology, may be studied separately; yet as all three are undeniably involved in every question of ethnology, it can be of no avail to establish under one aspect, what we are not equally prepared to do under the other two.
The writers on ethnology hitherto have been mainly physiologists, partly also philologists; whilst psychology has remained a sort of neutral ground, for the conflicting opinions of both. But, it must be observed, that in the most pressing necessity of the science, namely, classification, the physiological investigators have established nothing more positive than that all distribution of races, under that aspect, must, if unaided, be in the highest degree baffling and vain. Physiologists, therefore, have only been too glad to avail themselves of the discoveries in the philological department, and especially of the classification that has so far resulted from a study of languages. But it follows, that when such ethnographers venture philological arguments on their own responsibility, their statements are to be received with caution, if not altogether ignored.
It is to philologists, then, that we are indebted for most of the great discoveries of the science. Comparisons of languages have shown that peoples widely spread over the globe are closely allied, and unquestionably of a common origin, whilst peoples separated only by stream have frequently no apparent connexion of language one with another. Craniologists, by their own admissions, could never have done so much. Why is linguistic science able to bridge over a gulf of more than four thousand years between the Sanscrit and Irish languages, and unable to find any radical similarity between the Basque of Spain and the languages that have hemmed it in and jostled it for many centuries? Physiology, with its doctrines of acclimatisation, and of permanent varieties, has no means of accounting for these phenomena.
The peoples whose languages can thus be traced to a common origin, are said to belong the same stock; and to this the other departments of the science assent. But if physiology is baffled where the peoples belong to different stocks, in which the contrasts are most striking, of how little avail must it be when the peoples belong to the same stock! Still less when the people under consideration-as in the present case-is a mixture of peoples already mixed, can we expect from physiology any positive support.
At a certain period in the history of language, every dialect may be taken to represent a people, and when languages of that period are attainable, philology possesses evidence sufficient for ethnographic purposes. But when the language is extinct, or exists only in the few archaic words of a dialect, the names of persons, places, and peoples are the only means, and the question-if science and not theory is to be regarded—becomes one of great difficulty. Such means should be used with caution, and only in aid of history and well-founded tradition.
The principles on which the names of places and persons have been conferred, are then of the highest importance. As a general principle, no place is named until the necessity arises; the circumstance of the time, or the relative position of the place, furnishes the name. Therefore never (or rarely) does a people name itself or its own country. No child, for example, was ever known to ask
its own name, or that of the town in which it was born. In fact, the "I" and the "here," as we know from the history of the pronouns, are most difficult ideas for the mind to grasp. Such names are always freely adopted from foreign languages. Europe is properly supposed to be a Tyrian or Phoenician word, meaning vespera, the West; and Asia, a Greek word,* signifying aurora, the East.
Names of places and persons can only proceed from the dominant language of the period at which they are given. But a change in the dominant language is very far from proving a change of people. How absurd it would be to assert that William Williams, James James, etc., of Wales, are all Anglo-Saxons, or that the people of France are all Romans, because-taking the current view of the language-they speak a Latin dialect! Yet something equivalent to this is done daily concerning names and languages a little older. The nature of the information that may be obtained from the names of places, may be seen in the Cumbrian example, Holme Cultram, or the Abbey Holm. The oldest part of this name, Cultram, the" abbey land," belongs to a period no earlier than the reign of Henry I., the probable time of the founding of the abbey; and Celtic was then dominant in the northwest of the county. The subsequent name, Holme Cultram, must be of later date, and shows that the Scandinavian language had then spread thither. But are we to suppose that the Celts had all been previously disposed of by deportation or massacre? The transfer of the name from one language to another, would be sufficient evidence to the contrary; but besides this we find that Holme has been prefixed, which is due to Celtic influence of a very marked character. Lastly, the present name, the Abbey Holm, was given when the Celtic had ceased to exert an influence, but while a knowledge of the meaning of "holme" remained. Abbey Holm is thus an Anglo-Danish translation of the Dano-Celtic Holme Cultram.†
* The Gr. auōs, éōs, aõs, eōs (San. ushas, aurora).
For a further development of these principles, see the introduction to Part II.