The best definition of Culture is to define it as an understanding of human experience. No man, if he lived to be a centenarian, could absorb from actual experience, or contact with life, the judgments and observations which should be commonplace to any one versed in the humanities and the sciences. We go to the university to grow old in wisdom before our years. Just as history and literature reflect the development of the peoples of the past ages so does an understanding of language. Language and its changes through the centuries are as faithful a record of human mentality as the modern phonograph record is of human sound. It is to suggest this new vista in the comprehension of the French people that this book has been written.
Although Plato and his predecessors in ancient Greece were interested in tracing the history of words, an interest which remained alive through succeeding centuries and even fascinated such a thinker as Dante, no formal progress in scientific linguistics was possible before the late eighteenth century. The first important scientific discovery which paved the way for linguistic study was a result of the conquest of India: it became evident that Sanskrit, the sacred language of India, and Latin and Greek were related. Thus Indo-European linguistics was born, and then was scientifically established by Franz Bopp ( 1791-1867). Bopp inspired the Grimm brothers to investigate the laws of Germanic linguistics; Jacob Grimm ( 1785-1863) and Wilhelm von Humboldt ( 1767-1836) inspired Friedrich Diez to lay the foundations for Romance Philology. We have just celebrated the one-hundredth anniversary of the publication of Diez's Grammatik der romanischen Sprachen ( 1836). It was Gaston Paris ( 1839- 1903) and Paul Meyer ( 1840- 1917) who introduced the scientific study of the Romance languages into France; and it was A. Marshall Elliott ( 1846- 1910) who furthered the spread of this science in America.
Many masters have followed in the footsteps of the pioneers and it is our hope that the pages of the book which we present will condense some of their discoveries into a readable but accurate form. Our readers will necessarily be of two types: those who are