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Opinion

Our Malayo-Polynesian languages

AT RANDOM - Fr. Miguel A. Bernad, SJ -
In 1767 King Carlos III of Spain ordered the expulsion of all Jesuits from Spain and all territories under Spanish rule. Previously, Portugal and France had done the same. The exiled Jesuits were all dumped in central Italy in the territories under the rule of the Pope.

When thousands of people, including some very old ones, are suddenly dumped in one region, it is a major disaster not only for the exiles but also for the people of the region who now have to support them. But one of the exiled Jesuits saw this not only as a disaster but also as an opportunity. Here were gathered men who had lived and worked in almost all places of the world: Europe, Africa, Asia, North Central and South America, the Caribbeans, the Pacific Isles, the Philippines, the East Indies (now Indonesia). What an opportunity to compile an encyclopedia of the cultures of the many nations and races of the world.

That enterprising Spanish Jesuit who conceived that great plan was Father Lorenzo Hervas y Panduro. His encyclopedia (entitled Idea dell’ Universo) came out in Cesena, Italy, in 21 volumes. Four of the volumes were of extreme importance. They dealt with the various languages of the world. He later expanded the work in six volumes (Catálogo de las lenguas de las naciones conocidas, Madrid, 1800-1805.)

That work has earned for him the title of "Founder of Modern Philology" or linguistics.

Father Hervas did not follow the procedure (usual at the time) of comparing languages merely by their vocabulary. He went into the very nature of the language: the structure of the word, the structure of the sentence.

Using this method, he discovered that there was a group of languages that were similar to each other but very different from any other language in the world. They were not Semitic, nor like Latin or Greek. They were not like Sanskrit or any of the languages of India. They were different from Chinese or Japanese. They were an entirely separate, a distinct family of languages. These were the languages spoken in the Pacific islands, in the Philippines, in Malaysia and Indonesia, the languages of the aborigines of Taiwan, Indo-China, and Australia, in Madagascar. To designate this family of languages, Father Hervas coined a term. He called them "Malayo-Polynesian." Modern linguists prefer to use the term Austronesia.

That discovery of Father Hervas has been called the most brilliant discovery in linguistics.

Father Hervas was a friend of a priest named Braschi who became Pope Pius VI. The Pope appointed Father Hervas librarian of the pontifical library.

We now understand the nature of our native languages, thanks to the labor and the insight of a priest who turned a disaster into an opportunity.

EAST INDIES

FATHER HERVAS

FATHER LORENZO HERVAS

FOUNDER OF MODERN PHILOLOGY

KING CARLOS

LANGUAGES

MALAYSIA AND INDONESIA

NORTH CENTRAL AND SOUTH AMERICA

PACIFIC ISLES

POPE PIUS

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