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A LARGE portion of the present volume relates to the aboriginal inhabitants of the country, — a subject of great and increasing interest to the American people. They are rapidly passing away; and it is deemed wise and important to collect and preserve such peculiarities of the race as may be found worthy of the contemplation and analysis of philosophical minds. With this view, the attention of the Society has been called to an examination of the various dialects existing, or that have existed, among the different tribes of North America. “Until within a few years past,” remarks a learned writer, “ these neglected dialects, like the devoted race of men, who have spoken them for so many ages, and who have been stripped of almost every fragment of their paternal inberitance, except their language, have incurred only the contempt of the people of Europe and their descendants on this continent; all of whom, with less justice than is generally supposed, have probably boasted of their own more cultivated languages, as well as more civilized manners.” *
The first step towards this investigation must be a correct knowledge of individual dialects; the second, a comparison of the various dialects with one another. And the greater the extent to which the latter process is carried, the more satisfactory will be the conclusions at which we arrive. This has been termed the “comparative science of language,” which was first successfully cultivated under the auspices of the Empress Catherine of Russia, who took measures to obtain vocabularies of all the languages in the world. “She directed her Secretary of State," says the writer we have already quoted,
* Mem. Am. Acad. Vol. IV. p. 320.