Edward Sapir > Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech > Subject Index > Page 100
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Edward Sapir (1884–1939).  Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech.  1921.
 

Page 100
 
German, Latin, Greek—indeed in all the languages that we have most familiarity with—the idea of number is not merely appended to a given concept of a thing. It may have something of this merely qualifying value, but its force extends far beyond. It infects much else in the sentence, molding other concepts, even such as have no intelligible relation to number, into forms that are said to correspond to or “agree with” the basic concept to which it is attached in the first instance. If “a man falls” but “men fall” in English, it is not because of any inherent change that has taken place in the nature of the action or because the idea of plurality inherent in “men” must, in the very nature of ideas, relate itself also to the action performed by these men. What we are doing in these sentences is what most languages, in greater or less degree and in a hundred varying ways, are in the habit of doing—throwing a bold bridge between the two basically distinct types of concept, the concrete and the abstractly relational, infecting the latter, as it were, with the color and grossness of the former. By a certain violence of metaphor the material concept is forced to do duty for (or intertwine itself with) the strictly relational.
  The case is even more obvious if we take gender as our text. In the two English phrases, “The white woman that comes” and “The white men that come,” we are not reminded that gender, as well as number, may be elevated into a secondary relational concept. It would seem a little far-fetched to make of masculinity and femininity, crassly material, philosophically accidental concepts that they are, a means of relating quality and person, person and action, nor would it easily occur to us, if we had not studied the classics, that it was anything but absurd to inject into two such highly attenuated

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