Edward Sapir > Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech > Subject Index > Page 104
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Edward Sapir (1884–1939).  Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech.  1921.
 

Page 104
 
as natural to the life of language as is the retention of modes of conduct that have long outlived the meaning they once had.
  There is another powerful tendency which makes for a formal elaboration that does not strictly correspond to clear-cut conceptual differences. This is the tendency to construct schemes of classification into which all the concepts of language must be fitted. Once we have made up our minds that all things are either definitely good or bad or definitely black or white, it is difficult to get into the frame of mind that recognizes that any particular thing may be both good and bad (in other words, indifferent) or both black and white (in other words, gray), still more difficult to realize that the good-bad or black-white categories may not apply at all. Language is in many respects as unreasonable and stubborn about its classifications as is such a mind. It must have its perfectly exclusive pigeon-holes and will tolerate no flying vagrants. Any concept that asks for expression must submit to the classificatory rules of the game, just as there are statistical surveys in which even the most convinced atheist must perforce be labeled Catholic, Protestant, or Jew or get no hearing. In English we have made up our minds that all action must be conceived of in reference to three standard times. If, therefore, we desire to state a proposition that is as true to-morrow as it was yesterday, we have to pretend that the present moment may be elongated fore and aft so as to take in all eternity. 11 In French we know once for all that an object is masculine or feminine, whether it be living or not; just as
Note 11.  Hence, “the square root of 4 is 2,” precisely as “my uncle is here now.” There are many “primitive” languages that are more philosophical and distinguish between a true “present” and a “customary” or “general” tense. [back]

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