Edward Sapir > Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech > Subject Index > Page 112
Edward Sapir (1884–1939).  Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech.  1921.

Page 112
we cannot adequately assimilate for lack of the necessary form-grooves into which to run it.
  But can we go a step farther and dispose of the category of plurality as an utterly material idea, one that would make of “books” a “plural book,” in which the “plural,” like the “white” of “white book,” falls contentedly into group I? Our “many books” and “several books” are obviously not cases in point. Even if we could say “many book” and “several book” (as we can say “many a book” and “each book”), the plural concept would still not emerge as clearly as it should for our argument; “many” and “several” are contaminated by certain notions of quantity or scale that are not essential to the idea of plurality itself. We must turn to central and eastern Asia for the type of expression we are seeking. In Tibetan, for instance, nga-s mi mthong 19 “I-by man see, by me a man is seen, I see a man” may just as well be understood to mean “I see men,” if there happens to be no reason to emphasize the fact of plurality. 20 If the fact is worth expressing, however, I can say nga-s mi rnams mthong “by me man plural see,” where rnams is the perfect conceptual analogue of -s in books, divested of all relational strings. Rnams follows its noun as would any other attributive word—“man plural” (whether two or a million) like “man white.” No need to bother about his plurality any more than about his whiteness unless we insist on the point.
  What is true of the idea of plurality is naturally just as true of a great many other concepts. They do not necessarily belong where we who speak English are in the habit of putting them. They may be shifted towards
Note 19.  These are classical, not modern colloquial, forms. [back]
Note 20.  Just as in English “He has written books” makes no commitment on the score of quantity (“a few, several, many”). [back]


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