Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
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 mthong19 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 wordman 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]