Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
of number is elaborated (singular and plural; singular, dual, and plural; singular, dual, trial, and plural; single, distributive, and collective); what tense distinctions may be made in verb or noun (the past, for instance, may be an indefinite past, immediate, remote, mythical, completed, prior); how delicately certain languages have developed the idea of aspect22 (momentaneous, durative, continuative, inceptive, cessative, durative-inceptive, iterative, momentaneous-iterative, durative-iterative, resultative, and still others); what modalities may be recognized (indicative, imperative, potential, dubitative, optative, negative, and a host of others23); what distinctions of person are possible (is we, for instance, conceived of as a plurality of I or is it as distinct from I as either is from you or he?both attitudes are illustrated in language; moreover, does we include you to whom I speak or not?inclusive and exclusive forms); what may be the general scheme of orientation, the so-called demonstrative categories (this and that in an endless procession of nuances);24 how frequently the form expresses
Note 22. A term borrowed from Slavic grammar. It indicates the lapse of action, its nature from the standpoint of continuity. Our cry is indefinite as to aspect, be crying is durative, cry out is momentaneous, burst into tears is inceptive, keep crying is continuative, start in crying is durative-inceptive, cry now and again is iterative, cry out every now and then or cry in fits and starts is momentaneous-iterative. To put on a coat is momentaneous, to wear a coat is resultative. As our examples show, aspect is expressed in English by all kinds of idiomatic turns rather than by a consistently worked out set of grammatical forms. In many languages aspect is of far greater formal significance than tense, with which the naïve student is apt to confuse it. [back]
Note 23. By modalities I do not mean the matter of fact statement, say, of negation or uncertainty as such, rather their implication in terms of form. There are languages, for instance, which have as elaborate an apparatus of negative forms for the verb as Greek has of the optative or wish-modality. [back]