Edward Sapir > Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech > Subject Index > Page 115
Edward Sapir (1884–1939).  Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech.  1921.

Page 115
the source or nature of the speaker’s knowledge (known by actual experience, by hearsay, 25 by inference); how the syntactic relations may be expressed in the noun (subjective and objective; agentive, instrumental, and person affected; 26 various types of “genitive” and indirect relations) and, correspondingly, in the verb (active and passive; active and static; transitive and intransitive; impersonal, reflexive, reciprocal, indefinite as to object, and many other special limitations on the starting-point and end-point of the flow of activity). These details, important as many of them are to an understanding of the “inner form” of language, yield in general significance to the more radical group-distinctions that we have set up. It is enough for the general reader to feel that language struggles towards two poles of linguistic expression—material content and relation—and that these poles tend to be connected by a long series of transitional concepts.
  In dealing with words and their varying forms we have had to anticipate much that concerns the sentence
Note 25.  It is because of this classification of experience that in many languages the verb forms which are proper, say, to a mythical narration differ from those commonly used in daily intercourse. We leave these shades to the context or content ourselves with a more explicit and roundabout mode of expression, e.g., “He is dead, as I happen to know,” “They say he is dead,” “He must be dead by the looks of things.” [back]
Note 26.  We say “I sleep” and “I go,” as well as “I kill him,” but “he kills me.” Yet me of the last example is at least as close psychologically to I of “I sleep” as is the latter to “I” of “I kill him.” It is only by form that we can classify the “I” notion of “I sleep” as that of an acting subject. Properly speaking, I am handled by forces beyond my control when I sleep just as truly as when some one is killing me. Numerous languages differentiate clearly between active subject and static subject (I go and I kill him as distinct from I sleep, I am good, I am killed) or between transitive subject and intransitive subject (I kill him as distinct from I sleep, I am good, I am killed, I go). The intransitive or static subjects may or may not be identical with the object of the transitive verb. [back]


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