Edward Sapir > Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech > Subject Index > Page 116
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Edward Sapir (1884–1939).  Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech.  1921.
 

Page 116
 
as a whole. Every language has its special method or methods of binding words into a larger unity. The importance of these methods is apt to vary with the complexity of the individual word. The more synthetic the language, in other words, the more clearly the status of each word in the sentence is indicated by its own resources, the less need is there for looking beyond the word to the sentence as a whole. The Latin agit “(he) acts” needs no outside help to establish its place in a proposition. Whether I say agit dominus “the master acts” or sic femina agit “thus the woman acts,” the net result as to the syntactic feel of the agit is practically the same. It can only be a verb, the predicate of a proposition, and it can only be conceived as a statement of activity carried out by a person (or thing) other than you or me. It is not so with such a word as the English act. Act is a syntactic waif until we have defined its status in a proposition—one thing in “they act abominably,” quite another in “that was a kindly act.” The Latin sentence speaks with the assurance of its individual members, the English word needs the prompting of its fellows. Roughly speaking, to be sure. And yet to say that a sufficiently elaborate word-structure compensates for external syntactic methods is perilously close to begging the question. The elements of the word are related to each other in a specific way and follow each other in a rigorously determined sequence. This is tantamount to saying that a word which consists of more than a radical element is a crystallization of a sentence or of some portion of a sentence, that a form like agit is roughly the psychological 27 equivalent of a form like age is “act he.” Breaking down, then, the wall that separates word and sentence, we may ask: What, at last analysis, are
Note 27.  Ultimately, also historical—say, age to “act that (one).” [back]

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