Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
sand is neuter, table is masculine. If, therefore, I wish to say The woman put the sand on the table, I must place in the verb certain class or gender prefixes that accord with corresponding noun prefixes. The sentence reads then, The (fem.)-woman she (fem.)-it (neut.)-it (masc.)-on-put the (neut.)-sand the (masc.)-table. If sand is qualified as much and table as large, these new ideas are expressed as abstract nouns, each with its inherent class-prefix (much is neuter or feminine, large is masculine) and with a possessive prefix referring to the qualified noun. Adjective thus calls to noun, noun to verb. The woman put much sand on the large table, therefore, takes the form: The (fem.)-woman she (fem.)-it (neut.)-it (masc.)-on-put the (fem.)-thereof (neut.)-quantity the (neut.)-sand the (masc.)-thereof (masc.)-largeness the (masc.)-table. The classification of table as masculine is thus three times insisted onin the noun, in the adjective, and in the verb. In the Bantu languages,38 the principle of concord works very much as in Chinook. In them also nouns are classified into a number of categories and are brought into relation with adjectives, demonstratives, relative pronouns, and verbs by means of prefixed elements that call off the class and make up a complex system of concordances. In such a sentence as That fierce lion who came here is dead, the class of lion, which we may call the animal class, would be referred to by concording prefixes no less than six times,with the demonstrative (that), the qualifying adjective, the noun itself, the relative pronoun,
Note 38. Spoken in the greater part of the southern half of Africa. Chinook is spoken in a number of dialects in the lower Columbia River valley. It is impressive to observe how the human mind has arrived at the same form of expression in two such historically unconnected regions. [back]