Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
home that we are more immediately interested in, Thirdly, the strong craving for a simple formula1 has been the undoing of linguists. There is something irresistible about a method of classification that starts with two poles, exemplified, say, by Chinese and Latin, clusters what it conveniently can about these poles, and throws everything else into a transitional type. Hence has arisen the still popular classification of languages into an isolating group, an agglutinative group, and an inflective group. Sometimes the languages of the American Indians are made to straggle along as an uncomfortable polysynthetic rear-guard to the agglutinative languages. There is justification for the use of all of these terms, though not perhaps in quite the spirit in which they are commonly employed. In any case it is very difficult to assign all known languages to one or other of these groups, the more so as they are not mutually exclusive. A language may be both agglutinative and inflective, or inflective and polysynthetic, or even polysynthetic and isolating, as we shall see a little later on.
There is a fourth reason why the classification of languages has generally proved a fruitless undertaking. It is probably the most powerful deterrent of all to clear thinking. This is the evolutionary prejudice which instilled itself into the social sciences towards the middle of the last century and which is only now beginning to abate its tyrannical hold on our mind. Intermingled with this scientific prejudice and largely anticipating it was another, a more human one. The vast majority of linguistic theorists themselves spoke languages of a certain type, of which the most fully developed varieties were the Latin and Greek that they