Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
had learned in their childhood. It was not difficult for them to be persuaded that these familiar languages represented the highest development that speech had yet attained and that all other types were but steps on the way to this beloved inflective type. Whatever conformed to the pattern of Sanskrit and Greek and Latin and German was accepted as expressive of the highest, whatever departed from it was frowned upon as a shortcoming or was at best an interesting aberration.2 Now any classification that starts with preconceived values or that works up to sentimental satisfactions is self-condemned as unscientific. A linguist that insists on talking about the Latin type of morphology as though it were necessarily the high-water mark of linguistic development is like the zoölogist that sees in the organic world a huge conspiracy to evolve the race-horse or the Jersey cow. Language in its fundamental forms is the symbolic expression of human intuitions. These may shape themselves in a hundred ways, regardless of the material advancement or backwardness of the people that handle the forms, of which, it need hardly be said, they are in the main unconscious. If, therefore, we with to understand language in its true inwardness we must disabuse our minds of preferred values3 and accustom ourselves
Note 2. One celebrated American writer on culture and language delivered himself of the dictum that, estimable as the speakers of agglutinative languages might be, it was nevertheless a crime for an inflecting woman to marry an agglutinating man. Tremendous spiritual values were evidently at stake. Champions of the inflective languages are wont to glory in the very irrationalities of Latin and Greek, except when it suits them to emphasize their profoundly logical character. Yet the sober logic of Turkish or Chinese leaves them cold. The glorious irrationalities and formal complexities of many savage languages they have no stomach for. Sentimentalists are difficult people. [back]
Note 3. I have in mind valuations of form as such. Whether or not a language has a large and useful vocabulary is another matter. The actual size of a vocabulary at a given time is not a thing of real interest to the linguist, as all languages have the resources at their disposal for the creation of new words, should need for them arise. Furthermore, we are not in the least concerned with whether or not a language is of great practical value or is the medium of a great culture. All these considerations, important from other standpoints, have nothing to do with form value. [back]