Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
expression of material ideas, sometimes with an exuberant display of outer form, leaving the pure relations to be merely inferred form the context. I am strongly inclined to believe that this supposed inner formlessness of certain languages is an illusion. It may well be that in these languages the relations are not expressed in as immaterial a way as in Chinese or even as in Latin,5 or that the principle of order is subject to greater fluctuations than in Chinese, or that a tendency to complex derivations relieves the language of the necessity of expressing certain relations as explicitly as a more analytic language would have them expressed.6 All this does not mean that the languages in question have not a true feeling for the fundamental relations. We shall therefore not be able to use the notion of inner formlessness, except in the greatly modified sense that syntactic relations may be fused with notions of another order. To this criterion of classification we shall have to return a little later.
More justifiable would be a classification according to the formal processes7 most typically developed in the language. Those languages that always identify the word with the radical element would be set off as an isolating group against such as either affix modifying elements (affixing languages) or possess the power to change the significance of the radical element by internal changes (reduplication; vocalic and consonantal change; changes in quantity, stress, and pitch). The latter type might be not inaptly termed symbolic languages.8
Note 5. Where, as we have seen, the syntactic relations are by no means free from an alloy of the concrete. [back]
Note 6. Very much as an English cod-liver oil dodges to some extent the task of explicitly defining the relations of the three nouns. Contrast French huile do foie de morue oil of liver of cod. [back]
Note 8. There is probably a real psychological connection between symbolism and such significant alternations as drink, drank, drunk or Chinese mai (with rising tone) to buy and mai (with falling tone) to sell. The unconscious tendency toward symbolism is justly emphasized by recent psychological literature. Personally I feel that the passage from sing to sang has very much the same feeling as the alternation of symbolic colorse.g., green for safe, red for danger. But we probably differ greatly as to the intensity with which we feel symbolism in linguistic changes of this type. [back]