Edward Sapir > Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech > Subject Index > Page 143
Edward Sapir (1884–1939).  Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech.  1921.

Page 143
have no greater external independence, are no more capable of living apart from the radical element to which they are suffixed, than the -ness and goodness or the -s of books. It does not follow that an agglutinative language may not make use of the principle of fusion, both external and psychological, or even of symbolism to a considerable extent. It is a question of tendency. Is the formative slant clearly towards the agglutinative method? Then the language is “agglutinative.” As such, it may be prefixing or suffixing, analytic, synthetic, or polysynthetic.
  To return to inflection. An inflective language like Latin or Greek uses the method of fusion, and this fusion has an inner psychological as well as an outer phonetic meaning. But it is not enough that the fusion operate merely in the sphere of derivational concepts (group II), 17 it must involve the syntactic relations, which may either be expressed in unalloyed form (group IV) or, as in Latin and Greek, as “concrete relational concepts” (group III). 18 As far as Latin and Greek
Note 17.  See Chapter V. [back]
Note 18.  If we deny the application of the term “inflective” to fusing languages that express the syntactic relations in pure form, that is, without the admixture of such concepts as number, gender, and tense, merely because such admixture is familiar to us in Latin and Greek, we make of “inflection” an even more arbitrary concept than it need be. At the same time it is true that the method of fusion itself tends to break down the wall between our conceptual groups II and IV, to create group III. Yet the possibility of such “inflective” languages should not be denied. In modern Tibetan, for instance, in which concepts of group II are but weakly expressed, if at all, and in which the relational concepts (e.g., the genitive, the agentive or instrumental) are expressed without alloy of the material, we get many interesting examples of fusion, even of symbolism. Mi di, e.g., “man this, the man” is an absolutive form which may be used as the subject of an intransitive verb. When the verb is transitive (really passive), the (logical) subject has to take the agentive form. Mi di then becomes mi di “by the man,” the vowel of the demonstrative pronoun (or article) being merely lengthened. (There is probably also a change in the tone of the syllable.) This, of course, is of the very essence of inflection. It is an amusing commentary on the insufficiency of our current linguistic classification, which considers “inflective” and “isolating” as worlds asunder, that modern Tibetan may be not inaptly described as an isolating language, aside from such examples of fusion and symbolism as the foregoing. [back]


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