Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
that dominates their drift. If, therefore, we can only be sure of the intuitive similarity of two given languages, of their possession of the same submerged form-feeling, we need not be too much surprised to find that they seek and avoid certain linguistic developments in common. We are at present very far from able to define just what these fundamental form intuitions are. We can only feel them rather vaguely at best and must content ourselves for the most part with noting their symptoms. These symptoms are being garnered in our descriptive and historical grammars of diverse languages. Some day, it may be, we shall be able to read from them the great underlying ground-plans.
Such a purely technical classification of languages as the current one into isolating, agglutinative, and inflective (read fusional) cannot claim to have great value as an entering wedge into the discovery of the intuitional forms of languages. I do not know whether the suggested classification into four conceptual groups is likely to drive deeper or not. My own feeling is that it does, but classifications, neat constructions of the speculative mind, are slippery things. They have to be tested at every possible opportunity before they have the right to cry for acceptance. Meanwhile we may take some encouragement from the application of a rather curious, yet simple, historical test. Languages are in constant process of change, but it is only reasonable to suppose that they tend to preserve longest what is most fundamental in their structure. Now if we take great groups of genetically related languages,24 we find that as we pass from one to another or trace the course
Note 24. Such, in other words, as can be shown by documentary or comparative evidence to have been derived from a common source. See Chapter VII. [back]