Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
from inanimate nouns and pronouns (the mans, but of the house; his, but of it) and that, on the whole, it is only animate pronouns that distinguish pre-verbal and post-verbal forms22 are of the greatest theoretical interest. They show that, however the language strive for a more and more analytic form, it is by no means manifesting a drift toward the expression of pure relational concepts in the Indo-Chinese manner.23 The insistence on the concreteness of the relational concepts is clearly stronger than the destructive power of the most sweeping and persistent drifts that we know of in the history and prehistory of our language.
The drift toward the abolition of most case distinctions and the correlative drift toward position as an all-important grammatical method are accompanied, in a sense dominated, by the last of the three major drifts that I have referred to. This is the drift toward the invariable word. In analyzing the whom sentence I pointed out that the rhetorical emphasis natural to an interrogative pronoun lost something by its form variability (who, whose, whom). This striving for a simple, unnuanced correspondence between idea and word, as invariable as may be, is very strong in English. It accounts for a number of tendencies which at first sight seem unconnected. Certain well-established forms, like the present third person singular -s of works or the plural -s of books. have resisted the drift to invariable words, possibly because they symbolize certain stronger form cravings that we do not yet fully understand. It is interesting to note that derivations that get away sufficiently from the
Note 22.They: them as an inanimate group may be looked upon as a kind of borrowing from the animate, to which, in feeling, it more properly belongs. [back]