Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
Language as a Historical Product: Phonetic Law
I HAVE preferred to take up in some detail the analysis of our hesitation in using a locution like Whom did you see? and to point to some of the English drifts, particular and general, that are implied by this hesitation than to discuss linguistic change in the abstract. What is true of the particular idiom that we started with is true of everything else in language. Nothing is perfectly static. Every word, every grammatical element, every locution, every sound and accent is a slowly changing configuration, molded by the invisible and impersonal drift that is the life of language. The evidence is overwhelming that this drift has a certain consistent direction. Its speed varies enormously according to circumstances that it is not always easy to define. We have already seen that Lithuanian is to-day nearer its Indo-European prototype than was the hypothetical Germanic mother-tongue five hundred or a thousand years before Christ. German has moved more slowly than English; in some respects it stands roughly midway between English and Anglo-Saxon, in others it has of course diverged from the Anglo-Saxon line. When I pointed out in the preceding chapter that dialects formed because a language broken up into local segments could not move along the same drift in all of these segments, I meant of course that it could not move along identically the same drift. The general drift of a language has its depths.