Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
will still have in common certain fundamental morphological features, but it will be difficult to know how to evaluate them. Only in the light of the contrastive perspective afforded by still more divergent languages, such as Basque and Finnish, will these vestigial resemblances receive their true historic value.
I cannot but suspect that many of the more significant distributions of morphological similarities are to be explained as just such vestiges. The theory of borrowing seems totally inadequate to explain those fundamental features of structure, hidden away in the very core of the linguistic complex, that have been pointed out as common, say, to Semitic and Hamitic, to the various Soudanese languages, to Malayo-Polynesian and Mon-Khmer11 and Munda,12 to Athabaskan and Tlingit and Haida. We must not allow ourselves to be frightened away by the timidity of the specialists, who are often notably lacking in the sense of what I have called contrastive perspective.
Attempts have sometimes been made to explain the distribution of these fundamental structural features by the theory of diffusion. We know that myths, religious ideas, types of social organization, industrial devices, and other features of culture may spread from point to point, gradually making themselves at home in cultures to which they were at one time alien. We also know that words may be diffused no less freely than cultural elements, that sounds also may be borrowed, and that even morphological elements may be taken over. We may go further and recognize that certain languages have, in all probability, taken on structural features
Note 11. A group of languages spoken in southeastern Asia, of which Khmer (Cambodgian) is the best known representative. [back]
Note 12. A group of languages spoken in northeastern India. [back]