Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
The Elements of Speech
WE have more than once referred to the elements of speech, by which we understood, roughly speaking, what are ordinarily called words. We must now look more closely at these elements and acquaint ourselves with the stuff of language. The very simplest element of speechand by speech we shall henceforth mean the auditory system of speech symbolism, the flow of spoken wordsis the individual sound, though, as we shall see later on, the sound is not itself a simple structure but the resultant of a series of independent, yet closely correlated, adjustments in the organs of speech. And yet the individual sound is not, properly considered, an element of speech at all, for speech is a significant function and the sound as such has no significance. It happens occasionally that the single sound is an independently significant element (such as French a has and à to or Latin i go!), but such cases are fortuitous coincidences between individual sound and significant word. The coincidence is apt to be fortuitous not only in theory but in point of actual historic fact; thus, the instances cited are merely reduced forms of originally fuller phonetic groupsLatin habet and ad and Indo-European ei respectively. If language is a structure and if the significant elements of language are the bricks of the structure, then the sounds of speech can only be compared to the unformed and unburnt clay of