Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
failure is of the greatest diagnostic value as an index of the pervasive presence in literature of a larger, more intuitive linguistic medium than any particular language.
Nevertheless, human expression being what it is, the greatestor shall we say the most satisfyingliterary artists, the Shakespeares and Heines, are those who have known subconsciously to fit or trim the deeper intuition to the provincial accents of their daily speech. In them there is no effect of strain. Their personal intuition appears as a completed synthesis of the absolute art of intuition and the innate, specialized art of the linguistic medium. With Heine, for instance, one is under the illusion that the universe speaks German. The material disappears.
Every language is itself a collective art of expression. There is concealed in it a particular set of esthetic factorsphonetic, rhythmic, symbolic, morphologicalwhich it does not completely share with any other language. These factors may either merge their potencies with those of that unknown, absolute language to which I have referredthis is the method of Shakespeare and Heineor they may weave a private, technical art fabric of their own, the innate art of the language intensified or sublimated. The latter type, the more technically literary art of Swinburne and of hosts of delicate minor poets, is too fragile for endurance. It is built out of spiritualized material, not out of spirit. The successes of the Swinburnes are as valuable for diagnostic purposes as the semi-failures of the Brownings. They show to what extent literary art may lean on the collective art of the language itself. The more extreme technical practitioners may so over-individualize this collective art as to make it almost unendurable. One is