Edward Sapir > Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech > Subject Index > Page 241
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Edward Sapir (1884–1939).  Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech.  1921.
 

Page 241
 
not always thankful to have one’s flesh and blood frozen to ivory.
  An artist must utilize the native esthetic resources of his speech. He may be thankful if the given palette of colors is rich, if the springboard is light. But he deserves no special credit for felicities that are the language’s own. We must take for granted this language with all its qualities of flexibility or rigidity and see the artist’s work in relation to it. A cathedral on the lowlands is higher than a stick on Mont Blanc. In other words, we must not commit the folly of admiring a French sonnet because the vowels are more sonorous than our own or of condemning Nietzsche’s prose because it harbors in its texture combinations of consonants that would affright on English soil. To so judge literature would be tantamount to loving “Tristan und Isolde” because one is fond of the timbre of horns. There are certain things that one language can do supremely well which it would be almost vain for another to attempt. Generally there are compensations. The vocalism of English is an inherently drabber thing than the vowel scale of French, yet English compensates for this drawback by its greater rhythmical alertness. It is even doubtful if the innate sonority of a phonetic system counts for as much, as esthetic determinant, as the relations between the sounds, the total gamut of their similarities and contrasts. As long as the artist has the wherewithal to lay out his sequences and rhythms, it matters little what are the sensuous qualities of the elements of his material.
  The phonetic groundwork of a language, however, is only one of the features that give its literature a certain direction. Far more important are its morphological

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