Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
language is a vice in another. Latin and Eskimo, with their highly inflected forms, lend themselves to an elaborately periodic structure that would be boring in English. English allows, even demands, a looseness that would be insipid in Chinese. And Chinese, with its unmodified words and rigid sequences, has a compactness of phrase, a terse parallelism, and a silent suggestiveness that would be too tart, too mathematical, for the English genius. While we cannot assimilate the luxurious periods of Latin nor the pointilliste style of the Chinese classics, we can enter sympathetically into the spirit of these alien techniques.
I believe that any English poet of to-day would be thankful for the concision that a Chinese poetaster attains without effort. Here is an example:7
These twenty-eight syllables may be clumsily interpreted: At the mouth of the Yangtsze River, as the sun is about to sink, I look north toward Liao-Tung but do not see my home. The steam-whistle shrills several times on the boundless expanse where meet sky and earth. The steamer, floating gently like a hollow reed, sails out of the Middle Kingdom.10 But we must not envy Chinese its terseness unduly. Our more sprawling mode of expression is capable of its own beauties, and the more
Note 7. Not by any means a great poem, merely a bit of occasional verse written by a young Chinese friend of mine when he left Shanghai for Canada. [back]
Note 8. The old name of the country about the mouth of the Yangtsze. [back]