Edward Sapir > Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech > Subject Index > Page 32
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Edward Sapir (1884–1939).  Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech.  1921.
 

Page 32
 
(“knife”), which may be freely used as the radical element of noun forms but cannot be employed as an absolute noun in its given form, and an objectively used group—(E) + C + d (“black cow or bull”). This group in turn consists of an adjectival radical element (E) (“black”), which cannot be independently employed (the absolute notion of “black” can be rendered only as the participle of a verb: “black-be-ing”), and the compound noun C + d (“buffalo-pet”). The radical element C properly means “buffalo,” but the element d, properly an independently occurring noun meaning “horse” (originally “dog” or “domesticated animal” in general), is regularly used as a quasi-subordinate element indicating that the animal denoted by the stem to which it is affixed is owned by a human being. It will be observed that the whole complex (F) + (E) + C + d + A + B is functionally no more than a verbal base, corresponding to the sing- of an English form like singing; that this complex remains verbal in force on the addition of the temporal element (g)—this (g), by the way, must not be understood as appended to B alone, but to the whole basic complex as a unit—; and that the elements (h) + (i) + (0) transform the verbal expression into a formally well-defined noun.
  It is high time that we decided just what is meant by a word. Our first impulse, no doubt, would have been to define the word as the symbolic, linguistic counterpart of a single concept. We now know that such a definition is impossible. In truth it is impossible to define the word from a functional standpoint at all, for the word may be anything from the expression of a single concept—concrete or abstract or purely relational (as in of or by or and)—to the expression of a complete

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