Edward Sapir > Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech > Subject Index > Page 38
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Edward Sapir (1884–1939).  Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech.  1921.
 

Page 38
 
sentence is a living sentence type, of fixed formal characteristics. These fixed types or actual sentence-ground-works may be freely overlaid by such additional matter as the speaker or writer cares to put on, but they are themselves as rigidly “given” by tradition as are the radical and grammatical elements abstracted from the finished word. New words may be consciously created from these fundamental elements on the analogy of old ones, but hardly new types of words. In the same way new sentences are being constantly created, but always on strictly traditional lines. The enlarged sentence, however, allows as a rule of considerable freedom in the handling of what may be called “unessential” parts. It is this margin of freedom which gives us the opportunity of individual style.
  The habitual association of radical elements, grammatical elements, words, and sentences with concepts or groups of concepts related into wholes is the fact itself of language. It is important to note that there is in all languages a certain randomness of association. Thus, the idea of “hide” may be also expressed by the word “conceal,” the notion of “three times” also by “thrice.” The multiple expression of a single concept is universally felt as a source of linguistic strength and variety, not as a needless extravagance. More irksome is a random correspondence between idea and linguistic expression in the field of abstract and relational concepts, particularly when the concept is embodied in a grammatical element. Thus, the randomness of the expression of plurality in such words as books, oxen, sheep, and geese is felt to be rather more, I fancy, an unavoidable and traditional predicament than a welcome luxuriance. It is obvious that a language cannot go beyond a certain point in this randomness. Many languages

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