Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
from the sounds as such, that gives them their air of strangeness. This naïve feeling is largely illusory on both scores. Phonetic analysis convinces one that the number of clearly distinguishable sounds and nuances of sounds that are habitually employed by the speakers of a language is far greater than they themselves recognize. Probably not one English speaker out of a hundred has the remotest idea that the t of a word like sting is not at all the same sound as the t of teem, the latter t having a fullness of breath release that is inhibited in the former case by the preceding s; that the ea of meat is of perceptibly shorter duration than the ea of mead; or that the final s of a word like heads is not the full, buzzing z sound of the s in such a word as please. It is the frequent failure of foreigners, who have acquired a practical mastery of English and who have eliminated all the cruder phonetic shortcomings of their less careful brethren, to observe such minor distinctions that helps to give their English pronunciation the curiously elusive accent that we all vaguely feel. We do not diagnose the accent as the total acoustic effect produced by a series of slight but specific phonetic errors for the very good reason that we have never made clear to ourselves our own phonetic stock in trade. If two languages taken at random, say English and Russian, are compared as to their phonetic systems, we are more apt than not to find that very few of the phonetic elements of the one find an exact analogue in the other. Thus, the t of a Russian word like tam there is neither the English t of sting nor the English t of teem. It differs from both in its dental articulation, in other words, in being produced by contact of the tip of the tongue with the upper teeth, not, as in English, by contact of the tongue back of the