Edward Sapir > Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech > Subject Index > Page 45
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Edward Sapir (1884–1939).  Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech.  1921.
 

Page 45
 
tip with the gum ridge above the teeth; moreover, it differs from the t of teem also in the absence of a marked “breath release” before the following vowel is attached, so that its acoustic effect is of a more precise, “metallic” nature than in English. Again, the English l is unknown in Russian, which possesses, on the other hand, two distinct l-sounds that the normal English speaker would find it difficult exactly to reproduce—a “hollow,” guttural-like l and a “soft,” palatalized l-sound that is only very approximately rendered, in English terms, as ly. Even so simple and, one would imagine, so invariable a sound as m differs in the two languages. In a Russian word like most “bridge” the m is not the same as the m of the English word most; the lips are more fully rounded during its articulation, so that it makes a heavier, more resonant impression on the ear. The vowels, needless to say, differ completely in English and Russian, hardly any two of them being quite the same.
  I have gone into these illustrative details, which are of little or no specific interest for us, merely in order to provide something of an experimental basis to convince ourselves of the tremendous variability of speech sounds. Yet a complete inventory of the acoustic resources of all the European languages, the languages nearer home, while unexpectedly large, would still fall far short of conveying a just idea of the true range of human articulation. In many of the languages of Asia, Africa, and aboriginal America there are whole classes of sounds that most of us have no knowledge of. They are not necessarily more difficult of enunciation than sounds more familiar to our ears; they merely involve such muscular adjustments of the organs of speech as we have never habituated ourselves to. It may be safely said that the total number of possible

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