Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
shrink or expand or change its functional complexion, but its rate of change is infinitely less rapid than that of the sounds as such. Every language, then, is characterized as much by its ideal system of sounds and by the underlying phonetic pattern (system, one might term it, of symbolic atoms) as by a definite grammatical structure. Both the phonetic and conceptual structures show the instinctive feeling of language for form.16
Note 16. The conception of the ideal phonetic system, the phonetic pattern, of a language is not as well understood by linguistic students as it should be. In this respect the unschooled recorder of language, provided he has a good ear and a genuine instinct for language, is often at a great advantage as compared with the minute phonetician, who is apt to be swamped by his mass of observations. I have already employed my experience in teaching Indians to write their own language for its testing value in another connection. It yields equally valuable evidence here. I found that it was difficult or impossible to teach an Indian to make phonetic distinctions that did not correspond to points in the pattern of his language, however these differences might strike our objective ear, but that subtle, barely audible, phonetic differences, if only they hit the points in the pattern, were easily and voluntarily expressed in writing. In watching my Nootka interpreter write his language, I often had the curious feeling that he was transcribing an ideal flow of phonetic elements which he heard, inadequately from a purely objective standpoint, as the intention of the actual rumble of speech. [back]