Edward Sapir > Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech > Subject Index > Page 87
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Edward Sapir (1884–1939).  Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech.  1921.
 

Page 87
 
other words, the elements farmer, kill, and duckling define concepts of a concrete order.
  But a more careful linguistic analysis soon brings us to see that the two subjects of discourse, however simply we may visualize them, are not expressed quite as directly, as immediately, as we feel them. A “farmer” is in one sense a perfectly unified concept, in another he is “one who farms.” The concept conveyed by the radical element (farm-) is not one of personality at all but of an industrial activity (to farm), itself based on the concept of a particular type of object (a farm). Similarly, the concept of duckling is at one remove from that which is expressed by the radical element of the word, duck. This element, which may occur as an independent word, refers to a whole class of animals, big and little, while duckling is limited in its application to the young of that class. The word farmer has an “agentive” suffix -er that performs the function of indicating the one that carries out a given activity, in this case that of farming. It transforms the verb to farm into an agentive noun precisely as it transforms the verbs to sing, to paint, to teach into the corresponding agentive nouns singer, painter, teacher. The element -ling is not so freely used, but its significance is obvious. It adds to the basic concept the notion of smallness (as also in gosling, fledgeling) or the somewhat related notion of “contemptible” (as in weakling, princeling, hireling). The agentive -er and the diminutive -ling both convey fairly concrete ideas (roughly those of “doer” and “little”), but the concreteness is not stressed. They do not so much define distinct concepts as mediate between concepts. The -er of farmer does not quite say “one who (farms)” it merely indicates that the sort of person we call a “farmer” is closely enough associated with activity

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