Edward Sapir > Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech > Subject Index > Page 88
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Edward Sapir (1884–1939).  Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech.  1921.
 

Page 88
 
on a farm to be conventionally thought of as always so occupied. He may, as a matter of fact, go to town and engage in any pursuit but farming, yet his linguistic label remains “farmer.” Language here betrays a certain helplessness or, if one prefers, a stubborn tendency to look away from the immediately suggested function, trusting to the imagination and to usage to fill in the transitions of thought and the details of application that distinguish one concrete concept (to farm) from another “derived” one (farmer). It would be impossible for any language to express every concrete idea by an independent word or radical element. The concreteness of experience is infinite, the resources of the richest language are strictly limited. It must perforce throw countless concepts under the rubric of certain basic ones, using other concrete or semi-concrete ideas as functional mediators. The ideas expressed by these mediating elements—they may be independent words, affixes, or modifications of the radical element—may be called “derivational” or “qualifying.” Some concrete concepts, such as kill, are expressed radically; others, such as farmer and duckling, are expressed derivatively. Corresponding to these two modes of expression we have two types of concepts and of linguistic elements, radical (farm, kill, duck) and derivational (-er, -ling). When a word (or unified group of words) contains a derivational element (or word) the concrete significance of the radical element (farm-, duck-) tends to fade from consciousness and to yield to a new concreteness (farmer, duckling) that is synthetic in expression rather than in thought. In our sentence the concepts of farm and duck are not really involved at all; they are merely latent, for formal reasons, in the linguistic expression.

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