Edward Sapir > Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech > Subject Index > Page 9
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Edward Sapir (1884–1939).  Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech.  1921.
 

Page 9
 
sound localized in the brain, even when associated with the particular movements of the “speech organs” that are required to produce it, is very far from being an element of language. It must be further associated with some element or group of elements of experience, say a visual image or a class of visual images or a feeling of relation, before it has even rudimentary linguistic significance. This “element” of experience is the content or “meaning” of the linguistic unit; the associated auditory, motor, and other cerebral processes that lie immediately back of the act of speaking and the act of hearing speech are merely a complicated symbol of or signal for these “meanings,” of which more anon. We see therefore at once that language as such is not and cannot be definitely localized, for it consists of a peculiar symbolic relation—physiologically an arbitrary one—between all possible elements of consciousness on the one hand and certain selected elements localized in the auditory, motor, and other cerebral and nervous tracts on the other. If language can be said to be definitely “localized” in the brain, it is only in that general and rather useless sense in which all aspects of consciousness, all human interest and activity, may be said to be “in the brain.” Hence, we have no recourse but to accept language as a fully formed functional system within man’s psychic or “spiritual” constitution. We cannot define it as an entity in psycho-physical terms alone, however much the psycho-physical basis is essential to its functioning in the individual.
  From the physiologist’s or psychologist’s point of view we may seem to be making an unwarrantable abstraction in desiring to handle the subject of speech without constant and explicit reference to that basis. However, such an abstraction is justifiable. We can profitably discuss

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