Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
kills the duck, there is by no means present for the Chinese consciousness that childish, halting, empty feeling which we experience in the literal English translation. The three concrete conceptstwo objects and an actionare each directly expressed by a monosyllabic word which is at the same time a radical element; the two relational conceptssubject and objectare expressed solely by the position of the concrete words before and after the word of action. And that is all. Definiteness or indefiniteness of reference, number, personality as an inherent aspect of the verb, tense, not to speak of genderall these are given no expression in the Chinese sentence, which, for all that, is a perfectly adequate communicationprovided, of course, there is that context, that background of mutual understanding that is essential to the complete intelligibility of all speech. Nor does this qualification impair our argument, for in the English sentence too we leave unexpressed a large number of ideas which are either taken for granted or which have been developed or are about to be developed in the course of the conversation. Nothing has been said, for example, in the English, German, Yana, or Chinese sentence as to the place relations of the farmer, the duck, the speaker, and the listener. Are the farmer and the duck both visible or is one or the other invisible from the point of view of the speaker, and are both placed within the horizon of the speaker, the listener, or of some indefinite point of reference off yonder? In other words, to paraphrase awkwardly certain latent demonstrative ideas, does this farmer (invisible to us but standing behind a door not far away from me, you being seated yonder well out of reach) kill that duckling (which belongs to you)?or does that farmer (who lives in your neighborhood and