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Sapir, Edward. Language – T01


Chapter I
Introductory: Language Defined

Speech is so familiar a feature of daily life that we
rarely pause to define it. It seems as natural to man as
walking, and only less so than breathing. Yet it needs
but a moment's reflection to convince us that this naturalness
of speech is but an illusory feeling. The process
of acquiring speech is, in sober fact, an utterly
different sort of thing from the process of learning to
walk. In the case of the latter function, culture, in
other words, the traditional body of social usage, is
not seriously brought into play. The child is individually
equipped, by the complex set of factors that we
term biological heredity, to make all the needed muscular
and nervous adjustments that result in walking.
Indeed, the very conformation of these muscles and of
the appropriate parts of the nervous system may be
said to be primarily adapted to the movements made
in walking and in similar activities. In a very real
sense the normal human being is predestined to walk,
not because his elders will assist him to learn the art,
but because his organism is prepared from birth, or
even from the moment of conception, to take on all
those expenditures of nervous energy and all those
muscular adaptations that result in walking. To put it
concisely, walking is an inherent, biological function
of man.3

Not so language. It is of course true that in a certain
sense the individual is predestined to talk, but
that is due entirely to the circumstance that he is born
not merely in nature, but in the lap of a society that
is certain, reasonably certain, to lead him to its traditions.
Eliminate society and there is every reason to
believe that he will learn to walk, if, indeed, he survives
at all. But it is just as certain that he will never
learn to talk, that is, to communicate ideas according
to the traditional system of a particular society. Or,
again, remove the new-born individual from the social
environment into which he has come and transplant
him to an utterly alien one. He will develop the
art of walking in his new environment very much as
he would have developed it in the old. But his speech
will be completely at variance with the speech of his
native environment. Walking, then, is a general human
activity that varies only within circumscribed
limits as we pass from individual to individual. Its
variability is involuntary and purposeless. Speech is a
human activity that varies without assignable limit as
we pass from social group to social group, because it
is a purely historical heritage of the group, the product
of long-continued social usage. It varies as all creative
effort varies—not as consciously, perhaps, but
none the less as truly as do the religions, the beliefs,
the customs, and the arts of different peoples. Walking
is an organic, an instinctive, function (not, of
course, itself an instinct); speech is a non-instinctive,
acquired, “cultural” function.

There is one fact that has frequently tended to prevent
the recognition of language as a merely conventional
system of sound symbols, that has seduced the
popular mind into attributing to it an instinctive basis
that it does not really possess. This is the well-known
observation that under the stress of emotion, say of a
sudden twinge of pain or of unbridled joy, we do involuntarily
give utterance to sounds that the hearer
4interprets as indicative of the emotion itself. But there
is all the difference in the world between such involuntary
expression of feeling and the normal type of
communication of ideas that is speech. The former
kind of utterance is indeed instinctive, but it is non-symbolic;
in other words, the sound of pain or the
sound of joy does not, as such, indicate the emotion,
it does not stand aloof, as it were, and announce that
such and such an emotion is being felt. What it does
is to serve as a more or less automatic overflow of the
emotional energy; in a sense, it is part and parcel of
the emotion itself. Moreover, such instinctive cries
hardly constitute communication in any strict sense.
They are not addressed to any one, they are merely
overheard, if heard at all, as the bark of a dog, the
sound of approaching footsteps, or the rustling of
the wind is heard. If they convey certain ideas to the
hearer, it is only in the very general sense in which
any and every sound or even any phenomenon in our
environment may be said to convey an idea to the perceiving
mind. If the involuntary cry of pain which is
conventionally represented by “Oh!” be looked upon
as a true speech symbol equivalent to some such idea
as “I am in great pain,” it is just as allowable to interpret
the appearance of clouds as an equivalent symbol
that carries the definite message “It is likely to
rain.” A definition of language, however, that is so
extended as to cover every type of inference becomes
utterly meaningless.

The mistake must not be made of identifying our
conventional interjections (our oh! and ah! and sh!)
with the instinctive cries themselves. These interjections
are merely conventional fixations of the natural
sounds. They therefore differ widely in various languages
in accordance with the specific phonetic genius
of each of these. As such they may be considered an
integral portion of speech, in the properly cultural
sense of the term, being no more identical with the instinctive
5cries themselves than such words as “cuckoo”
and “killdeer” are identical with the cries of the birds
they denote or than Rossini's treatment of a storm
in the overture to “William Tell” is in fact a storm.
In other words, the interjections and sound-imitative
words of normal speech are related to their natural
prototypes as is art, a purely social or cultural thing,
to nature. It may be objected that, though the interjections
differ somewhat as we pass from language to
language, they do nevertheless offer striking family
resemblances and may therefore be looked upon as
having grown up out of a common instinctive base.
But their case is nowise different from that, say, of
the varying national modes of pictorial representation.
A Japanese picture of a hill both differs from and
resembles a typical modern European painting of the
same kind of hill. Both are suggested by and both
“imitate” the same natural feature. Neither the one
nor the other is the same thing as, or, in any intelligible
sense, a direct outgrowth of, this natural feature.
The two modes of representation are not identical because
they proceed from differing historical traditions,
are executed with differing pictorial techniques. The
interjections of Japanese and English are, just so, suggested
by a common natural prototype, the instinctive
cries, and are thus unavoidably suggestive of each
other. They differ, now greatly, now but little, because
they are builded out of historically diverse materials
or techniques, the respective linguistic traditions,
phonetic systems, speech habits of the two
peoples. Yet the instinctive cries as such are practically
identical for all humanity, just as the human
skeleton or nervous system is to all intents and purposes
a “fixed,” that is, an only slightly and “accidentally”
variable, feature of man's organism.

Interjections are among the least important of
speech elements. Their discussion is valuable mainly
because it can be shown that even they, avowedly the
6nearest of all language sounds to instinctive utterance,
are only superficially of an instinctive nature. Were it
therefore possible to demonstrate that the whole of
language is traceable, in its ultimate historical and
psychological foundations, to the interjections, it
would still not follow that language is an instinctive
activity. But, as a matter of fact, all attempts so to
explain the origin of speech have been fruitless. There
is no tangible evidence, historical or otherwise, tending
to show that the mass of speech elements and
speech processes has evolved out of the interjections.
These are a very small and functionally insignificant
proportion of the vocabulary of language; at no time
and in no linguistic province that we have record of
do we see a noticeable tendency towards their elaboration
into the primary warp and woof of language.
They are never more, at best, than a decorative edging
to the ample, complex fabric.

What applies to the interjections applies with even
greater force to the sound-imitative words. Such words
as “whippoorwill,” “to mew,” “to caw” are in no sense
natural sounds that man has instinctively or automatically
reproduced. They are just as truly creations of
the human mind, flights of the human fancy, as anything
else in language. They do not directly grow out
of nature, they are suggested by it and play with it.
Hence the onomatopoetic theory of the origin of
speech, the theory that would explain all speech as a
gradual evolution from sounds of an imitative character,
really brings us no nearer to the instinctive level
than is language as we know it to-day. As to the theory
itself, it is scarcely more credible than its interjectional
counterpart. It is true that a number of words which
we do not now feel to have a sound-imitative value
can be shown to have once had a phonetic form that
strongly suggests their origin as imitations of natural
sounds. Such is the English word “to laugh.” For all
that, it is quite impossible to show, nor does it seem
7intrinsically reasonable to suppose, that more than a
negligible proportion of the elements of speech or
anything at all of its formal apparatus is derivable
from an onomatopoetic source. However much we
may be disposed on general principles to assign a
fundamental importance in the languages of primitive
peoples to the imitation of natural sounds, the
actual fact of the matter is that these languages show
no particular preference for imitative words. Among
the most primitive peoples of aboriginal America, the
Athabaskan tribes of the Mackenzie River speak languages
in which such words seem to be nearly or entirely
absent, while they are used freely enough in
languages as sophisticated as English and German.
Such an instance shows how little the essential nature
of speech is concerned with the mere imitation of

The way is now cleared for a serviceable definition
of language. Language is a purely human and non-instinctive
method of communicating ideas, emotions,
and desires by means of a system of voluntarily produced
symbols. These symbols are, in the first instance,
auditory and they are produced by the so-called “organs
of speech.” There is no discernible instinctive
basis in human speech as such, however much instinctive
expressions and the natural environment may
serve as a stimulus for the development of certain elements
of speech, however much instinctive tendencies,
motor and other, may give a predetermined range or
mold to linguistic expression. Such human or animal
communication, if “communication” it may be called,
as is brought about by involuntary, instinctive cries is
not, in our sense, language at all.

I have just referred to the “organs of speech,” and
it would seem at first blush that this is tantamount to
an admission that speech itself is an instinctive, biologically
predetermined activity. We must not be misled
by the mere term. There are, properly speaking,
8no organs of speech; there are only organs that are
incidentally useful in the production of speech sounds.
The lungs, the larynx, the palate, the nose, the tongue,
the teeth, and the lips, are all so utilized, but they are
no more to be thought of as primary organs of speech
than are the fingers to be considered as essentially organs
of piano-playing or the knees as organs of prayer.
Speech is not a simple activity that is carried on by
one or more organs biologically adapted to the purpose.
It is an extremely complex and ever-shifting network
of adjustments—in the brain, in the nervous
system, and in the articulating and auditory organs—
tending towards the desired end of communication.
The lungs developed, roughly speaking, in connection
with the necessary biological function known as
breathing; the nose, as an organ of smell; the teeth,
as organs useful in breaking up food before it was
ready for digestion. If, then, these and other organs
are being constantly utilized in speech, it is only because
any organ, once existent and in so far as it is subject
to voluntary control, can be utilized by man for
secondary purposes. Physiologically, speech is an overlaid
function, or, to be more precise, a group of overlaid
functions. It gets what service it can out of organs
and functions, nervous and muscular, that have come
into being and are maintained for very different ends
than its own.

It is true that physiological psychologists speak of
the localization of speech in the brain. This can only
mean that the sounds of speech are localized in the
auditory tract of the brain, or in some circumscribed
portion of it, precisely as other classes of sounds are
localized; and that the motor processes involved in
speech (such as the movements of the glottal cords in
the larynx, the movements of the tongue required to
pronounce the vowels, lip movements required to articulate
certain consonants, and numerous others) are
localized in the motor tract precisely as are all other
9impulses to special motor activities. In the same way
control is lodged in the visual tract of the brain over
all those processes of visual recognition involved in
reading. Naturally the particular points or clusters of
points of localization in the several tracts that refer
to any element of language are connected in the brain
by paths of association, so that the outward, or psychophysical,
aspect of language is of a vast network of
associated localizations in the brain and lower nervous
tracts, the auditory localizations being without doubt
the most fundamental of all for speech. However, a
speech-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
10entity 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 the intention, the form, and the
history of speech, precisely as we discuss the nature
of any other phase of human culture—say art or religion—as
an institutional or cultural entity, leaving
the organic and psychological mechanisms back of it
as something to be taken for granted. Accordingly, it
must be clearly understood that this introduction to
the study of speech is not concerned with those aspects
of physiology and of physiological psychology
that underlie speech. Our study of language is not to
be one of the genesis and operation of a concrete
mechanism; it is, rather, to be an inquiry into the
function and form of the arbitrary systems of symbolism
that we term languages.

I have already pointed out that the essence of language
consists in the assigning of conventional, voluntarily
articulated, sounds, or of their equivalents, to the
diverse elements of experience. The word “house” is
not a linguistic fact if by it is meant merely the acoustic
effect produced on the ear by its constituent consonants
and vowels, pronounced in a certain order;
nor the motor processes and tactile feelings which
make up the articulation of the word; nor the visual
perception on the part of the hearer of this articulation;
nor the visual perception of the word “house”
on the written or printed page; nor the motor processes
and tactile feelings which enter into the writing
of the word; nor the memory of any or all of these
experiences. It is only when these, and possibly still
other, associated experiences are automatically associated
11with the image of a house that they begin to
take on the nature of a symbol, a word, an element of
language. But the mere fact of such an association is
not enough. One might have heard a particular word
spoken in an individual house under such impressive
circumstances that neither the word nor the image
of the house ever recur in consciousness without the
other becoming present at the same time. This type
of association does not constitute speech. The association
must be a purely symbolic one; in other words,
the word must denote, tag off, the image, must have
no other significance than to serve as a counter to
refer to it whenever it is necessary or convenient to
do so. Such an association, voluntary and, in a sense,
arbitrary as it is, demands a considerable exercise of
self-conscious attention. At least to begin with, for
habit soon makes the association nearly as automatic
as any and more rapid than most.

But we have traveled a little too fast. Were the symbol
“house”—whether an auditory, motor, or visual
experience or image—attached but to the single image
of a particular house once seen, it might perhaps,
by an indulgent criticism, be termed an element of
speech, yet it is obvious at the outset that speech so
constituted would have little or no value for purposes
of communication. The world of our experiences must
be enormously simplified and generalized before it is
possible to make a symbolic inventory of all our experiences
of things and relations and this inventory is
imperative before we can convey ideas. The elements
of language, the symbols that ticket off experience,
must therefore be associated with whole groups, delimited
classes, of experience rather than with the
single experiences themselves. Only so is communication
possible, for the single experience lodges in an
individual consciousness and is, strictly speaking, incommunicable.
To be communicated it needs to be
referred to a class which is tacitly accepted by the
12community as an identity. Thus, the single impression
which I have had of a particular house must be
identified with all my other impressions of it. Further,
my generalized memory or my “notion” of this house
must be merged with the notions that all other individuals
who have seen the house have formed of it.
The particular experience that we started with has
now been widened so as to embrace all possible impressions
or images that sentient beings have formed
or may form of the house in question. This first simplification
of experience is at the bottom of a large
number of elements of speech, the so-called proper
nouns or names of single individuals or objects. It is,
essentially, the type of simplification which underlies,
or forms the crude subject of, history and art. But we
cannot be content with this measure of reduction of
the infinity of experience. We must cut to the bone of
things, we must more or less arbitrarily throw whole
masses of experience together as similar enough to
warrant their being looked upon—mistakenly, but
conveniently—as identical. This house and that house
and thousands of other phenomena of like character
are thought of as having enough in common, in spite
of great and obvious differences of detail, to be classed
under the same heading. In other words, the speech
element “house” is the symbol, first and foremost, not
of a single perception, nor even of the notion of a
particular object, but of a “concept,” in other words,
of a convenient capsule of thought that embraces
thousands of distinct experiences and that is ready to
take in thousands more. If the single significant elements
of speech are the symbols of concepts, the actual
flow of speech may be interpreted as a record of
the setting of these concepts into mutual relations.

The question has often been raised whether thought
is possible without speech; further, if speech and
thought be not but two facets of the same psychic
process. The question is all the more difficult because
13it has been hedged about by misunderstandings. In
the first place, it is well to observe that whether or
not thought necessitates symbolism, that is speech, the
flow of language itself is not always indicative of
thought. We have seen that the typical linguistic element
labels a concept. It does not follow from this
that the use to which language is put is always or
even mainly conceptual. We are not in ordinary life
so much concerned with concepts as such as with concrete
particularities and specific relations. When I say,
for instance, “I had a good breakfast this morning,”
it is clear that I am not in the throes of laborious
thought, that what I have to transmit is hardly more
than a pleasurable memory symbolically rendered in
the grooves of habitual expression. Each element in the
sentence defines a separate concept or conceptual relation
or both combined, but the sentence as a whole
has no conceptual significance whatever. It is somewhat
as though a dynamo capable of generating
enough power to run an elevator were operated almost
exclusively to feed an electric doorbell. The parallel
is more suggestive than at first sight appears.
Language may be looked upon as an instrument capable
of running a gamut of psychic uses. Its flow not
only parallels that of the inner content of consciousness,
but parallels it on different levels, ranging from the
state of mind that is dominated by particular images
to that in which abstract concepts and their relations
are alone at the focus of attention and which is ordinarily
termed reasoning. Thus the outward form only
of language is constant; its inner meaning, its psychic
value or intensity, varies freely with attention or the
selective interest of the mind, also, needless to say,
with the mind's general development. From the point
of view of language, thought may be defined as the
highest latent or potential content of speech, the content
that is obtained by interpreting each of the elements
in the flow of language as possessed of its very
14fullest conceptual value. From this it follows at once
that language and thought are not strictly coterminous.
At best language can but be the outward facet
of thought on the highest, most generalized, level of
symbolic expression. To put our viewpoint somewhat
differently, language is primarily a pre-rational function.
It humbly works up to the thought that is latent
in, that may eventually be read into, its classifications
and its forms; it is not, as is generally but naïvely assumed,
the final label put upon the finished thought.

Most people, asked if they can think without speech,
would probably answer, “Yes, but it is not easy for me
to do so. Still I know it can be done.” Language is
but a garment! But what if language is not so much
a garment as a prepared road or groove? It is, indeed,
in the highest degree likely that language is
an instrument originally put to uses lower than the
conceptual plane and that thought arises as a refined
interpretation of its content. The product grows, in
other words, with the instrument, and thought may be
no more conceivable, in its genesis and daily practice,
without speech than is mathematical reasoning practicable
without the lever of an appropriate mathematical
symbolism. No one believes that even the most difficult
mathematical proposition is inherently dependent on
an arbitrary set of symbols, but it is impossible to suppose
that the human mind is capable of arriving at
or holding such a proposition without the symbolism.
The writer, for one, is strongly of the opinion that the
feeling entertained by so many that they can think, or
even reason, without language is an illusion. The illusion
seems to be due to a number of factors. The simplest
of these is the failure to distinguish between
imagery and thought. As a matter of fact, no sooner
do we try to put an image into conscious relation
with another than we find ourselves slipping into a
silent flow of words. Thought may be a natural domain
apart from the artificial one of speech, but
15speech would seem to be the only road we know of
that leads to it. A still more fruitful source of the illusive
feeling that language may be dispensed with
in thought is the common failure to realize that language
is not identical with its auditory symbolism.
The auditory symbolism may be replaced, point for
point, by a motor or by a visual symbolism (many
people can read, for instance, in a purely visual sense,
that is, without the intermediating link of an inner
flow of the auditory images that correspond to the
printed or written words) or by still other, more subtle
and elusive, types of transfer that are not so easy
to define. Hence the contention that one thinks without
language merely because he is not aware of a coexisting
auditory imagery is very far indeed from being
a valid one. One may go so far as to suspect that the
symbolic expression of thought may in some cases run
along outside the fringe of the conscious mind, so that
the feeling of a free, non-linguistic stream of thought
is for minds of a certain type a relatively, but only
a relatively, justified one. Psycho-physically, this would
mean that the auditory or equivalent visual or motor
centers in the brain, together with the appropriate
paths of association, that are the cerebral equivalent
of speech, are touched off so lightly during the process
of thought as not to rise into consciousness at all.
This would be a limiting case—thought riding lightly
on the submerged crests of speech, instead of jogging
along with it, hand in hand. The modern psychology
has shown us how powerfully symbolism is at work in
the unconscious mind. It is therefore easier to understand
at the present time than it would have been
twenty years ago that the most rarefied thought may
be but the conscious counterpart of an unconscious
linguistic symbolism.

One word more as to the relation between language
and thought. The point of view that we have developed
does not by any means preclude the possibility
16of the growth of speech being in a high degree dependent
on the development of thought. We may
assume that language arose pre-rationally—just how
and on what precise level of mental activity we do not
know—but we must not imagine that a highly developed
system of speech symbols worked itself out before
the genesis of distinct concepts and of thinking, the
handling of concepts. We must rather imagine that
thought processes set in, as a kind of psychic overflow,
almost at the beginning of linguistic expression; further,
that the concept, once defined, necessarily reacted
on the life of its linguistic symbol, encouraging further
linguistic growth. We see this complex process of
the interaction of language and thought actually taking
place under our eyes. The instrument makes possible
the product, the product refines the instrument.
The birth of a new concept is invariably foreshadowed
by a more or less strained or extended use of
old linguistic material; the concept does not attain to
individual and independent life until it has found a
distinctive linguistic embodiment. In most cases the
new symbol is but a thing wrought from linguistic
material already in existence in ways mapped out by
crushingly despotic precedents. As soon as the word
is at hand, we instinctively feel, with something of a
sigh of relief, that the concept is ours for the handling.
Not until we own the symbol do we feel that we hold
a key to the immediate knowledge or understanding
of the concept. Would we be so ready to die for “liberty,”
to struggle for “ideals,” if the words themselves
were not ringing within us? And the word, as we
know, is not only a key; it may also be a fetter.

Language is primarily an auditory system of symbols.
In so far as it is articulated it is also a motor
system, but the motor aspect of speech is clearly secondary
to the auditory. In normal individuals the impulse
to speech first takes effect in the sphere of auditory
imagery and is then transmitted to the motor
17nerves that control the organs of speech. The motor
processes and the accompanying motor feelings are
not, however, the end, the final resting point. They are
merely a means and a control leading to auditory perception
in both speaker and hearer. Communication,
which is the very object of speech, is successfully effected
only when the hearer's auditory perceptions are
translated into the appropriate and intended flow of
imagery or thought or both combined. Hence the cycle
of speech, in so far as we may look upon it as a purely
external instrument, begins and ends in the realm of
sounds. The concordance between the initial auditory
imagery and the final auditory perceptions is the social
seal or warrant of the successful issue of the process.
As we have already seen, the typical course of this
process may undergo endless modifications or transfers
into equivalent systems without thereby losing its essential
formal characteristics.

The most important of these modifications is the
abbreviation of the speech process involved in thinking.
This has doubtless many forms, according to the
structural or functional peculiarities of the individual
mind. The least modified form is that known as
“talking to one's self” or “thinking aloud.” Here the
speaker and the hearer are identified in a single person,
who may be said to communicate with himself.
More significant is the still further abbreviated form
in which the sounds of speech are not articulated at
all. To this belong all the varieties of silent speech and
of normal thinking. The auditory centers alone may be
excited; or the impulse to linguistic expression may
be communicated as well to the motor nerves that
communicate with the organs of speech but be inhibited
either in the muscles of these organs or at some
point in the motor nerves themselves; or, possibly, the
auditory centers may be only slightly, if at all, affected,
the speech process manifesting itself directly in the
motor sphere. There must be still other types of abbreviation.
18How common is the excitation of the
motor nerves in silent speech, in which no audible or
visible articulations result, is shown by the frequent
experience of fatigue in the speech organs, particularly
in the larynx, after unusually stimulating reading or
intensive thinking.

All the modifications so far considered are directly
patterned on the typical process of normal speech. Of
very great interest and importance is the possibility
of transferring the whole system of speech symbolism
into other terms than those that are involved in the
typical process. This process, as we have seen, is a
matter of sounds and of movements intended to produce
these sounds. The sense of vision is not brought
into play. But let us suppose that one not only hears
the articulated sounds but sees the articulations themselves
as they are being executed by the speaker.
Clearly, if one can only gain a sufficiently high degree
of adroitness in perceiving these movements of the
speech organs, the way is opened for a new type of
speech symbolism—that in which the sound is replaced
by the visual image of the articulations that
correspond to the sound. This sort of system has no
great value for most of us because we are already
possessed of the auditory-motor system of which it is
at best but an imperfect translation, not all the articulations
being visible to the eye. However, it is well
known what excellent use deaf-mutes can make of
“reading from the lips” as a subsidiary method of
apprehending speech. The most important of all
visual speech symbolisms is, of course, that of the written
or printed word, to which, on the motor side, corresponds
the system of delicately adjusted movements
which result in the writing or typewriting or other
graphic method of recording speech. The significant
feature for our recognition in these new types of symbolism,
apart from the fact that they are no longer
a by-product of normal speech itself, is that each element
19(letter or written word) in the system corresponds
to a specific element (sound or sound-group or
spoken word) in the primary system. Written language
is thus a point-to-point equivalence, to borrow a
mathematical phrase, to its spoken counterpart. The
written forms are secondary symbols of the spoken
ones—symbols of symbols—yet so close is the correspondence
that they may, not only in theory but in
the actual practice of certain eye-readers and, possibly,
in certain types of thinking, be entirely substituted for
the spoken ones. Yet the auditory-motor associations
are probably always latent at the least, that is, they
are unconsciously brought into play. Even those who
read and think without the slightest use of sound
imagery are, at last analysis, dependent on it. They
are merely handling the circulating medium, the
money, of visual symbols as a convenient substitute
for the economic goods and services of the fundamental
auditory symbols.

The possibilities of linguistic transfer are practically
unlimited. A familiar example is the Morse telegraph
code in which the letters of written speech are represented
by a conventionally fixed sequence of longer or
shorter ticks. Here the transfer takes place from the
written word rather than directly from the sounds of
spoken speech. The letter of the telegraph code is thus
a symbol of a symbol of a symbol. It does not, of
course, in the least follow that the skilled operator, in
order to arrive at an understanding of a telegraphic
message, needs to transpose the individual sequence
of ticks into a visual image of the word before he
experiences its normal auditory image. The precise
method of reading off speech from the telegraphic
communication undoubtedly varies widely with the
individual. It is even conceivable, if not exactly likely,
that certain operators may have learned to think directly,
so far as the purely conscious part of the process
of thought is concerned, in terms of the tick-auditory
20symbolism or, if they happen to have a strong natural
bent toward motor symbolism, in terms of the correlated
tactile-motor symbolism developed in the sending
of telegraphic messages.

Still another interesting group of transfers are the
different gesture languages, developed for the use of
deaf-mutes, of Trappist monks vowed to perpetual silence,
or of communicating parties that are within
seeing distance of each other but are out of earshot.
Some of these systems are one-to-one equivalences of
the normal system of speech; others, like military gesture-symbolism
or the gesture language of the Plains
Indians of North America (understood by tribes of
mutually unintelligible forms of speech) are imperfect
transfers, limiting themselves to the rendering of such
grosser speech elements as are an imperative minimum
under difficult circumstances. In these latter systems,
as in such still more imperfect symbolisms as those
used at sea or in the woods, it may be contended that
language no longer properly plays a part but that the
ideas are directly conveyed by an utterly unrelated
symbolic process or by a quasi-instinctive imitativeness.
Such an interpretation would be erroneous. The
intelligibility of these vaguer symbolisms can hardly
be due to anything but their automatic and silent
translation into the terms of a fuller flow of speech.

We shall no doubt conclude that all voluntary communication
of ideas, aside from normal speech, is
either a transfer, direct or indirect, from the typical
symbolism of language as spoken and heard or, at the
least, involves the intermediary of truly linguistic
symbolism. This is a fact of the highest importance.
Auditory imagery and the correlated motor imagery
leading to articulation are, by whatever devious ways
we follow the process, the historic fountain-head of
all speech and of all thinking. One other point is of
still greater importance. The ease with which speech
symbolism can be transferred from one sense to another,
21from technique to technique, itself indicates
that the mere sounds of speech are not the essential
fact of language, which lies rather in the classification,
in the formal patterning, and in the relating of concepts.
Once more, language, as a structure, is on its
inner face the mold of thought. It is this abstracted
language, rather more than the physical facts of
speech, that is to concern us in our inquiry.

There is no more striking general fact about
language than its universality. One may argue as to
whether a particular tribe engages in activities that
are worthy of the name of religion or of art, but we
know of no people that is not possessed of a fully developed
language. The lowliest South African Bushman
speaks in the forms of a rich symbolic system
that is in essence perfectly comparable to the speech
of the cultivated Frenchman. It goes without saying
that the more abstract concepts are not nearly so
plentifully represented in the language of the savage,
nor is there the rich terminology and the finer definition
of nuances that reflect the higher culture. Yet the
sort of linguistic development that parallels the historic
growth of culture and which, in its later stages,
we associate with literature is, at best, but a superficial,
thing. The fundamental groundwork of language—
the development of a clear-cut phonetic system, the
specific association of speech elements with concepts,
and the delicate provision for the formal expression
of all manner of relations—all this meets us rigidly
perfected and systematized in every language known
to us. Many primitive languages have a formal richness,
a latent luxuriance of expression, that eclipses
anything known to the languages of modern civilization.
Even in the mere matter of the inventory of
speech the layman must be prepared for strange surprises.
Popular statements as to the extreme poverty
of expression to which primitive languages are
doomed are simply myths. Scarcely less impressive
22than the universality of speech is its almost incredible
diversity. Those of us that have studied French or
German, or, better yet, Latin or Greek, know in what
varied forms a thought may run. The formal divergences
between the English plan and the Latin plan,
however, are comparatively slight in the perspective
of what we know of more exotic linguistic patterns.
The universality and the diversity of speech lead to
a significant inference. We are forced to believe that
language is an immensely ancient heritage of the
human race, whether or not all forms of speech are
the historical outgrowth of a single pristine form. It
is doubtful if any other cultural asset of man, be it
the art of drilling for fire or of chipping stone, may
lay claim to a greater age. I am inclined to believe
that it antedated even the lowliest developments of
material culture, that these developments, in fact,
were not strictly possible until language, the tool of
significant expression, had itself taken shape.23

Chapters II
The Elements of Speech

We have more than once referred to the “elements of
speech,” by which we understood, roughly speaking,
what are ordinarily called “words.” We must now
look more closely at these elements and acquaint ourselves
with the stuff of language. The very simplest
element of speech—and by “speech” we shall henceforth
mean the auditory system of speech symbolism,
the flow of spoken words—is the individual sound,
though, as we shall see later on, the sound is not itself
a simple structure but the resultant of a series of independent,
yet closely correlated, adjustments in the
organs of speech. And yet the individual sound is not,
properly considered, an element of speech at all, for
speech is a significant function and the sound as such
has no significance. It happens occasionally that the
single sound is an independently significant element
(such as French a “has” and à “to” or Latin i “go!”),
but such cases are fortuitous coincidences between individual
sound and significant word. The coincidence
is apt to be fortuitous not only in theory but in
point of actual historic fact; thus, the instances cited
are merely reduced forms of originally fuller phonetic
groups—Latin habet and ad and Indo-European ei
respectively. If language is a structure and if the significant
elements of language are the bricks of the
24structure, then the sounds of speech can only be compared
to the unformed and unburnt clay of which the
bricks are fashioned. In this chapter we shall have
nothing further to do with sounds as sounds.

The true, significant elements of language are generally
sequences of sounds that are either words, significant
parts of words, or word groupings. What
distinguishes each of these elements is that it is the
outward sign of a specific idea, whether of a single
concept or image or of a number of such concepts or
images definitely connected into a whole. The single
word may or may not be the simplest significant element
we have to deal with. The English words sing,
sings, singing, singer each conveys a perfectly definite
and intelligible idea, though the idea is disconnected
and is therefore functionally of no practical value. We
recognize immediately that these words are of two
sorts. The first word, sing, is an indivisible phonetic
entity conveying the notion of a certain specific activity.
The other words all involve the same fundamental
notion but, owing to the addition of other phonetic
elements, this notion is given a particular twist that
modifies or more closely defines it. They represent, in
a sense, compounded concepts that have flowered from
the fundamental one. We may, therefore, analyze the
words sings, singing, and singer as binary expressions
involving a fundamental concept, a concept of subject
matter (sing), and a further concept of more abstract
order—one of person, number, time, condition, function,
or of several of these combined.

If we symbolize such a term as sing by the algebraic
formula A, we shall have to symbolize such terms as
sings and singer by the formula A + b. 11 The element
A may be either a complete and independent word
(sing) or the fundamental substance, the so-called root
or stem 22 or “radical element” (sing-) of a word. The
25element b (-s, -ing, -er) is the indicator of a subsidiary
and, as a rule, a more abstract concept; in the widest
sense of the word “form,” it puts upon the fundamental
concept a formal limitation. We may term it
a “grammatical element” or affix. As we shall see later
on, the grammatical element or the grammatical increment,
as we had better put it, need not be suffixed
to the radical element. It may be a prefixed element
(like the un- of unsingable), it may be inserted into
the very body of the stem (like the n of the Latin
vinco “I conquer” as contrasted with its absence in
vici “I have conquered”), it may be the complete or
partial repetition of the stem, or it may consist of
some modification of the inner form of the stem
(change of vowel, as in sung and song; change of consonant
as in dead and death; change of accent; actual
abbreviation). Each and every one of these types of
grammatical element or modification has this peculiarity,
that it may not, in the vast majority of cases, be
used independently but needs to be somehow attached
to or welded with a radical element in order to convey
an intelligible notion. We had better, therefore, modify
our formula, A + b, to A + (b), the round brackets
symbolizing the incapacity of an element to stand
alone. The grammatical element, moreover, is not
only non-existent except as associated with a radical
one, it does not even, as a rule, obtain its measure of
significance unless it is associated with a particular
class of radical elements. Thus, the -s of English he
symbolizes an utterly different notion from the -s
of books, merely because hit and book are differently
classified as to function. We must hasten to observe,
however, that while the radical element may, on occasion,
be identical with the word, it does not follow
that it may always, or even customarily, be used as a
word. Thus, the hort- “garden” of such Latin forms
as hortus, horti, and horto is as much of an abstraction,
though one yielding a more easily apprehended
26significance, than the -ing of singing. Neither exists as
an independently intelligible and satisfying element
of speech. Both the radical element, as such, and the
grammatical element, therefore, are reached only by
a process of abstraction. It seemed proper to symbolize
sing-er as A + (b); hort-us must be symbolized
as (A) + (b).

So far, the first speech element that we have found
which we can say actually “exists” is the word. Before
defining the word, however, we must look a little
more closely at the type of word that is illustrated by
sing. Are we, after all, justified in identifying it with
a radical element? Does it represent a simple correspondence
between concept and linguistic expression?
Is the element sing-, that we have abstracted from
sings, singing, and singer and to which we may justly
ascribe a general unmodified conceptual value, actually
the same linguistic fact as the word sing? It would
almost seem absurd to doubt it, yet a little reflection
only is needed to convince us that the doubt is entirely
legitimate. The word sing cannot, as a matter
of fact, be freely used to refer to its own conceptual
content. The existence of such evidently related forms
as sang and sung at once shows that it cannot refer to
past time, but that, for at least an important part of
its range of usage, it is limited to the present. On
the other hand, the use of sing as an “infinitive” (in
such locutions as to sing and he will sing) does indicate
that there is a fairly strong tendency for the word
sing to represent the full, untrammeled amplitude of
a specific concept. Yet if sing were, in any adequate
sense, the fixed expression of the unmodified concept,
there should be no room for such vocalic aberrations
as we find in sang and sung and song, nor should we
find sing specifically used to indicate present time for
all persons but one (third person singular sings).

The truth of the matter is that sing is a kind of twilight
word, trembling between the status of a true
27radical element and that of a modified word of the
type of singing. Though it has no outward sign to
indicate that it conveys more than a generalized idea,
we do feel that there hangs about it a variable mist of
added value. The formula A does not seem to represent
it so well as A + (o). We might suspect sing of
belonging to the A + (b) type, with the reservation
that the (b) had vanished. This report of the “feel”
of the word is far from fanciful, for historical evidence
does, in all earnest, show that sing is in origin a number
of quite distinct words, of type A + (b), that have
pooled their separate values. The (b) of each of these
has gone as a tangible phonetic element; its force,
however, lingers on in weakened measure. The sing
of I sing is the correspondent of the Anglo-Saxon
singe; the infinitive sing, of singan; the imperative
sing of sing. Ever since the breakdown of English
forms that set in about the time of the Norman Conquest,
our language has been straining towards the
creation of simple concept-words, unalloyed by formal
connotations, but it has not yet succeeded in this,
apart, possibly, from isolated adverbs and other elements
of that sort. Were the typical unanalyzable
word of the language truly a pure concept-word (type
A) instead of being of a strangely transitional type
(type A + [o]), our sing and work and house and thousands
of others would compare with the genuine radical
words of numerous other languages. 33 Such a
radical-word, to take a random example, is the
Nootka 44 word hamot “bone.” Our English correspondent
is only superficially comparable. Hamot
means “bone” in a quite indefinite sense; to our English
word clings the notion of singularity. The Nootka
Indian can convey the idea of plurality, in one of
28several ways, if he so desires, but he does not need
to; hamot may do for either singular or plural, should
no interest happen to attach to the distinction. As
soon as we say “bone” (aside from its secondary usage
to indicate material), we not merely specify the nature
of the object but we imply, whether we will or no,
that there is but one of these objects to be considered.
And this increment of value makes all the difference.

We now know of four distinct formal types of word:
A (Nootka hamot); A + (o) (sing, bone); A + (b) (singing);
(A) + (b) (Latin hortus). There is but one other
type that is fundamentally possible: A + B, the union
of two (or more) independently occurring radical
elements into a single term. Such a word is the compound
fire-engine or a Sioux form equivalent to eat-stand
(i.e., “to eat while standing”). It frequently
happens, however, that one of the radical elements
becomes functionally so subordinated to the other
that it takes on the character of a grammatical element.
We may symbolize this by A + b, a type that
may gradually, by loss of external connection between
the subordinated element b and its independent counterpart
B merge with the commoner type A + (b). A
word like beautiful is an example of A + b, the -ful
barely preserving the impress of its lineage. A word
like homely, on the other hand, is clearly of the type
A + (b), for no one but a linguistic student is aware
of the connection between the -ly and the independent
word like.

In actual use, of course, these five (or six) fundamental
types may be indefinitely complicated in a
number of ways. The (o) may have a multiple value;
in other words, the inherent formal modification of
the basic notion of the word may affect more than
one category. In such a Latin word as cor “heart,” for
instance, not only is a concrete concept conveyed, but
there cling to the form, which is actually shorter than
its own radical element (cord-), the three distinct, yet
29intertwined, formal concepts of singularity, gender
classification (neuter), and case (subjective-objective).
The complete grammatical formula for cor is, then,
A + (o) + (o) + (o), though the merely external, phonetic
formula would be (A) -, (A) indicating the
abstracted “stem” cord-, the minus sign a loss of material.
The significant thing about such a word as cor
is that the three conceptual limitations are not merely
expressed by implication as the word sinks into place
in a sentence; they are tied up, for good and all,
within the very vitals of the word and cannot be
eliminated by any possibility of usage.

Other complications result from a manifolding of
parts. In a given word there may be several elements
of the order A (we have already symbolized this by
the type A + B), of the order (A), of the order b, and
of the order (b). Finally, the various types may be
combined among themselves in endless ways. A comparatively
simple language like English, or even Latin,
illustrates but a modest proportion of these theoretical
possibilities. But if we take our examples freely from
the vast storehouse of language, from languages exotic
as well as from those that we are more familiar with,
we shall find that there is hardly a possibility that
is not realized in actual usage. One example will
do for thousands, one complex type for hundreds of
possible types. I select it from Paiute, the language
of the Indians of the arid plateaus of southwestern
Utah. The word wii-to-kuchum-punku-rügani-yugwiva-ntü-m(ü) 55
is of unusual length even for its own
language, but it is no psychological monster for all
that. It means “they who are going to sit and cut up
with a knife a black cow (or bull),” or, in the order
of the Indian elements, “knife-black-buffalo-pet-cut
up-sit(plur.)-future-participle-animate plur.” The formula
30for this word, in accordance with our symbolism,
would be (F) + (E) + C + d + A + B + (g) + (h) +
(i) + (o)
. It is the plural of the future participle of a
compound verb “to sit and cut up”—A + B. The elements
(g)—which denotes futurity—, (h)—a participial
suffix—, and (i)—indicating the animate plural—are
grammatical elements which convey nothing when detached.
The formula (o) is intended to imply that the
finished word conveys, in addition to what is definitely
expressed, a further relational idea, that of subjectivity;
in other words, the form can only be used as the
subject of a sentence, not in an objective or other
syntactic relation. The radical element A (“to cut up”),
before entering into combination with the coordinate
element B (“to sit”), is itself compounded with two
nominal elements or element-groups—an instrumentally
used stem (F) (“knife”), which may be freely used
as the radical element of noun forms but cannot be
employed as an absolute noun in its given form, and
an objectively used group—(E) + C + d (“black cow
or bull”). This group in turn consists of an adjectival
radical element (E) (“black”), which cannot be independently
employed (the absolute notion of “black”
can be rendered only as the participle of a verb:
“black-be-ing”), and the compound noun C + d (“buffalo-pet”).
The radical element C properly means
“buffalo,” but the element d, properly an independently
occurring noun meaning “horse” (originally
“dog” or “domesticated animal” in general), is regularly
used as a quasi-subordinate element indicating
that the animal denoted by the stem to which it is
affixed is owned by a human being. It will be observed
that the whole complex (F) + (E) + C + d + A + B
is functionally no more than a verbal base, corresponding
to the sing- of an English form like singing;
that this complex remains verbal in force on the addition
of the temporal element (g)—this (g), by the way,
must not be understood as appended to B alone, but
31to the whole basic complex as a unit—; and that the
elements (h) + (i) + (o) transform the verbal expression
into a formally well-defined noun.

It is high time that we decided just what is meant
by a word. Our first impulse, no doubt, would have
been to define the word as the symbolic, linguistic
counterpart of a single concept. We now know that
such a definition is impossible. In truth it is impossible
to define the word from a functional standpoint
at all, for the word may be anything from the expression
of a single concept—concrete or abstract or
purely relational (as in of or by or and)—to the expression
of a complete thought (as in Latin dico “I
say” or, with greater elaborateness of form, in a
Nootka verb form denoting “I have been accustomed
to eat twenty round objects [e.g., apples] while engaged
in [doing so and so]”). In the latter case the
word becomes identical with the sentence. The word
is merely a form, a definitely molded entity that takes
in as much or as little of the conceptual material of
the whole thought as the genius of the language cares
to allow. Thus it is that while the single radical
elements and grammatical elements, the carriers of
isolated concepts, are comparable as we pass from
language to language, the finished words are not.
Radical (or grammatical) element and sentence—these
are the primary functional units of speech, the former
as an abstracted minimum, the latter as the esthetically
satisfying embodiment of a unified thought. The
actual formal units of speech, the words, may on occasion
identify themselves with either of the two functional
units; more often they mediate between the
two extremes, embodying one or more radical notions
and also one or more subsidiary ones. We may put the
whole matter in a nutshell by saying that the radical
and grammatical elements of language, abstracted as
they are from the realities of speech, respond to the
conceptual world of science, abstracted as it is from
32the realities of experience, and that the word, the
existent unit of living speech, responds to the unit of
actually apprehended experience, of history, of art.
The sentence is the logical counterpart of the complete
thought only if it be felt as made up of the
radical and grammatical elements that lurk in the
recesses of its words. It is the psychological counterpart
of experience, of art, when it is felt, as indeed it
normally is, as the finished play of word with word.
As the necessity of denning thought solely and exclusively
for its own sake becomes more urgent, the
word becomes increasingly irrelevant as a means. We
can therefore easily understand why the mathematician
and the symbolic logician are driven to discard
the word and to build up their thought with the help
of symbols which have, each of them, a rigidly unitary

But is not the word, one may object, as much of an
abstraction as the radical element? Is it not as arbitrarily
lifted out of the living sentence as is the minimum
conceptual element out of the word? Some
students of language have, indeed, looked upon the
word as such an abstraction, though with very doubtful
warrant, it seems to me. It is true that in particular
cases, especially in some of the highly synthetic
languages of aboriginal America, it is not always easy
to say whether a particular element of language is to
be interpreted as an independent word or as part of
a larger word. These transitional cases, puzzling as
they may be on occasion, do not, however, materially
weaken the case for the psychological validity of the
word. Linguistic experience, both as expressed in standardized,
written form and as tested in daily usage,
indicates overwhelmingly that there is not, as a rule,
the slightest difficulty in bringing the word to consciousness
as a psychological reality. No more convincing
test could be desired than this, that the naïve
Indian, quite unaccustomed to the concept of the
33written word, has nevertheless no serious difficulty in
dictating a text to a linguistic student word by word;
he tends, of course, to run his words together as in
actual speech, but if he is called to a halt and is made
to understand what is desired, he can readily isolate
the words as such, repeating them as units. He regularly
refuses, on the other hand, to isolate the radical
or grammatical element, on the ground that it “makes
no sense.” 66 What, then, is the objective criterion of
the word? The speaker and hearer feel the word, let
us grant, but how shall we justify their feeling? If
function is not the ultimate criterion of the word,
what is?

It is easier to ask the question than to answer it.
The best that we can do is to say that the word is
one of the smallest, completely satisfying bits of
isolated “meaning” into which the sentence resolves
itself. It cannot be cut into without a disturbance of
meaning, one or the other or both of the severed parts
remaining as a helpless waif on our hands. In practice
this unpretentious criterion does better service
than might be supposed. In such a sentence as It is
, it is simply impossible to group the
elements into any other and smaller “words” than the
34three indicated. Think or thinkable might be isolated,
but as neither un- nor -able nor is-un yields a measurable
satisfaction, we are compelled to leave unthinkable
as an integral whole, a miniature bit of art.
Added to the “feel” of the word are frequently, but
by no means invariably, certain external phonetic
characteristics. Chief of these is accent. In many, perhaps
in most, languages the single word is marked by
a unifying accent, an emphasis on one of the syllables,
to which the rest are subordinated. The particular
syllable that is to be so distinguished is dependent,
needless to say, on the special genius of the language.
The importance of accent as a unifying feature of the
word is obvious in such English examples as unthinkable,
characterizing. The long Paiute word that we
have analyzed is marked as a rigid phonetic unit by
several features, chief of which are the accent on its
second syllable (wi′- “knife”) and the slurring (“unvoicing,”
to use the technical phonetic term) of its
final vowel (-mü, animate plural). Such features as
accent, cadence, and the treatment of consonants and
vowels within the body of a word are often useful as
aids in the external demarcation of the word, but
they must by no means be interpreted, as is sometimes
done, as themselves responsible for its psychological
existence. They at best but strengthen a feeling of
unity that is already present on other grounds.

We have already seen that the major functional
unit of speech, the sentence, has, like the word, a
psychological as well as a merely logical or abstracted
existence. Its definition is not difficult. It is the linguistic
expression of a proposition. It combines a subject
of discourse with a statement in regard to this
subject. Subject and “predicate” may be combined in
a single word, as in Latin dico; each may be expressed
independently, as in the English equivalent, I say; each
or either may be so qualified as to lead to complex
propositions of many sorts. No matter how many of
35these qualifying elements (words or functional parts
of words) are introduced, the sentence does not lose
its feeling of unity so long as each and every one of
them falls in place as contributory to the definition of
either the subject of discourse or the core of the predicate. 77
Such a sentence as The mayor of New York is
going to deliver a speech of welcome in French
readily felt as a unified statement, incapable of reduction
by the transfer of certain of its elements, in their
given form, to the preceding or following sentences.
The contributory ideas of of New York, of welcome,
and in French may be eliminated without hurting
the idiomatic flow of the sentence. The mayor is
going to deliver a speech
is a perfectly intelligible
proposition. But further than this we cannot go in
the process of reduction. We cannot say, for instance,
Mayor is going to deliver. 88 The reduced sentence resolves
itself into the subject of discourse—the mayor
—and the predicate—is going to deliver a speech. It is
customary to say that the true subject of such a sentence
is mayor, the true predicate is going or even is,
the other elements being strictly subordinate. Such an
analysis, however, is purely schematic and is without
psychological value. It is much better frankly to recognize
the fact that either or both of the two terms of
the sentence-proposition may be incapable of expression
in the form of single words. There are languages
that can convey all that is conveyed by The-mayor
in two words, a subject
36word and a predicate word, but English is not so
highly synthetic. The point that we are really making
here is that underlying the finished sentence is a living
sentence type, of fixed formal characteristics. These
fixed types or actual sentence-groundworks may be
freely overlaid by such additional matter as the
speaker or writer cares to put on, but they are themselves
as rigidly “given” by tradition as are the radical
and grammatical elements abstracted from the finished
word. New words may be consciously created
from these fundamental elements on the analogy of
old ones, but hardly new types of words. In the same
way new sentences are being constantly created, but
always on strictly traditional lines. The enlarged sentence,
however, allows as a rule of considerable freedom
in the handling of what may be called “unessential”
parts. It is this margin of freedom which gives
us the opportunity of individual style.

The habitual association of radical elements, grammatical
elements, words, and sentences with concepts
or groups of concepts related into wholes is the fact
itself of language. It is important to note that there is
in all languages a certain randomness of association.
Thus, the idea of “hide” may be also expressed by the
word “conceal,” the notion of “three times” also by
“thrice.” The multiple expression of a single concept
is universally felt as a source of linguistic strength and
variety, not as a needless extravagance. More irksome
is a random correspondence between idea and linguistic
expression in the field of abstract and relational
concepts, particularly when the concept is embodied
in a grammatical element. Thus, the randomness of
the expression of plurality in such words as books,
oxen, sheep, and geese is felt to be rather more, I
fancy, an unavoidable and traditional predicament
than a welcome luxuriance. It is obvious that a language
cannot go beyond a certain point in this randomness.
Many languages go incredibly far in this
37respect, it is true, but linguistic history shows conclusively
that sooner or later the less frequently occurring
associations are ironed out at the expense of the
more vital ones. In other words, all languages have an
inherent tendency to economy of expression. Were
this tendency entirely inoperative, there would be no
grammar. The fact of grammar, a universal trait of
language, is simply a generalized expression of the
feeling that analogous concepts and relations are most
conveniently symbolized in analogous forms. Were a
language ever completely “grammatical,” it would be
a perfect engine of conceptual expression. Unfortunately,
or luckily, no language is tyrannically consistent.
All grammars leak.

Up to the present we have been assuming that the
material of language reflects merely the world of concepts
and, on what I have ventured to call the “prerational”
plane, of images, which are the raw material
of concepts. We have, in other words, been assuming
that language moves entirely in the ideational or cognitive
sphere. It is time that we amplified the picture.
The volitional aspect of consciousness also is to some
extent explicitly provided for in language. Nearly all
languages have special means for the expression of
commands (in the imperative forms of the verb, for
example) and of desires, unattained or unattainable
(Would he might come! or Would he were here!) The
emotions, on the whole, seem to be given a less adequate
outlet. Emotion, indeed, is proverbially inclined
to speechlessness. Most, if not all, the interjections
are to be put to the credit of emotional expression,
also, it may be, a number of linguistic elements expressing
certain modalities, such as dubitative or potential
forms, which may be interpreted as reflecting the
emotional states of hesitation or doubt—attenuated
fear. On the whole, it must be admitted that ideation
reigns supreme in language, that volition and emotion
come in as distinctly secondary factors. This, after all,
38is perfectly intelligible. The world of image and concept,
the endless and ever-shifting picture of objective
reality, is the unavoidable subject-matter of human
communication, for it is only, or mainly, in terms of
this world that effective action is possible. Desire,
purpose, emotion are the personal color of the objective
world; they are applied privately by the individual
soul and are of relatively little importance
to the neighboring one. All this does not mean that
volition and emotion are not expressed. They are,
strictly speaking, never absent from normal speech, but
their expression is not of a truly linguistic nature. The
nuances of emphasis, tone, and phrasing, the varying
speed and continuity of utterance, the accompanying
bodily movements, all these express something of the
inner life of impulse and feeling, but as these means
of expression are, at last analysis, but modified forms
of the instinctive utterance that man shares with the
lower animals, they cannot be considered as forming
part of the essential cultural conception of language,
however much they may be inseparable from its actual
life. And this instinctive expression of volition and
emotion is, for the most part, sufficient, often more
than sufficient, for the purposes of communication.

There are, it is true, certain writers on the psychology
of language 99 who deny its prevailing cognitive
character but attempt, on the contrary, to demonstrate
the origin of most linguistic elements within the domain
of feeling. I confess that I am utterly unable
to follow them. What there is of truth in their contentions
may be summed up, it seems to me, by
saying that most words, like practically all elements
of consciousness, have an associated feeling-tone, a
mild, yet none the less real and at times insidiously
powerful, derivative of pleasure or pain. This feeling-tone,
however, is not as a rule an inherent value in
the word itself; it is rather a sentimental growth on
39the word's true body, on its conceptual kernel. Not
only may the feeling-tone change from one age to
another (this, of course, is true of the conceptual
content as well), but it varies remarkably from individual
to individual according to the personal associations
of each, varies, indeed, from time to time in
a single individual's consciousness as his experiences
mold him and his moods change. To be sure, there
are socially accepted feeling-tones, or ranges of feeling-tone,
for many words over and above the force of individual
association, but they are exceedingly variable
and elusive things at best. They rarely have the rigidity
of the central, primary fact. We all grant, for
instance, that storm, tempest, and hurricane, quite
aside from their slight differences of actual meaning,
have distinct feeling-tones, tones that are felt by all
sensitive speakers and readers of English in a roughly
equivalent fashion. Storm, we feel, is a more general
and a decidedly less “magnificent” word than the other
two; tempest is not only associated with the sea but
is likely, in the minds of many, to have obtained
a softened glamour from a specific association with
Shakespeare's great play; hurricane has a greater forthrightness,
a directer ruthlessness than its synonyms.
Yet the individual's feeling-tones for these words are
likely to vary enormously. To some tempest and hurricane
may seem “soft,” literary words, the simpler
storm having a fresh, rugged value which the others
do not possess (think of storm and stress). If we have
browsed much in our childhood days in books of the
Spanish Main, hurricane is likely to have a pleasurably
bracing tone; if we have had the misfortune to be
caught in one, we are not unlikely to feel the word as
cold, cheerless, sinister.

The feeling-tones of words are of no use, strictly
speaking, to science; the philosopher, if he desires to
arrive at truth rather than merely to persuade, finds
them his most insidious enemies. But man is rarely
40engaged in pure science, in solid thinking. Generally
his mental activities are bathed in a warm current of
feeling and he seizes upon the feeling-tones of words
as gentle aids to the desired excitation. They are naturally
of great value to the literary artist. It is interesting
to note, however, that even to the artist they
are a danger. A word whose customary feeling-tone is
too unquestionably accepted becomes a plushy bit of
furniture, a cliché. Every now and then the artist has
to fight the feeling-tone, to get the word to mean what
it nakedly and conceptually should mean, depending
for the effect of feeling on the creative power of an individual
juxtaposition of concepts or images.41

Chapter III
The Sounds of Language

We have seen that the mere phonetic framework of
speech does not constitute the inner fact of language
and that the single sound of articulated speech is not,
as such, a linguistic element at all. For all that, speech
is so inevitably bound up with sounds and their articulation
that we can hardly avoid giving the subject
of phonetics some general consideration. Experience
has shown that neither the purely formal aspects of a
language nor the course of its history can be fully
understood without reference to the sounds in which
this form and this history are embodied. A detailed
survey of phonetics would be both too technical for
the general reader and too loosely related to our main
theme to warrant the needed space, but we can well
afford to consider a few outstanding facts and ideas
connected with the sounds of language.

The feeling that the average speaker has of his language
is that it is built up, acoustically speaking, of
a comparatively small number of distinct sounds, each
of which is rather accurately provided for in the current
alphabet by one letter or, in a few cases, by two
or more alternative letters. As for the languages of
foreigners, he generally feels that, aside from a few
striking differences that cannot escape even the uncritical
42ear, the sounds they use are the same as those
he is familiar with but that there is a mysterious
“accent” to these foreign languages, a certain unanalyzed
phonetic character, apart from the sounds as
such, that gives them their air of strangeness. This
naïve feeling is largely illusory on both scores. Phonetic
analysis convinces one that the number of clearly
distinguishable sounds and nuances of sounds that are
habitually employed by the speakers of a language is
far greater than they themselves recognize. Probably
not one English speaker out of a hundred has the remotest
idea that the t of a word like sting is not at all
the same sound as the t of teem, the latter t having
a fullness of “breath release” that is inhibited in the
former case by the preceding s; that the ea of meat is
of perceptibly shorter duration than the ea of mead;
or that the final s of a word like heads is not the full,
buzzing z sound of the s in such a word as please. It is
the frequent failure of foreigners, who have acquired
a practical mastery of English and who have eliminated
all the cruder phonetic shortcomings of their less careful
brethren, to observe such minor distinctions that
helps to give their English pronunciation the curiously
elusive “accent” that we all vaguely feel. We
do not diagnose the “accent” as the total acoustic
effect produced by a series of slight but specific phonetic
errors for the very good reason that we have
never made clear to ourselves our own phonetic stock
in trade. If two languages taken at random, say English
and Russian, are compared as to their phonetic
systems, we are more apt than not to find that very
few of the phonetic elements of the one find an exact
analogue in the other. Thus, the t of a Russian word
like tam “there” is neither the English t of sting nor
the English t of teem. It differs from both in its “dental”
articulation, in other words, in being produced
by contact of the tip of the tongue with the upper
teeth, not, as in English, by contact of the tongue
43back of the tip with the gum ridge above the teeth;
moreover, it differs from the t of teem also in the
absence of a marked “breath release” before the following
vowel is attached, so that its acoustic effect is
of a more precise, “metallic” nature than in English.
Again, the English l is unknown in Russian, which
possesses, on the other hand, two distinct l-sounds that
the normal English speaker would find it difficult
exactly to reproduce—a “hollow,” guttural-like l and
a “soft,” palatalized l-sound that is only very approximately
rendered, in English terms, as ly. Even so
simple and, one would imagine, so invariable a sound
as m differs in the two languages. In a Russian word
like most “bridge” the m is not the same as the m
of the English word most; the lips are more fully
rounded during its articulation, so that it makes a
heavier, more resonant impression on the ear. The
vowels, needless to say, differ completely in English
and Russian, hardly any two of them being quite the

I have gone into these illustrative details, which
are of little or no specific interest for us, merely in
order to provide something of an experimental basis
to convince ourselves of the tremendous variability of
speech sounds. Yet a complete inventory of the acoustic
resources of all the European languages, the languages
nearer home, while unexpectedly large, would
still fall far short of conveying a just idea of the true
range of human articulation. In many of the languages
of Asia, Africa, and aboriginal America there
are whole classes of sounds that most of us have no
knowledge of. They are not necessarily more difficult
of enunciation than sounds more familiar to our ears;
they merely involve such muscular adjustments of the
organs of speech as we have never habituated ourselves
to. It may be safely said that the total number
of possible sounds is greatly in excess of those actually
in use. Indeed, an experienced phonetician should
44have no difficulty in inventing sounds that are unknown
to objective investigation. One reason why we
find it difficult to believe that the range of possible
speech sounds is indefinitely large is our habit of
conceiving the sound as a simple, unanalyzable impression
instead of as the resultant of a number of
distinct muscular adjustments that take place simultaneously.
A slight change in any one of these adjustments
gives us a new sound which is akin to the old
one, because of the continuance of the other adjustments,
but which is acoustically distinct from it, so
sensitive has the human ear become to the nuanced
play of the vocal mechanism. Another reason for our
lack of phonetic imagination is the fact that, while
our ear is delicately responsive to the sounds of
speech, the muscles of our speech organs have early
in life become exclusively accustomed to the particular
adjustments and systems of adjustment that are
required to produce the traditional sounds of the language.
All or nearly all other adjustments have become
permanently inhibited, whether through inexperience
or through gradual elimination. Of course
the power to produce these inhibited adjustments is
not entirely lost, but the extreme difficulty we experience
in learning the new sounds of foreign languages
is sufficient evidence of the strange rigidity that has set
in for most people in the voluntary control of the
speech organs. The point may be brought home by
contrasting the comparative lack of freedom of voluntary
speech movements with the all but perfect freedom
of voluntary gesture. 110 Our rigidity in articulation
is the price we have had to pay for easy mastery of a
highly necessary symbolism. One cannot be both splendidly
45free in the random choice of movements and
selective with deadly certainty. 211

There are, then, an indefinitely large number of articulated
sounds available for the mechanics of speech;
any given language makes use of an explicit, rigidly
economical selection of these rich resources; and each
of the many possible sounds of speech is conditioned
by a number of independent muscular adjustments
that work together simultaneously towards its production.
A full account of the activity of each of the
organs of speech—in so far as its activity has a bearing
on language—is impossible here, nor can we concern
ourselves in a systematic way with the classification of
sounds on the basis of their mechanics. 312 A few bold
outlines are all that we can attempt. The organs of
speech are the lungs and bronchial tubes; the throat,
particularly that part of it which is known as the
larynx or, in popular parlance, the “Adam's apple”;
the nose; the uvula, which is the soft, pointed, and
easily movable organ that depends from the rear of
the palate; the palate, which is divided into a posterior,
46movable “soft palate” or velum and a “hard
palate”; the tongue; the teeth; and the lips. The
palate, lower palate, tongue, teeth, and lips may be
looked upon as a combined resonance chamber, whose
constantly varying shape, chiefly due to the extreme
mobility of the tongue, is the main factor in giving
the outgoing breath its precise quality 413 of sound.

The lungs and bronchial tubes are organs of speech
only in so far as they supply and conduct the current
of outgoing air without which audible articulation is
impossible. They are not responsible for any specific
sound or acoustic feature of sounds except, possibly,
accent or stress. It may be that differences of stress
are due to slight differences in the contracting force
of the lung muscles, but even this influence of the
lungs is denied by some students, who explain the
fluctuations of stress that do so much to color speech
by reference to the more delicate activity of the glottal
cords. These glottal cords are two small, nearly horizontal,
and highly sensitive membranes within the
larynx, which consists, for the most part, of two large
and several smaller cartilages and of a number of
small muscles that control the action of the cords.

The cords, which are attached to the cartilages, are
to the human speech organs what the two vibrating
reeds are to an oboe or the strings to a violin. They
are capable of at least three distinct types of movement,
each of which is of the greatest importance for
speech. They may be drawn towards or away from
each other, they may vibrate like reeds or strings, and
they may become lax or tense in the direction of their
length. The last class of these movements allows the
cords to vibrate at different “lengths” or degrees of
tenseness and is responsible for the variations in pitch
47which are present not only in song but in the more
elusive modulations of ordinary speech. The two other
types of glottal action determine the nature of the
voice, “voice” being a convenient term for breath as
utilized in speech. If the cords are well apart, allowing
the breath to escape in unmodified form, we have the
condition technically known as “voicelessness.” All
sounds produced under these circumstances are “voiceless”
sounds. Such are the simple, unmodified breath
as it passes into the mouth, which is, at least approximately,
the same as the sound that we write h, also
a large number of special articulations in the mouth
chamber, like p and s. On the other hand, the glottal
cords may be brought tight together, without vibrating.
When this happens, the current of breath is
checked for the time being. The slight choke or
“arrested cough” that is thus made audible is not recognized
in English as a definite sound but occurs
nevertheless not infrequently. 514 This momentary check,
technically known as a “glottal stop,” is an integral
element of speech in many languages, as Danish, Lettish,
certain Chinese dialects, and nearly all American
Indian languages. Between the two extremes of voicelessness,
that of completely open breath and that of
checked breath, lies the position of true voice. In this
position the cords are close together, but not so tightly
as to prevent the air from streaming through; the
cords are set vibrating and a musical tone of varying
pitch results. A tone so produced is known as a
“voiced sound.” It may have an indefinite number of
qualities according to the precise position of the upper
organs of speech. Our vowels, nasals (such as m and
n), and such sounds as b, z, and l are all voiced sounds.
The most convenient test of a voiced sound is the possibility
of pronouncing it on any given pitch, in other
48words, of singing on it. 615 The voiced sounds are the
most clearly audible elements of speech. As such they
are the carriers of practically all significant differences
in stress, pitch, and syllabification. The voiceless
sounds are articulated noises that break up the stream
of voice with fleeting moments of silence. Acoustically
intermediate between the freely unvoiced and the
voiced sounds are a number of other characteristic
types of voicing, such as murmuring and whisper. 716
These and still other types of voice are relatively unimportant
in English and most other European languages,
but there are languages in which they rise to
some prominence in the normal flow of speech.

The nose is not an active organ of speech, but it is
highly important as a resonance chamber. It may be
disconnected from the mouth, which is the other great
resonance chamber, by the lifting of the movable part
of the soft palate so as to shut off the passage of the
breath into the nasal cavity; or, if the soft palate is
allowed to hang down freely and unobstructively, so
that the breath passes into both the nose and the
mouth, these make a combined resonance chamber.
Such sounds as b and a (as in father) are voiced
“oral” sounds, that is, the voiced breath does not receive
a nasal resonance. As soon as the soft palate is
lowered, however, and the nose added as a participating
resonance chamber, the sounds b and a take
on a peculiar “nasal” quality and become, respectively,
m and the nasalized vowel written an in French (e.g.,
49sang, tant). The only English sounds 817 that normally
receive a nasal resonance are m, n, and the ng sound
of sing. Practically all sounds, however, may be nasalized,
not only the vowels—nasalized vowels are common
in all parts of the world—but such sounds as l
or z. Voiceless nasals are perfectly possible. They
occur, for instance, in Welsh and in quite a number
of American Indian languages.

The organs that make up the oral resonance chamber
may articulate in two ways. The breath, voiced or
unvoiced, nasalized or unnasalized, may be allowed to
pass through the mouth without being checked or impeded
at any point; or it may be either momentarily
checked or allowed to stream through a greatly narrowed
passage with resulting air friction. There are
also transitions between the two latter types of articulation.
The unimpeded breath takes on a particular
color or quality in accordance with the varying shape
of the oral resonance chamber. This shape is chiefly
determined by the position of the movable parts—
the tongue and the lips. As the tongue is raised or
lowered, retracted or brought forward, held tense or
lax, and as the lips are pursed (“rounded”) in varying
degree or allowed to keep their position of rest, a large
number of distinct qualities result. These oral qualities
are the vowels. In theory their number is infinite,
in practice the ear can differentiate only a limited, yet
a surprisingly large, number of resonance positions.
Vowels, whether nasalized or not, are normally voiced
sounds; in not a few languages, however, “voiceless
vowels” 918 also occur.

The remaining oral sounds are generally grouped
together as “consonants.” In them the stream of
breath is interfered with in some way, so that a lesser
50resonance results, and a sharper, more incisive quality
of tone. There are four main types of articulation
generally recognized within the consonantal group of
sounds. The breath may be completely stopped for a
moment at some definite point in the oral cavity.
Sounds so produced, like t or d or p, are known as,
“stops” or “explosives.” 1019 Or the breath may be continuously
obstructed through a narrow passage, not
entirely checked. Examples of such “spirants” or
“fricatives,” as they are called, are s and z and y. The
third class of consonants, the “laterals,” are semi-stopped.
There is a true stoppage at the central point
of articulation, but the breath is allowed to escape
through the two side passages or through one of them.
Our English d, for instance, may be readily transformed
into l, which has the voicing and the position
of d, merely by depressing the sides of the tongue on
either side of the point of contact sufficiently to allow
the breath to come through. Laterals are possible in
many distinct positions. They may be unvoiced (the
Welsh ll is an example) as well as voiced. Finally, the
stoppage of the breath may be rapidly intermittent;
in other words, the active organ of contact—generally
the point of the tongue, less often the uvula 1120—may
be made to vibrate against or near the point of contact.
These sounds are the “trills” or “rolled consonants,”
of which the normal English r is a none too
typical example. They are well developed in many
languages, however, generally in voiced form, sometimes,
as in Welsh and Paiute, in unvoiced form as

The oral manner of articulation is naturally not
sufficient to define a consonant. The place of articulation
must also be considered. Contacts may be formed
51at a large number of points, from the root of the
tongue to the lips. It is not necessary here to go at
length into this somewhat complicated matter. The
contact is either between the root of the tongue and
the throat, 1221 some part of the tongue and a point on
the palate (as in k or ch or l), some part of the tongue
and the teeth (as in the English th of thick and then),
the teeth and one of the lips (practically always the
upper teeth and lower lip, as in f), or the two lips (as
in p or English w). The tongue articulations are the
most complicated of all, as the mobility of the tongue
allows various points on its surface, say the tip, to
articulate against a number of opposed points of contact.
Hence arise many positions of articulation that
we are not familiar with, such as the typical “dental”
position of Russian or Italian t and d; or the “cerebral”
position of Sanskrit and other languages of
India, in which the tip of the tongue articulates
against the hard palate. As there is no break at any
point between the rims of the teeth back to the uvula
nor from the tip of the tongue back to its root, it is
evident that all the articulations that involve the
tongue form a continuous organic (and acoustic)
series. The positions grade into each other, but each
language selects a limited number of clearly defined
positions as characteristic of its consonantal system,
ignoring transitional or extreme positions. Frequently
a language allows a certain latitude in the fixing of
the required position. This is true, for instance, of the
English k-sound, which is articulated much further to
the front in a word like kin than in cool. We ignore
this difference, psychologically, as a non-essential, mechanical
one. Another language might well recognize
the difference, or only a slightly greater one, as significant,
as paralleling the distinction in position between
the k of kin and the t of tin.

The organic classification of speech sounds is a
52simple matter after what we have learned of their
production. Any such sound may be put into its
proper place by the appropriate answer to four main
questions:—What is the position of the glottal cords
during its articulation? Does the breath pass into the
mouth alone or is it also allowed to stream into the
nose? Does the breath pass freely through the mouth
or is it impeded at some point and, if so, in what
manner? What are the precise points of articulation
in the mouth? 1322 This fourfold classification of sounds,
worked out in all its detailed ramifications, 1423 is sufficient
to account for all, or practically all, the sounds
of language. 1524

The phonetic habits of a given language are not exhaustively
defined by stating that it makes use of such
and such particular sounds out of the all but endless
gamut that we have briefly surveyed. There remains
the important question of the dynamics of these phonetic
elements. Two languages may, theoretically, be
built up of precisely the same series of consonants and
vowels and yet produce utterly different acoustic effects.
One of them may not recognize striking variations
in the lengths or “quantities” of the phonetic
elements, the other may note such variations most
punctiliously (in probably the majority of languages
long and short vowels are distinguished; in many, as
in Italian or Swedish or Ojibwa, long consonants are
recognized as distinct from short ones). Or the one,
say English, may be very sensitive to relative stresses,
53while in the other, say French, stress is a very minor
consideration. Or, again, the pitch differences which
are inseparable from the actual practice of language
may not affect the word as such, but, as in English,
may be a more or less random or, at best, but a rhetorical
phenomenon, while in other languages, as in
Swedish, Lithuanian, Chinese, Siamese, and the majority
of African languages, they may be more finely
graduated and felt as integral characteristics of the
words themselves. Varying methods of syllabifying are
also responsible for noteworthy acoustic differences.
Most important of all, perhaps, are the very different
possibilities of combining the phonetic elements. Each
language has its peculiarities. The ts combination, for
instance, is found in both English and German, but
in English it can only occur at the end of a word
(as in hats), while it occurs freely in German as the
psychological equivalent of a single sound (as in Zeit,
Katze). Some languages allow of great heapings of
consonants or of vocalic groups (diphthongs), in others
no two consonants or no two vowels may ever come
together. Frequently a sound occurs only in a special
position or under special phonetic circumstances. In
English, for instance, the z-sound of azure cannot occur
initially, while the peculiar quality of the t of
sting is dependent on its being preceded by the s.
These dynamic factors, in their totality, are as important
for the proper understanding of the phonetic
genius of a language as the sound system itself, often
far more so.

We have already seen, in an incidental way, that
phonetic elements or such dynamic features as quantity
and stress have varying psychological “values.”
The English ts of hats is merely a t followed by a
functionally independent s, the ts of the German word
Zeit has an integral value equivalent, say, to the t of
the English word tide. Again, the t of time is indeed
noticeably distinct from that of sting, but the difference,
54to the consciousness of an English-speaking
person, is quite irrelevant. It has no “value.” If we
compare the t-sounds of Haida, the Indian language
spoken in the Queen Charlotte Islands, we find that
precisely the same difference of articulation has a real
value. In such a word as sting “two,” the t is pronounced
precisely as in English, but in sta “from”
the t is clearly “aspirated,” like that of time. In other
words, an objective difference that is irrelevant in
English is of functional value in Haida; from its own
psychological standpoint the t of sting is as different
from that of sta as, from our standpoint, is the t of
time from the d of divine. Further investigation
would yield the interesting result that the Haida ear
finds the difference between the English t of sting and
the d of divine as irrelevant as the naïve English ear
finds that of the t-sounds of sting and time. The objective
comparison of sounds in two or more languages
is, then, of no psychological or historical
significance unless these sounds are first “weighted,”
unless their phonetic “values” are determined. These
values, in turn, flow from the general behavior and
functioning of the sounds in actual speech.

These considerations as to phonetic value lead to
an important conception. Back of the purely objective
system of sounds that is peculiar to a language
and which can be arrived at only by a painstaking
phonetic analysis, there is a more restricted “inner”
or “ideal” system which, while perhaps equally unconscious
as a system to the naïve speaker, can far
more readily than the other be brought to his consciousness
as a finished pattern, a psychological mechanism.
The inner sound-system, overlaid though it
may be by the mechanical or the irrelevant, is a real
and an immensely important principle in the life of
a language. It may persist as a pattern, involving number,
relation, and functioning of phonetic elements,
long after its phonetic content is changed. Two historically
55related languages or dialects may not have a
sound in common, but their ideal sound-systems may
be identical patterns. I would not for a moment wish
to imply that this pattern may not change. It may
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. 162556

Chapter IV
Form in Language: Grammatical Processes

The question of form in language presents itself under
two aspects. We may either consider the formal methods
employed by a language, its “grammatical processes,”
or we may ascertain the distribution of concepts
with reference to formal expression. What are the
formal patterns of the language? And what types of
concepts make up the content of these formal patterns?
The two points of view are quite distinct. The
English word unthinkingly is, broadly speaking, formally
parallel to the word reformers, each being built
up on a radical element which may occur as an
independent verb (think, form), this radical element
being preceded by an element (un-, re-) that conveys
a definite and fairly concrete significance but that
cannot be used independently, and followed by two
elements (-ing, -ly; -er, -s) that limit the application
of the radical concept in a relational sense. This
formal pattern—(b) + A + (c) + (d) 126—is a characteristic
feature of the language. A countless number of
functions may be expressed by it; in other words,
all the possible ideas conveyed by such prefixed and
suffixed elements, while tending to fall into minor
groups, do not necessarily form natural, functional systems.
There is no logical reason, for instance, why the
57numeral function of -s should be formally expressed
in a manner that is analogous to the expression of the
idea conveyed by -ly. It is perfectly conceivable that
in another language the concept of manner (-ly) may
be treated according to an entirely different pattern
from that of plurality. The former might have to be
expressed by an independent word (say, thus unthinking),
the latter by a prefixed element (say, plural 227-reform-er).
There are, of course, an unlimited number
of other possibilities. Even within the confines of
English alone the relative independence of form and
function can be made obvious. Thus, the negative
idea conveyed by un- can be just as adequately expressed
by a suffixed element (-less) in such a word
as thoughtlessly. Such a twofold formal expression
of the negative function would be inconceivable in
certain languages, say Eskimo, where a suffixed element
would alone be possible. Again, the plural notion
conveyed by the -s of reformers is just as definitely
expressed in the word geese, where an utterly distinct
method is employed. Furthermore, the principle of
vocalic change (goose—geese) is by no means confined
to the expression of the idea of plurality; it may also
function as an indicator of difference of time (e.g.,
sing—sang, throw—threw). But the expression in English
of past time is not by any means always bound
up with a change of vowel. In the great majority of
cases the same idea is expressed by means of a distinct
suffix (die-d, work-ed). Functionally, died and sang are
analogous; so are reformers and geese. Formally, we
must arrange these words quite otherwise. Both die-d
and re-form-er-s employ the method of suffixing grammatical
elements; both sang and geese have grammatical
form by virtue of the fact that their vowels differ
from the vowels of other words with which they are
closely related in form and meaning (goose; sing,

Every language possesses one or more formal methods
for indicating the relation of a secondary concept
to the main concept of the radical element. Some of
these grammatical processes, like suffixing, are exceedingly
wide-spread; others, like vocalic change, are less
common but far from rare; still others, like accent
and consonantal change, are somewhat exceptional as
functional processes. Not all languages are as irregular
as English in the assignment of functions to its stock
of grammatical processes. As a rule, such basic concepts
as those of plurality and time are rendered by
means of one or other method alone, but the rule has
so many exceptions that we cannot safely lay it down
as a principle. Wherever we go we are impressed by
the fact that pattern is one thing, the utilization of
pattern quite another. A few further examples of the
multiple expression of identical functions in other
languages than English may help to make still more
vivid this idea of the relative independence of form
and function.

In Hebrew, as in other Semitic languages, the
verbal idea as such is expressed by three, less often
by two or four, characteristic consonants. Thus, the
group sh-m-r expresses the idea of “guarding,” the
group g-n-b that of “stealing,” n-t-n that of “giving.”
Naturally these consonantal sequences are merely abstracted
from the actual forms. The consonants are
held together in different forms by characteristic
vowels that vary according to the idea that it is desired
to express. Prefixed and suffixed elements are also
frequently used. The method of internal vocalic
change is exemplified in shamar “he has guarded,”
shomer “guarding,” shamur “being guarded,” shmor
“(to) guard.” Analogously, ganab “he has stolen,”
goneb “stealing,” ganub “being stolen,” gnob “(to)
steal.” But not all infinitives are formed according to
the type of shmor and gnob or of other types of internal
vowel change. Certain verbs suffix a t-element
59for the infinitive, e.g., ten-eth “to give,” heyo-th “to
be.” Again, the pronominal ideas may be expressed
by independent words (e.g., anoki “I”), by prefixed
elements (e.g., e-shmor “I shall guard”), or by suffixed
elements (e.g., shamar-ti “I have guarded”). In Nass,
an Indian language of British Columbia, plurals are
formed by four distinct methods. Most nouns (and
verbs) are reduplicated in the plural, that is, part of
the radical element is repeated, e.g., gyat “person,”
gyigyat “people.” A second method is the use of certain
characteristic prefixes, e.g., an'on “hand,” kaan'on
“hands”; wai “one paddles,” lu-wai “several
paddle.” Still other plurals are formed by means of
internal vowel change, e.g., gwula “cloak,” gwila
“cloaks.” Finally, a fourth class of plurals is constituted
by such nouns as suffix a grammatical element,
e.g., waky “brother,” wakykw “brothers.”

From such groups of examples as these—and they
might be multiplied ad nauseam—we cannot but conclude
that linguistic form may and should be studied
as types of patterning, apart from the associated functions.
We are the more justified in this procedure as
all languages evince a curious instinct for the development
of one or more particular grammatical processes
at the expense of others, tending always to lose sight
of any explicit functional value that the process may
have had in the first instance, delighting, it would
seem, in the sheer play of its means of expression. It
does not matter that in such a case as the English
goose—geese, foul—defile, sing—sang—sung we can
prove that we are dealing with historically distinct
processes, that the vocalic alternation of sing and sang,
for instance, is centuries older as a specific type of
grammatical process than the outwardly parallel one
of goose and geese. It remains true that there is (or
was) an inherent tendency in English, at the time such
forms as geese came into being, for the utilization of
vocalic change as a significant linguistic method. Failing
60the precedent set by such already existing types of
vocalic alternation as sing—sang—sung, it is highly
doubtful if the detailed conditions that brought about
the evolution of forms like teeth and geese from tooth
and goose would have been potent enough to allow
the native linguistic feeling to win through to an
acceptance of these new types of plural formation as
psychologically possible. This feeling for form as such,
freely expanding along predetermined lines and
greatly inhibited in certain directions by the lack of
controlling types of patterning, should be more clearly
understood than it seems to be. A general survey of
many diverse types of languages is needed to give us
the proper perspective on this point. We saw in the
preceding chapter that every language has an inner
phonetic system of definite pattern. We now learn
that it has also a definite feeling for patterning on the
level of grammatical formation. Both of these submerged
and powerfully controlling impulses to definite
form operate as such, regardless of the need for
expressing particular concepts or of giving consistent
external shape to particular groups of concepts. It
goes without saying that these impulses can find realization
only in concrete functional expression. We
must say something to be able to say it in a certain

Let us now take up a little more systematically,
however briefly, the various grammatical processes
that linguistic research has established. They may be
grouped into six main types: word order; composition;
affixation, including the use of prefixes, suffixes, and
infixes; internal modification of the radical or grammatical
element, whether this affects a vowel or a
consonant; reduplication; and accentual differences,
whether dynamic (stress) or tonal (pitch). There are
also special quantitative processes, like vocalic lengthening
or shortening and consonantal doubling, but
these may be looked upon as particular subtypes
61of the process of internal modification. Possibly still
other formal types exist, but they are not likely to
be of importance in a general survey. It is important
to bear in mind that a linguistic phenomenon cannot
be looked upon as illustrating a definite “process”
unless it has an inherent functional value. The consonantal
change in English, for instance, of books
and bags (s in the former, z in the latter) is of no
functional significance. It is a purely external, mechanical
change induced by the presence of a preceding
voiceless consonant, k, in the former case, of a voiced
consonant, g, in the latter. This mechanical alternation
is objectively the same as that between the noun
house and the verb to house. In the latter case, however,
it has an important grammatical function, that
of transforming a noun into a verb. The two alternations
belong, then, to entirely different psychological
categories. Only the latter is a true illustration of consonantal
modification as a grammatical process.

The simplest, at least the most economical, method
of conveying some sort of grammatical notion is to
juxtapose two or more words in a definite sequence
without making any attempt by inherent modification
of these words to establish a connection between
them. Let us put down two simple English words at
random, say sing praise. This conveys no finished
thought in English, nor does it clearly establish a
relation between the idea of singing and that of praising.
Nevertheless, it is psychologically impossible to
hear or see the two words juxtaposed without straining
to give them some measure of coherent significance.
The attempt is not likely to yield an entirely
satisfactory result, but what is significant is that as
soon as two or more radical concepts are put before
the human mind in immediate sequence it strives to
bind them together with connecting values of some
sort. In the case of sing praise different individuals
are likely to arrive at different provisional results.
62Some of the latent possibilities of the juxtaposition,
expressed in currently satisfying form, are: sing praise
(to him)!
or singing praise, praise expressed in a song
or to sing and praise or one who sings a song of praise
(compare such English compounds as killjoy, i.e., one
who kills joy
) or he sings a song of praise (to him).
The theoretical possibilities in the way of rounding
out these two concepts into a significant group of concepts
or even into a finished thought are indefinitely
numerous. None of them will quite work in English,
but there are numerous languages where one or other
of these amplifying processes is habitual. It depends
entirely on the genius of the particular language what
function is inherently involved in a given sequence of

Some languages, like Latin, express practically all
relations by means of modifications within the body
of the word itself. In these, sequence is apt to be a
rhetorical rather than a strictly grammatical principle.
Whether I say in Latin hominem femina videt or
femina hominem videt or hominem videt femina or
videt femina hominem makes little or no difference
beyond, possibly, a rhetorical or stylistic one. The
woman sees the man
is the identical significance of
each of these sentences. In Chinook, an Indian language
of the Columbia River, one can be equally free,
for the relation between the verb and the two nouns
is as inherently fixed as in Latin. The difference between
the two languages is that, while Latin allows
the nouns to establish their relation to each other and
to the verb, Chinook lays the formal burden entirely
on the verb, the full content of which is more or less
adequately rendered by she-him-sees. Eliminate the
Latin case suffixes (-a and -em) and the Chinook pronominal
prefixes (she-him-) and we cannot afford to
be so indifferent to our word order. We need to husband
our resources. In other words, word order takes
on a real functional value. Latin and Chinook are at
63one extreme. Such languages as Chinese, Siamese, and
Annamite, in which each and every word, if it is to
function properly, falls into its assigned place, are at
the other extreme. But the majority of languages fall
between these two extremes. In English, for instance,
it may make little grammatical difference whether I
say yesterday the man saw the dog or the man saw
the dog yesterday
, but it is not a matter of indifference
whether I say yesterday the man saw the dog or
yesterday the dog saw the man or whether I say he is
or is he here? In the one case, of the latter group
of examples, the vital distinction of subject and object
depends entirely on the placing of certain words of
the sentence, in the latter a slight difference of sequence
makes all the difference between statement and
question. It goes without saying that in these cases
the English principle of word order is as potent a
means of expression as is the Latin use of case suffixes
or of an interrogative particle. There is here no question
of functional poverty, but of formal economy.

We have already seen something of the process of
composition, the uniting into a single word of two or
more radical elements. Psychologically this process is
closely allied to that of word order in so far as the
relation between the elements is implied, not explicitly
stated. It differs from the mere juxtaposition of
words in the sentence in that the compounded elements
are felt as constituting but parts of a single
word-organism. Such languages as Chinese and English,
in which the principle of rigid sequence is well
developed, tend not infrequently also to the development
of compound words. It is but a step from such
a Chinese word sequence as jin tak “man virtue,” i.e.,
“the virtue of men,” to such more conventionalized
and psychologically unified juxtapositions as t'ien tsz
“heaven son,” i.e., “emperor,” or shui fu “water man,”
i.e., “water carrier.” In the latter case we may as well
frankly write shui-fu as a single word, the meaning of
64the compound as a whole being as divergent from the
precise etymological values of its component elements
as is that of our English word typewriter from the
merely combined values of type and writer. In English
the unity of the word typewriter is further safeguarded
by a predominant accent on the first syllable
and by the possibility of adding such a suffixed element
as the plural -s to the whole word. Chinese also
unifies its compounds by means of stress. However,
then, in its ultimate origins the process of composition
may go back to typical sequences of words in the
sentence, it is now, for the most part, a specialized
method of expressing relations. French has as rigid
a word order as English but does not possess anything
like its power of compounding words into more complex
units. On the other hand, classical Greek, in spite
of its relative freedom in the placing of words, has a
very considerable bent for the formation of compound

It is curious to observe how greatly languages differ
in their ability to make use of the process of composition.
One would have thought on general principles
that so simple a device as gives us our typewriter
and blackbird and hosts of other words would
be an all but universal grammatical process. Such is
not the case. There are a great many languages, like
Eskimo and Nootka and, aside from paltry exceptions,
the Semitic languages, that cannot compound
radical elements. What is even stranger is the fact that
many of these languages are not in the least averse to
complex word-formations, but may on the contrary
effect a synthesis that far surpasses the utmost that
Greek and Sanskrit are capable of. Such a Nootka
word, for instance, as “when, as they say, he had been
absent for four days” might be expected to embody
at least three radical elements corresponding to the
concepts of “absent,” “four,” and “day.” As a matter
of fact the Nootka word is utterly incapable of composition
65in our sense. It is invariably built up out of
a single radical element and a greater or less number
of suffixed elements, some of which may have as concrete
a significance as the radical element itself. In
the particular case we have cited the radical element
conveys the idea of “four,” the notions of “day” and
“absent” being expressed by suffixes that are as inseparable
from the radical nucleus of the word as is
an English element like -er from the sing or hunt of
such words as singer and hunter. The tendency to
word synthesis is, then, by no means the same thing
as the tendency to compounding radical elements,
though the latter is not infrequently a ready means
for the synthetic tendency to work with.

There is a bewildering variety of types of composition.
These types vary according to function, the nature
of the compounded elements, and order. In a
great many languages composition is confined to what
we may call the delimiting function, that is, of the
two or more compounded elements one is given a
more precisely qualified significance by the others,
which contribute nothing to the formal build of the
sentence. In English, for instance, such compounded
elements as red in redcoat or over in overlook merely
modify the significance of the dominant coat or look
without in any way sharing, as such, in the predication
that is expressed by the sentence. Some languages,
however, such as Iroquois and Nahuatl, 328 employ the
method of composition for much heavier work than
this. In Iroquois, for instance, the composition of a
noun, in its radical form, with a following verb is a
typical method of expressing case relations, particularly
of the subject or object. I-meat-eat, for instance,
is the regular Iroquois method of expressing the sentence
I am eating meat. In other languages similar
forms may express local or instrumental or still other
66relations. Such English forms as killjoy and marplot
also illustrate the compounding of a verb and a noun,
but the resulting word has a strictly nominal, not a
verbal, function. We cannot say he marplots. Some
languages allow the composition of all or nearly all
types of elements. Paiute, for instance, may compound
noun with noun, adjective with noun, verb with noun
to make a noun, noun with verb to make a verb, adverb
with verb, verb with verb. Yana, an Indian language
of California, can freely compound noun with
noun and verb with noun, but not verb with verb.
On the other hand, Iroquois can compound only noun
with verb, never noun and noun as in English or verb
and verb as in so many other languages. Finally, each
language has its characteristic types of order of composition.
In English the qualifying element regularly
precedes; in certain other languages it follows. Sometimes
both types are used in the same language, as
in Yana, where “beef” is “bitter-venison” but “deerliver”
is expressed by “liver-deer.” The compounded
object of a verb precedes the verbal element in Paiute,
Nahuatl, and Iroquois, follows it in Yana, Tsimshian, 429
and the Algonkin languages.

Of all grammatical processes affixing is incomparably
the most frequently employed. There are
languages, like Chinese and Siamese, that make no
grammatical use of elements that do not at the same
time possess an independent value as radical elements,
but such languages are uncommon. Of the three types
of affixing—the use of prefixes, suffixes, and infixes—
suffixing is much the commonest. Indeed, it is a fair
guess that suffixes do more of the formative work of
language than all other methods combined. It is worth
noting that there are not a few affixing languages that
make absolutely no use of prefixed elements but possess
a complex apparatus of suffixes. Such are Turkish,
67Hottentot, Eskimo, Nootka, and Yana. Some of these,
like the three last mentioned, have hundreds of suffixed
elements, many of them of a concreteness of
significance that would demand expression in the vast
majority of languages by means of radical elements.
The reverse case, the use of prefixed elements to the
complete exclusion of suffixes, is far less common. A
good example is Khmer (or Cambodgian), spoken in
French Cochin-China, though even here there are
obscure traces of old suffixes that have ceased to function
as such and are now felt to form part of the
radical element.

A considerable majority of known languages are
prefixing and suffixing at one and the same time, but
the relative importance of the two groups of affixed
elements naturally varies enormously. In some languages,
such as Latin and Russian, the suffixes alone
relate the word to the rest of the sentence, the prefixes
being confined to the expression of such ideas
as delimit the concrete significance of the radical element
without influencing its bearing in the proposition.
A Latin form like remittebantur “they were
being sent back” may serve as an illustration of this
type of distribution of elements. The prefixed element
re- “back” merely qualifies to a certain extent the
inherent significance of the radical element mitt“send,”
while the suffixes -eba-, -nt-, and -ur convey the
less concrete, more strictly formal, notions of time,
person, plurality, and passivity.

On the other hand, there are languages, like the
Bantu group of Africa or the Athabaskan languages 530
of North America, in which the grammatically significant
elements precede, those that follow the radical
element forming a relatively dispensable class. The
Hupa word te-s-e-ya-te “I will go,” for example, consists
of a radical element -ya- “to go,” three essential
68prefixes and a formally subsidiary suffix. The element
te- indicates that the act takes place here and there
in space or continuously over space; practically, it
has no clear-cut significance apart from such verb
stems as it is customary to connect it with. The second
prefixed element, -s-, is even less easy to define. All we
can say is that it is used in verb forms of “definite”
time and that it marks action as in progress rather
than as beginning or coming to an end. The third
prefix, -e-, is a pronominal element, “I,” which can
be used only in “definite” tenses. It is highly important
to understand that the use of -e- is conditional
on that of -s- or of certain alternative prefixes and that
te- also is in practice linked with -s-. The group te-s-e-ya
is a firmly knit grammatical unit. The suffix -te,
which indicates the future, is no more necessary to
its formal balance than is the prefixed re- of the Latin
word; it is not an element that is capable of standing
alone but its function is materially delimiting rather
than strictly formal. 631

It is not always, however, that we can clearly set
off the suffixes of a language as a group against its
prefixes. In probably the majority of languages that
use both types of affixes each group has both delimiting
and formal or relational functions. The most that
we can say is that a language tends to express similar
functions in either the one or the other manner. If a
certain verb expresses a certain tense by suffixing, the
probability is strong that it expresses its other tenses
in an analogous fashion and that, indeed, all verbs
69have suffixed tense elements. Similarly, we normally
expect to find the pronominal elements, so far as they
are included in the verb at all, either consistently prefixed
or suffixed. But these rules are far from absolute.
We have already seen that Hebrew prefixes its pronominal
elements in certain cases, suffixes them in
others. In Chimariko, an Indian language of California,
the position of the pronominal affixes depends on
the verb; they are prefixed for certain verbs, suffixed
for others.

It will not be necessary to give many further examples
of prefixing and suffixing. One of each category
will suffice to illustrate their formative possibilities.
The idea expressed in English by the sentence I came
to give it to her
is rendered in Chinook 732 by i-n-i-a-l-ud-am.
This word—and it is a thoroughly unified word
with a clear-cut accent on the first a—consists of a
radical element, -d- “to give,” six functionally distinct,
if phonetically frail, prefixed elements, and a suffix.
Of the prefixes, i- indicates recently past time; n-, the
pronominal subject “I”; -i-, the pronominal object
“it”; 833 -a-, the second pronominal object “her”; -l-, a
prepositional element indicating that the preceding
pronominal prefix is to be understood as an indirect
object (-her-to-, i.e., “to her”); and -u-, an element that
it is not easy to define satisfactorily but which, on the
whole, indicates movement away from the speaker.
The suffixed -am modifies the verbal content in a
local sense; it adds to the notion conveyed by the
radical element that of “arriving” or “going (or coming)
for that particular purpose.” It is obvious that
in Chinook, as in Hupa, the greater part of the grammatical
machinery resides in the prefixes rather than
in the suffixes.70

A reverse case, one in which the grammatically significant
elements cluster, as in Latin, at the end of the
word is yielded by Fox, one of the better known Algonkin
languages of the Mississippi Valley. We may
take the form eh-kiwi-n-a-m-oht-ati-wa-ch(i) “then they
together kept (him) in flight from them.” The radical
element here is kiwi-, a verb stem indicating the
general notion of “indefinite movement round about,
here and there.” The prefixed element eh- is hardly
more than an adverbial particle indicating temporal
subordination; it may be conveniently rendered as
“then.” Of the seven suffixes included in this highly
wrought word, -n- seems to be merely a phonetic element
serving to connect the verb stem with the following
-a-; 934 -a- is a “secondary stem” 1035 denoting the idea
of “flight, to flee”; -m- denotes causality with reference
to an animate object; 1136 -o(ht)- indicates activity
done for the subject (the so-called “middle” or “medio-passive”
voice of Greek); -(a)ti- is a reciprocal
element, “one another”; -wa-ch(i) is the third person
animate plural (-wa-, plural; -chi, more properly personal)
of so-called “conjunctive” forms. The word may
be translated more literally (and yet only approximately
as to grammatical feeling) as “then they (animate)
caused some animate being to wander about
in flight from one another of themselves.” Eskimo,
Nootka, Yana, and other languages have similarly
complex arrays of suffixed elements, though the functions
71performed by them and their principles of combination
differ widely.

We have reserved the very curious type of affixation
known as “infixing” for separate illustration. It
is utterly unknown in English, unless we consider the
-n- of stand (contrast stood) as an infixed element. The
earlier Indo-European languages, such as Latin, Greek
and Sanskrit, made a fairly considerable use of infixed
nasals to differentiate the present tense of a certain
class of verbs from other forms (contrast Latin vinc-o
“I conquer” with vic-i “I conquered”; Greek lamban-o
“I take” with e-lab-on “I took”). There are, however,
more striking examples of the process, examples
in which it has assumed a more clearly defined function
than in these Latin and Greek cases. It is
particularly prevalent in many languages of south-eastern
Asia and of the Malay archipelago. Good examples
from Khmer (Cambodgian) are tmeu “one who
walks” and daneu “walking” (verbal noun), both derived
from deu “to walk.” Further examples may
be quoted from Bontoc Igorot, a Filipino language.
Thus, an infixed -in- conveys the idea of the product
of an accomplished action, e.g., kayu “wood,” kinayu
“gathered wood.” Infixes are also freely used in the
Bontoc Igorot verb. Thus, an infixed -um- is characteristic
of many intransitive verbs with personal pronominal
suffixes, e.g., sad- “to wait,” sumid-ak “I
wait”; kineg “silent,” kuminek-ak “I am silent.” In
other verbs it indicates futurity, e.g., tengao- “to celebrate
a holiday,” tumengao-ak “I shall have a holiday.”
The past tense is frequently indicated by an
infixed -in-; if there is already an infixed -um-, the two
elements combine to -in-m-, e.g., kinminek-ak “I am
silent.” Obviously the infixing process has in this (and
related) languages the same vitality that is possessed
by the commoner prefixes and suffixes of other languages.
The process is also found in a number of
aboriginal American languages. The Yana plural is
72sometimes formed by an infixed element, e.g., k'uruwi
“medicine-men,” k'uwi “medicine-man”; in Chinook
an infixed -l- is used in certain verbs to indicate repeated
activity, e.g., ksik-ludelk “she keeps looking at
him,” iksik-lutk “she looked at him” (radical element
-tk). A peculiarly interesting type of infixation is
found in the Siouan languages, in which certain verbs
insert the pronominal elements into the very body of
the radical element, e.g., Sioux cheti “to build a fire,”
chewati “I build a fire”; shuta “to miss,” shuunta-pi
“we miss.”

A subsidiary but by no means unimportant grammatical
process is that of internal vocalic or consonantal
change. In some languages, as in English (sing,
sang, sung, song; goose, geese), the former of these
has become one of the major methods of indicating
fundamental changes of grammatical function. At any
rate, the process is alive enough to lead our children
into untrodden ways. We all know of the growing
youngster who speaks of having brung something, on
the analogy of such forms as sung and flung. In Hebrew,
as we have seen, vocalic change is of even
greater significance than in English. What is true of
Hebrew is of course true of all other Semitic languages.
A few examples of so-called “broken” plurals
from Arabic 1237 will supplement the Hebrew verb forms
that I have given in another connection. The noun
balad “place” has the plural form bilad; 1338 gild “hide”
forms the plural gulud; ragil “man,” the plural rigal;
shibbak “window,” the plural shababik. Very similar
phenomena are illustrated by the Hamitic languages
of Northern Africa, e.g., Shilh 1439 izbil “hair,” plural
izbel; a-slem “fish,” plural i-slim-en; sn “to know,” sen
“to be knowing”; rmi “to become tired,” rumni “to
73be tired”; ttss 1540 “to fall asleep,” ttoss “to sleep.” Strikingly
similar to English and Greek alternations of
the type sing—sang and leip-o “I leave,” leloip-a “I
have left,” are such Somali 1641 cases as al “I am,” il “I
was”; i-dah-a “I say,” i-di “I said,” deh “say!”

Vocalic change is of great significance also in a number
of American Indian languages. In the Athabaskan
group many verbs change the quality or quantity of
the vowel of the radical element as it changes its
tense or mode. The Navaho verb for “I put (grain)
into a receptacle” is bi-hi-sh-ja, in which -ja is the
radical element; the past tense, bi-hi-ja', has a long
a-vowel, followed by the “glottal stop”; 1742 the future
is bi-h-de-sh-ji with complete change of vowel. In
other types of Navaho verbs the vocalic changes follow
different lines, e.g., yah-a-ni-ye “you carry (a pack)
into (a stable)”; past, yah-i-ni-yin (with long i in -yin;
-n is here used to indicate nasalization); future, yah-a-di-yehl
(with long e). In another Indian language,
Yokuts, 1843 vocalic modifications affect both noun and
verb forms. Thus, buchong “son” forms the plural
bochang-i (contrast the objective buchong-a); enash
“grandfather,” the plural inash-a; the verb engtyim “to
sleep” forms the continuative ingetym-ad “to be sleeping”
and the past ingetym-ash.

Consonantal change as a functional process is probably
far less common than vocalic modifications, but
it is not exactly rare. There is an interesting group
of cases in English, certain nouns and corresponding
verbs differing solely in that the final consonant is
voiceless or voiced. Examples are wreath (with th as
in think), but to wreathe (with th as in then); house,
but to house (with s pronounced like z). That we have
a distinct feeling for the interchange as a means of
74distinguishing the noun from the verb is indicated by
the extension of the principle by many Americans to
such a noun as rise (e.g., the rise of democracy)—pronounced
like rice—in contrast to the verb to rise (s
like z).

In the Celtic languages the initial consonants undergo
several types of change according to the grammatical
relation that subsists between the word itself
and the preceding word. Thus, in modern Irish, a
word like bo “ox” may, under the appropriate circumstances,
take the forms bho (pronounce wo) or mo
(e.g., an bo “the ox,” as a subject, but tir na mo “land
of the oxen,” as a possessive plural). In the verb the
principle has as one of its most striking consequences
the “aspiration” of initial consonants in the past tense.
If a verb begins with t, say, it changes the t to th
(now pronounced h) in forms of the past; if it begins
with g, the consonant changes, in analogous forms, to
gh (pronounced like a voiced spirant 1944 g or like y,
according to the nature of the following vowel). In
modern Irish the principle of consonantal change,
which began in the oldest period of the language as
a secondary consequence of certain phonetic conditions,
has become one of the primary grammatical
processes of the language.

Perhaps as remarkable as these Irish phenomena
are the consonantal interchanges of Ful, an African
language of the Soudan. Here we find that all nouns
belonging to the personal class form the plural by
changing their initial g, j, d, b, k, ch, and p to y (or
w), y, r, w, h, s and f respectively; e.g., jim-o “companion,”
yim-'be “companions”; pio-o “beater,” fio-'be
“beaters.” Curiously enough, nouns that belong to the
class of things form their singular and plural in exactly
reverse fashion, e.g., yola-re “grass-grown place,”
jola-je “grass-grown places”; fitan-du “soul,” pital-i
“souls.” In Nootka, to refer to but one other language
75in which the process is found, the t or tl 2045 of many
verbal suffixes becomes hl in forms denoting repetition,
e.g., hita-'ato “to fall out,” hita-'ahl “to keep falling
out”; mat-achisht-utl “to fly on to the water,” mat-achisht-ohl
“to keep flying on to the water.” Further,
the hl of certain elements changes to a peculiar h-sound
in plural forms, e.g., yak-ohl “sore-faced,” yak-oh “sore-faced

Nothing is more natural than the prevalence of reduplication,
in other words, the repetition of all or
part of the radical element. The process is generally
employed, with self-evident symbolism, to indicate
such concepts as distribution, plurality, repetition,
customary activity, increase of size, added intensity,
continuance. Even in English it is not unknown,
though it is not generally accounted one of the typical
formative devices of our language. Such words
as goody-goody and to pooh-pooh have become accepted
as part of our normal vocabulary, but the
method of duplication may on occasion be used more
freely than is indicated by such stereotyped examples.
Such locutions as a big big man or Let it cool till it's
thick thick
are far more common, especially in the
speech of women and children, than our linguistic
text-books would lead one to suppose. In a class by
themselves are the really enormous number of words,
many of them sound-imitative or contemptuous in
psychological tone, that consist of duplications with
either change of the vowel or change of the initial
consonant—words of the type sing-song, riff-raff, wishy-washy,
harum-skarum, roly-poly. Words of this type
are all but universal. Such examples as the Russian
Chudo-Yudo (a dragon), the Chinese ping-pang “rattling
of rain on the roof,” 2146 the Tibetan kyang-kyong
“lazy,” and the Manchu porpon parpan “blear-eyed”
are curiously reminiscent, both in form and in psychology,
76of words nearer home. But it can hardly be
said that the duplicative process is of a distinctively
grammatical significance in English. We must turn
to other languages for illustration. Such cases as Hottentot
go-go “to look at carefully” (from go “to see”),
Somali fen-fen “to gnaw at on all sides” (from fen “to
gnaw at”), Chinook iwi iwi “to look about carefully,
to examine” (from iwi “to appear”), or Tsimshian
am'am “several (are) good” (from am “good”) do not
depart from the natural and fundamental range of
significance of the process. A more abstract function
is illustrated in Ewe, 2247 in which both infinitives and
verbal adjectives are formed from verbs by duplication;
e.g., yi “to go,” yiyi “to go, act of going”; wo “to
do,” wowo 2348 “done”; mawomawo “not to do” (with
both duplicated verb stem and duplicated negative
particle). Causative duplications are characteristic of
Hottentot, e.g., gam-gam 2449 “to cause to tell” (from
gam “to tell”). Or the process may be used to derive
verbs from nouns, as in Hottentot khoe-khoe “to talk
Hottentot” (from khoe-b “man, Hottentot”), or as in
Kwakiutl metmat “to eat clams” (radical element met-

The most characteristic examples of reduplication
are such as repeat only part of the radical element. It
would be possible to demonstrate the existence of a
vast number of formal types of such partial duplication,
according to whether the process makes use of
one or more of the radical consonants, preserves or
weakens or alters the radical vowel, or affects the
beginning, the middle, or the end of the radical element.
The functions are even more exuberantly developed
than with simple duplication, though the
basic notion, at least in origin, is nearly always one
77of repetition or continuance. Examples illustrating
this fundamental function can be quoted from all
parts of the globe. Initially reduplicating are, for
instance, Shilh ggen “to be sleeping” (from gen “to
sleep”); Ful pepeu-'do “liar” (i.e., “one who always
lies”), plural fefeu-'be (from fewa “to lie”); Bontoc
Igorot anak “child,” ananak “children”; kamu-ek “I
hasten,” kakamu-ek “I hasten more”; Tsimshian gyad
“person,” gyigyad “people”; Nass gyibayuk “to fly,”
gyigyibayuk “one who is flying.” Psychologically comparable,
but with the reduplication at the end, are
Somali ur “body,” plural urar; Hausa suna “name,”
plural sunana-ki; Washo 2550 gusu “buffalo,” gususu
“buffaloes”; Takelma 2651 himi-d- “to talk to,” himim-d-
“to be accustomed to talk to.” Even more commonly
than simple duplication, this partial duplication of
the radical element has taken on in many languages
functions that seem in no way related to the idea of
increase. The best known examples are probably the
initial reduplication of our older Indo-European languages,
which helps to form the perfect tense of many
verbs (e.g., Sanskrit dadarsha “I have seen,” Greek
leloipa “I have left,” Latin tetigi “I have touched,”
Gothic lelot “I have let”). In Nootka reduplication
of the radical element is often employed in association
with certain suffixes; e.g., hluch- “woman” forms
hluhluch-'ituhl “to dream of a woman,” hluhluch-k'ok
“resembling a woman.” Psychologically similar to the
Greek and Latin examples are many Takelma cases
of verbs that exhibit two forms of the stem, one employed
in the present or past, the other in the future
and in certain modes and verbal derivatives. The former
has final reduplication, which is absent in the
latter; e.g., al-yebeb-i'n “I show (or showed) to him,”
al-yeb-in “I shall show him.”

We come now to the subtlest of all grammatical
78processes, variations in accent, whether of stress or
pitch. The chief difficulty in isolating accent as a
functional process is that it is so often combined with
alternations in vocalic quantity or quality or complicated
by the presence of affixed elements that its
grammatical value appears as a secondary rather than
as a primary feature. In Greek, for instance, it is
characteristic of true verbal forms that they throw
the accent back as far as the general accentual rules
will permit, while nouns may be more freely accented.
There is thus a striking accentual difference between
a verbal form like eluthemen “we were released,”
accented on the second syllable of the word, and its
participial derivative lutheis “released,” accented on
the last. The presence of the characteristic verbal elements
e- and -men in the first case and of the nominal
-s in the second tends to obscure the inherent value
of the accentual alternation. This value comes out
very neatly in such English doublets as to refund and
a refund, to extract and an extract, to come down and
a come down, to lack luster and lack-luster eyes, in
which the difference between the verb and the noun
is entirely a matter of changing stress. In the Athabaskan
languages there are not infrequently significant
alternations of accent, as in Navaho ta-di-gis “you
wash yourself” (accented on the second syllable), ta-di-gis“

washes himself” (accented on the first). 2752

Pitch accent may be as functional as stress and is
perhaps more often so. The mere fact, however, that
pitch variations are phonetically essential to the
language, as in Chinese (e.g., feng “wind” with a level
tone, feng “to serve” with a falling tone) or as in classical
Greek (e.g., lab-on “having taken” with a simple
or high tone on the suffixed participial -on, gunaik-on
“of women” with a compound or falling tone on the
case suffix -on) does not necessarily constitute a functional,
79or perhaps we had better say grammatical, use
of pitch. In such cases the pitch is merely inherent in
the radical element or affix, as any vowel or consonant
might be. It is different with such Chinese alternations
as chung (level) “middle” and chung (falling) “to hit
the middle”; mai (rising) “to buy” and mai (falling)
“to sell”; pei (falling) “back” and pei (level) “to carry
on the back.” Examples of this type are not exactly
common in Chinese and the language cannot be said
to possess at present a definite feeling for tonal differences
as symbolic of the distinction between noun
and verb.

There are languages, however, in which such differences
are of the most fundamental grammatical
importance. They are particularly common in the
Soudan. In Ewe, for instance, there are formed from
subo “to serve” two reduplicated forms, an infinitive
subosubo “to serve,” with a low tone on the first two
syllables and a high one on the last two, and an abjectival
subo-subo “serving,” in which all the syllables
have a high tone. Even more striking are cases
furnished by Shilluk, one of the languages of the
headwaters of the Nile. The plural of the noun often
differs in tone from the singular, e.g., yit (high) “ear”
but yit (low) “ears.” In the pronoun three forms may
be distinguished by tone alone; e “he” has a high tone
and is subjective, -e “him” (e.g., a chwol-e “he called
him”) has a low tone and is objective, -e “his” (e.g.,
wod-e “his house”) has a middle tone and is possessive.
From the verbal element gwed- “to write” are formed
gwed-o “(he) writes” with a low tone, the passive gwet
“(it was) written” with a falling tone, the imperative
gwet “write!” with a rising tone, and the verbal noun
gwet “writing” with a middle tone. In aboriginal
America also pitch accent is known to occur as a
grammatical process. A good example of such a pitch
language is Tlingit, spoken by the Indians of the
southern coast of Alaska. In this language many verbs
80vary the tone of the radical element according to
tense; hun “to sell,” sin “to hide,” tin “to see,” and
numerous other radical elements, if low-toned, refer
to past time, if high-toned, to the future. Another type
of function is illustrated by the Takelma forms hel
“song,” with falling pitch, but hel “sing!” with a rising
inflection; parallel to these forms are sel (falling)
“black paint,” sel (rising) “paint it!” All in all it
is clear that pitch accent, like stress and vocalic or
consonantal modifications, is far less infrequently employed
as a grammatical process than our own habits
of speech would prepare us to believe probable.81

Chapter V
Form in Language: Grammatical Concepts

We have seen that the single word expresses either
a simple concept or a combination of concepts so
interrelated as to form a psychological unity. We
have, furthermore, briefly reviewed from a strictly
formal standpoint the main processes that are used by
all known languages to affect the fundamental concepts—those
embodied in unanalyzable words or in
the radical elements of words—by the modifying or
formative influence of subsidiary concepts. In this
chapter we shall look a little more closely into the
nature of the world of concepts, in so far as that
world is reflected and systematized in linguistic structure.

Let us begin with a simple sentence that involves
various kinds of concepts—the farmer kills the duckling.
A rough and ready analysis discloses here the
presence of three distinct and fundamental concepts
that are brought into connection with each other in
a number of ways. These three concepts are “farmer”
(the subject of discourse), “kill” (defining the nature
of the activity which the sentence informs us about),
and “duckling” (another subject 153 of discourse that
takes an important though somewhat passive part in
this activity). We can visualize the farmer and the
82duckling and we have also no difficulty in constructing
an image of the killing. In other words, the elements
farmer, kill, and duckling define concepts of a concrete

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
), 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 on a farm to be conventionally
83thought 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.

Returning to this sentence, we feel that the analysis
of farmer and duckling is practically irrelevant to
an understanding of its content and entirely irrelevant
to a feeling for the structure of the sentence as a
84whole. From the standpoint of the sentence the derivational
elements -er and -ling are merely details in
the local economy of two of its terms (farmer, duckling)
that it accepts as units of expression. This indifference
of the sentence as such to some part of the
analysis of its words is shown by the fact that if we
substitute such radical words as man and chick for
farmer and duckling, we obtain a new material content,
it is true, but not in the least a new structural
mold. We can go further and substitute another activity
for that of “killing,” say “taking.” The new sentence,
the man takes the chick, is totally different
from the first sentence in what it conveys, not in how
it conveys it. We feel instinctively, without the
slightest attempt at conscious analysis, that the two
sentences fit precisely the same pattern, that they are
really the same fundamental sentence, differing only
in their material trappings. In other words, they express
identical relational concepts in an identical
manner. The manner is here threefold—the use of
an inherently relational word (the) in analogous positions,
the analogous sequence (subject; predicate, consisting
of verb and object) of the concrete terms of
the sentence, and the use of the suffixed element -s
in the verb.

Change any of these features of the sentence and it
becomes modified, slightly or seriously, in some purely
relational, non-material regard. If the is omitted
(farmer kills duckling, man takes chick), the sentence
becomes impossible; it falls into no recognized formal
pattern and the two subjects of discourse seem to hang
incompletely in the void. We feel that there is no
relation established between either of them and what
is already in the minds of the speaker and his auditor.
As soon as a the is put before the two nouns, we feel
relieved. We know that the farmer and duckling
which the sentence tells us about are the same farmer
and duckling that we had been talking about or hearing
85about or thinking about some time before. If I
meet a man who is not looking at and knows nothing
about the farmer in question, I am likely to be stared
at for my pains if I announce to him that “the farmer
[what farmer?] kills the duckling [didn't know he had
any, whoever he is].” If the fact nevertheless seems
interesting enough to communicate, I should be compelled
to speak of “a farmer up my way” and of “a
of his.” These little words, the and a, have
the important function of establishing a definite or an
indefinite reference.

If I omit the first the and also leave out the suffixed
-s, I obtain an entirely new set of relations. Farmer,
kill the duckling
implies that I am now speaking to
the farmer, not merely about him; further, that he is
not actually killing the bird, but is being ordered by
me to do so. The subjective relation of the first sentence
has become a vocative one, one of address, and
the activity is conceived in terms of command, not of
statement. We conclude, therefore, that if the farmer
is to be merely talked about, the little the must go
back into its place and the -s must not be removed.
The latter element clearly defines, or rather helps to
define, statement as contrasted with command. I find,
moreover, that if I wish to speak of several farmers, I
cannot say the farmers kills the duckling, but must
say the farmers kill the duckling. Evidently -s involves
the notion of singularity in the subject. If the
noun is singular, the verb must have a form to correspond;
if the noun is plural, the verb has another,
corresponding form. 254 Comparison with such forms as
I kill and you kill shows, moreover, that the -s has
exclusive reference to a person other than the speaker
or the one spoken to. We conclude, therefore, that it
connotes a personal relation as well as the notion of
singularity. And comparison with a sentence like the
86farmer killed the duckling
indicates that there is implied
in this overburdened -s a distinct reference to
present time. Statement as such and personal reference
may well be looked upon as inherently relational concepts.
Number is evidently felt by those who speak
English as involving a necessary relation, otherwise
there would be no reason to express the concept
twice, in the noun and in the verb. Time also is
clearly felt as a relational concept; if it were not, we
should be allowed to say the farmer killed-s to correspond
to the farmer kill-s. Of the four concepts inextricably
interwoven in the -s suffix, all are felt as
relational, two necessarily so. The distinction between
a truly relational concept and one that is so felt and
treated, though it need not be in the nature of things,
will receive further attention in a moment.

Finally, I can radically disturb the relational cut of
the sentence by changing the order of its elements.
If the positions of farmer and kills are interchanged,
the sentence reads kills the farmer the duckling, which
is most naturally interpreted as an unusual but not
unintelligible mode of asking the question, does the
farmer kill the duckling?
In this new sentence the act
is not conceived as necessarily taking place at all. It
may or it may not be happening, the implication being
that the speaker wishes to know the truth of the
matter and that the person spoken to is expected to
give him the information. The interrogative sentence
possesses an entirely different “modality” from the
declarative one and implies a markedly different attitude
of the speaker towards his companion. An even
more striking change in personal relations is effected
if we interchange the farmer and the duckling. The
duckling kills the farmer
involves precisely the same
subjects of discourse and the same type of activity as
our first sentence, but the roles of these subjects of
discourse are now reversed. The duckling has turned,
like the proverbial worm, or, to put it in grammatical
87terminology, what was “subject” is now “object,”
what was object is now subject.

The following tabular statement analyzes the sentence
from the point of view of the concepts expressed
in it and of the grammatical processes employed for
their expression.

I. Concrete Concepts:

1. First subject of discourse: farmer

2. Second subject of discourse: duckling

3. Activity: kill

— analyzable into:

A. Radical Concepts:

1. Verb: (to) farm

2. Noun: duck

3. Verb: kill

B. Derivational Concepts:

1. Agentive: expressed by suffix -er

2. Diminutive: expressed by suffix -ling

II. Relational Concepts:


1. Definiteness of reference to first subject of discourse:
expressed by first the, which has preposed

2. Definiteness of reference to second subject of
discourse: expressed by second the, which has
preposed position


3. Declarative: expressed by sequence of “subject”
plus verb; and implied by suffixed -s

Personal relations:

4. Subjectivity of farmer: expressed by position
of farmer before kills; and by suffixed -s

5. Objectivity of duckling: expressed by position
of duckling after kills


6. Singularity of first subject of discourse: expressed
by lack of plural suffix in farmer;
and by suffix -s in following verb

7. Singularity of second subject of discourse: expressed
by lack of plural suffix in duckling88


8. Present: expressed by lack of preterit suffix in
verb; and by suffixed -s

In this short sentence of five words there are expressed,
therefore, thirteen distinct concepts, of which
three are radical and concrete, two derivational, and
eight relational. Perhaps the most striking result of
the analysis is a renewed realization of the curious
lack of accord in our language between function and
form. The method of suffixing is used both for derivational
and for relational elements; independent words
or radical elements express both concrete ideas (objects,
activities, qualities) and relational ideas (articles
like the and a; words defining case relations, like of,
to, for, with, by; words defining local relations, like
in, on, at); the same relational concept may be expressed
more than once (thus, the singularity of
farmer is both negatively expressed in the noun and
positively in the verb); and one element may convey
a group of interwoven concepts rather than one definite
concept alone (thus the -s of kills embodies no
less than four logically independent relations).

Our analysis may seem a bit labored, but only because
we are so accustomed to our own well-worn
grooves of expression that they have come to be felt
as inevitable. Yet destructive analysis of the familiar
is the only method of approach to an understanding
of fundamentally different modes of expression. When
one has learned to feel what is fortuitous or illogical
or unbalanced in the structure of his own language,
he is already well on the way toward a sympathetic
grasp of the expression of the various classes of concepts
in alien types of speech. Not everything that is
“outlandish” is intrinsically illogical or far-fetched.
It is often precisely the familiar that a wider perspective
reveals as the curiously exceptional. From a
purely logical standpoint it is obvious that there is
89no inherent reason why the concepts expressed in our
sentence should have been singled out, treated, and
grouped as they have been and not otherwise. The
sentence is the outgrowth of historical and of unreasoning
psychological forces rather than of a logical
synthesis of elements that have been clearly grasped
in their individuality. This is the case, to a greater
or less degree, in all languages, though in the forms
of many we find a more coherent, a more consistent,
reflection than in our English forms of that unconscious
analysis into individual concepts which is never
entirely absent from speech, however it may be complicated
with or overlaid by the more irrational factors.

A cursory examination of other languages, near
and far, would soon show that some or all of the
thirteen concepts that our sentence happens to embody
may not only be expressed in different form but
that they may be differently grouped among themselves;
that some among them may be dispensed with;
and that other concepts, not considered worth expressing
in English idiom, may be treated as absolutely
indispensable to the intelligible rendering of the
proposition. First as to a different method of handling
such concepts as we have found expressed in the
English sentence. If we turn to German, we find that
in the equivalent sentence (Der Bauer tötet das Entelein)
the definiteness of reference expressed by the
English the is unavoidably coupled with three other
concepts—number (both der and das are explicitly
singular), case (der is subjective; das is subjective or
objective, by elimination therefore objective), and
gender, a new concept of the relational order that is
not in this case explicitly involved in English (der is
masculine, das is neuter). Indeed, the chief burden
of the expression of case, gender, and number is in
the German sentence borne by the particles of reference
rather than by the words that express the
concrete concepts (Bauer, Entelein) to which these
90relational concepts ought logically to attach themselves.
In the sphere of concrete concepts too it is
worth noting that the German splits up the idea of
“killing” into the basic concept of “dead” (tot) and
the derivational one of “causing to do (or be) so and
so” (by the method of vocalic change, töt-); the German
töt-et (analytically tot- + vowel change + -et)
“causes to be dead” is, approximately, the formal
equivalent of our dead-en-s, though the idiomatic application
of this latter word is different. 355

Wandering still further afield, we may glance at the
Yana method of expression. Literally translated, the
equivalent Yana sentence would read something like
“kill-s he farmer 456 he to duck-ling,” in which “he” and
“to” are rather awkward English renderings of a general
third personal pronoun (he, she, it, or they) and
an objective particle which indicates that the following
noun is connected with the verb otherwise than
as subject. The suffixed element in “kill-s” corresponds
to the English suffix with the important exceptions
that it makes no reference to the number of the subject
and that the statement is known to be true, that
it is vouched for by the speaker. Number is only
indirectly expressed in the sentence in so far as there
is no specific verb suffix indicating plurality of the
subject nor specific plural elements in the two nouns.
Had the statement been made on another's authority,
a totally different “tense-modal” suffix would have had
to be used. The pronouns of reference (“he”) imply
nothing by themselves as to number, gender, or case.
Gender, indeed, is completely absent in Yana as a
relational category.

The Yana sentence has already illustrated the point
91that certain of our supposedly essential concepts may
be ignored; both the Yana and the German sentence
illustrate the further point that certain concepts may
need expression for which an English-speaking person,
or rather the English-speaking habit, finds no
need whatever. One could go on and give endless
examples of such deviations from English form, but
we shall have to content ourselves with a few more
indications. In the Chinese sentence “Man kill duck,”
which may be looked upon as the practical equivalent
of “The man 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 concepts—two
objects and an action—are each directly
expressed by a monosyllabic word which is at the
same time a radical element; the two relational concepts—“subject”
and “object”—are 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
gender—all these are given no expression in the
Chinese sentence, which, for all that, is a perfectly
adequate communication—provided, 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
92the 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 whom we see over
there) kill that duckling (that belongs to him)? This
type of demonstrative elaboration is foreign to our
way of thinking, but it would seem very natural, indeed
unavoidable, to a Kwakiutl Indian.

What, then, are the absolutely essential concepts
in speech, the concepts that must be expressed if
language is to be a satisfactory means of communication?
Clearly we must have, first of all, a large stock
of basic or radical concepts, the concrete wherewithal
of speech. We must have objects, actions, qualities to
talk about, and these must have their corresponding
symbols in independent words or in radical elements.
No proposition, however abstract its intent, is humanly
possible without a tying on at one or more
points to the concrete world of sense. In every intelligible
proposition at least two of these radical ideas
must be expressed, though in exceptional cases one or
even both may be understood from the context. And,
secondly, such relational concepts must be expressed
as moor the concrete concepts to each other and construct
a definite, fundamental form of proposition. In
this fundamental form there must be no doubt as to
the nature of the relations that obtain between the
concrete concepts. We must know what concrete concept
is directly or indirectly related to what other,
and how. If we wish to talk of a thing and an action,
we must know if they are coordinately related to each
other (e.g., “He is fond of wine and gambling”); or
if the thing is conceived of as the starting point, the
“doer” of the action, or, as it is customary to say, the
93“subject” of which the action is predicated; or if, on
the contrary, it is the end point, the “object” of the
action. If I wish to communicate an intelligible idea
about a farmer, a duckling, and the act of killing, it
is not enough to state the linguistic symbols for these
concrete ideas in any order, higgledy-piggledy, trusting
that the hearer may construct some kind of a
relational pattern out of the general probabilities of
the case. The fundamental syntactic relations must
be unambiguously expressed. I can afford to be silent
on the subject of time and place and number and
of a host of other possible types of concepts, but I
can find no way of dodging the issue as to who is
doing the killing. There is no known language that
can or does dodge it, any more than it succeeds in
saying something without the use of symbols for the
concrete concepts.

We are thus once more reminded of the distinction
between essential or unavoidable relational concepts
and the dispensable type. The former are universally
expressed, the latter are but sparsely developed in
some languages, elaborated with a bewildering exuberance
in others. But what prevents us from throwing
in these “dispensable” or “secondary” relational
concepts with the large, floating group of derivational,
qualifying concepts that we have already discussed?
Is there, after all is said and done, a fundamental difference
between a qualifying concept like the negative
in unhealthy and a relational one like the number
concept in books? If unhealthy may be roughly
paraphrased as not healthy, may not books be just as
legitimately paraphrased, barring the violence to English
idiom, as several book? There are, indeed, languages
in which the plural, if expressed at all, is
conceived of in the same sober, restricted, one might
almost say casual, spirit in which we feel the negative
in unhealthy. For such languages the number concept
has no syntactic significance whatever, is not essentially
94conceived of as defining a relation, but falls into
the group of derivational or even of basic concepts. In
English, however, as in French, German, Latin, Greek
—indeed in all the languages that we have most familiarity
with—the idea of number is not merely appended
to a given concept of a thing. It may have
something of this merely qualifying value, but its force
extends far beyond. It infects much else in the sentence,
molding other concepts, even such as have no
intelligible relation to number, into forms that are
said to correspond to or “agree with” the basic concept
to which it is attached in the first instance. If “a
man falls” but “men fall” in English, it is not because
of any inherent change that has taken place in the
nature of the action or because the idea of plurality
inherent in “men” must, in the very nature of ideas,
relate itself also to the action performed by these men.
What we are doing in these sentences is what most
languages, in greater or less degree and in a hundred
varying ways, are in the habit of doing—throwing a
bold bridge between the two basically distinct types
of concept, the concrete and the abstractly relational,
infecting the latter, as it were, with the color and
grossness of the former. By a certain violence of metaphor
the material concept is forced to do duty for (or
intertwine itself with) the strictly relational.

The case is even more obvious if we take gender as
our text. In the two English phrases, “The white
woman that comes” and “The white men that come,”
we are not reminded that gender, as well as number,
may be elevated into a secondary relational concept. It
would seem a little far-fetched to make of masculinity
and femininity, crassly material, philosophically accidental
concepts that they are, a means of relating
quality and person, person and action, nor would it
easily occur to us, if we had not studied the classics,
that it was anything but absurd to inject into two
such highly attenuated relational concepts as are expressed
95by “the” and “that” the combined notions of
number and sex. Yet all this, and more, happens in
Latin. Illa alba femina quae venit and illi albi homines
qui veniunt
, conceptually translated, amount to
this: that-one-feminine-doer 557 one-feminine-white-doer
feminine-doing-one-woman which-one-feminine-doer
other 658-one-now-come; and: that-several-masculine-doer
several-masculine-white-doer masculine-doing-several-man
which-several-masculine-doer other-several-now-come.
Each word involves no less than lour concepts,
a radical concept (either properly concrete—white,
man, woman, come—or demonstrative—that, which)
and three relational concepts, selected from the categories
of case, number, gender, person, and tense.
Logically, only case 759 (the relation of woman or men
to a following verb, of which to its antecedent, of that
and white to woman or men, and of which to come)
imperatively demands expression, and that only in
connection with the concepts directly affected (there
is, for instance, no need to be informed that the whiteness
is a doing or doer's whiteness 860). The other relational
96concepts are either merely parasitic (gender
throughout; number in the demonstrative, the adjective,
the relative, and the verb) or irrelevant to the
essential syntactic form of the sentence (number in the
noun; person; tense). An intelligent and sensitive
Chinaman, accustomed as he is to cut to the very bone
of linguistic form, might well say of the Latin sentence,
“How pedantically imaginative!” It must be
difficult for him, when first confronted by the illogical
complexities of our European languages, to feel at
home in an attitude that so largely confounds the
subject-matter of speech with its formal pattern or,
to be more accurate, that turns certain fundamentally
concrete concepts to such attenuated relational

I have exaggerated somewhat the concreteness of
our subsidiary or rather non-syntactical relational concepts
in order that the essential facts might come out
in bold relief. It goes without saying that a Frenchman
has no clear sex notion in his mind when he
speaks of un arbre (“a-masculine tree”) or of une
(“a-feminine apple”). Nor have we, despite the
grammarians, a very vivid sense of the present as contrasted
with all past and all future time when we say
He comes. 961 This is evident from our use of the present
to indicate both future time (“He comes to-morrow”)
and general activity unspecified as to time (“Whenever
he comes, I am glad to see him,” where “comes”
refers to past occurrences and possible future ones
rather than to present activity). In both the French
and English instances the primary ideas of sex and
time have become diluted by form-analogy and by
extensions into the relational sphere, the concepts
ostensibly indicated being now so vaguely delimited
97that it is rather the tyranny of usage than the need
of their concrete expression that sways us in the selection
of this or that form. If the thinning-out process
continues long enough, we may eventually be left
with a system of forms on our hands from which all
the color of life has vanished and which merely persist
by inertia, duplicating each other's secondary, syntactic
functions with endless prodigality. Hence, in
part, the complex conjugational systems of so many
languages, in which differences of form are attended
by no assignable differences of function. There must
have been a time, for instance, though it antedates
our earliest documentary evidence, when the type of
tense formation represented by drove or sank differed
in meaning, in however slightly nuanced a degree,
from the type (killed, worked) which has now become
established in English as the prevailing preterit formation,
very much as we recognize a valuable distinction
at present between both these types and the “perfect”
(has driven, has killed) but may have ceased to
do so at some point in the future. 1062 Now form lives
longer than its own conceptual content. Both are
ceaselessly changing, but, on the whole, the form tends
to linger on when the spirit has flown or changed its
being. Irrational form, form for form's sake—however
we term this tendency to hold on to formal distinctions
once they have come to be—is as natural to the
life of language as is the retention of modes of conduct
that have long outlived the meaning they once

There is another powerful tendency which makes
for a formal elaboration that does not strictly correspond
to clear-cut conceptual differences. This is the
tendency to construct schemes of classification into
which all the concepts of language must be fitted.
98Once we have made up our minds that all things are
either definitely good or bad or definitely black or
white, it is difficult to get into the frame of mind that
recognizes that any particular thing may be both good
and bad (in other words, indifferent) or both black
and white (in other words, gray), still more difficult
to realize that the good-bad or black-white categories
may not apply at all. Language is in many respects as
unreasonable and stubborn about its classifications as
is such a mind. It must have its perfectly exclusive
pigeon-holes and will tolerate no flying vagrants. Any
concept that asks for expression must submit to the
classificatory rules of the game, just as there are statistical
surveys in which even the most convinced atheist
must perforce be labeled Catholic, Protestant, or Jew
or get no hearing. In English we have made up our
minds that all action must be conceived of in reference
to three standard times. If, therefore, we desire
to state a proposition that is as true to-morrow as it
was yesterday, we have to pretend that the present
moment may be elongated fore and aft so as to take
in all eternity. 1163 In French we know once for all that
an object is masculine or feminine, whether it be living
or not; just as in many American and East Asiatic
languages it must be understood to belong to a certain
form-category (say, ring-round, ball-round, long
and slender, cylindrical, sheet-like, in mass like sugar)
before it can be enumerated (e.g., “two ball-class potatoes,”
“three sheet-class carpets”) or even said to
“be” or “be handled in a definite way” (thus, in the
Athabaskan languages and in Yana, “to carry” or
“throw” a pebble is quite another thing than to carry
or throw a log, linguistically no less than in terms of
muscular experience). Such instances might be multiplied
99at will. It is almost as though at some period in
the past the unconscious mind of the race had made
a hasty inventory of experience, committed itself to a
premature classification that allowed of no revision,
and saddled the inheritors of its language with a science
that they no longer quite believed in nor had
the strength to overthrow. Dogma, rigidly prescribed
by tradition, stiffens into formalism. Linguistic categories
make up a system of surviving dogma—dogma
of the unconscious. They are often but half real as
concepts; their life tends ever to languish away into
form for form's sake.

There is still a third cause for the rise of this nonsignificant
form, or rather of non-significant differences
of form. This is the mechanical operation of
phonetic processes, which may bring about formal distinctions
that have not and never had a corresponding
functional distinction. Much of the irregularity and
general formal complexity of our declensional and
conjugational systems is due to this process. The
plural of hat is hats, the plural of self is selves. In the
former case we have a true -s symbolizing plurality,
in the latter a z-sound coupled with a change in the
radical element of the word of f to v. Here we have
not a falling together of forms that originally stood
for fairly distinct concepts—as we saw was presumably
the case with such parallel forms as drove and worked
—but a merely mechanical manifolding of the same
formal element without a corresponding growth of a
new concept. This type of form development, therefore,
while of the greatest interest for the general history
of language, does not directly concern us now in
our effort to understand the nature of grammatical
concepts and their tendency to degenerate into purely
formal counters.

We may now conveniently revise our first classification
of concepts as expressed in language and suggest
the following scheme:100

I. Basic (Concrete) Concepts (such as objects, actions,
qualities): normally expressed by independent words
or radical elements; involve no relation as such 1264

II. Derivational Concepts (less concrete, as a rule, than
I, more so than III) : normally expressed by affixing
non-radical elements to radical elements or by
inner modification of these; differ from type I in
defining ideas that are irrelevant to the proposition
as a whole but that give a radical element a particular
increment of significance and that are thus
inherently related in a specific way to concepts of
type I 1365

III. Concrete Relational Concepts (still more abstract, yet
not entirely devoid of a measure of concreteness) :
normally expressed by affixing non-radical elements
to radical elements, but generally at a greater remove
from these than is the case with elements of
type II, or by inner modification of radical elements;
differ fundamentally from type II in indicating
or implying relations that transcend the
particular word to which they are immediately attached,
thus leading over to

IV. Pure Relational Concepts (purely abstract): normally
expressed by affixing non-radical elements to radical
elements (in which case these concepts are frequently
intertwined with those of type III) or by
their inner modification, by independent words, or
by position; serve to relate the concrete elements
of the proposition to each other, thus giving it
definite syntactic form.101

The nature of these four classes of concepts as regards
their concreteness or their power to express syntactic
relations may be thus symbolized:

tableau Material Content | Relation | Basic Concepts | Derivational Concepts | Concrete Relational Concepts | Pure Relational Concepts

These schemes must not be worshipped as fetiches.
In the actual work of analysis difficult problems frequently
arise and we may well be in doubt as to how
to group a given set of concepts. This is particularly
apt to be the case in exotic languages, where we may
be quite sure of the analysis of the words in a sentence
and yet not succeed in acquiring that inner
“feel” of its structure that enables us to tell infallibly
what is “material content” and what is “relation.”
Concepts of class I are essential to all speech, also concepts
of class IV. Concepts II and III are both common,
but not essential; particularly group III, which
represents, in effect, a psychological and formal confusion
of types II and IV or of types I and IV, is an
avoidable class of concepts. Logically there is an impassable
gulf between I and IV, but the illogical, metaphorical
genius of speech has wilfully spanned the
gulf and set up a continuous gamut of concepts and
forms that leads imperceptibly from the crudest of
materialities (“house” or “John Smith”) to the most
subtle of relations. It is particularly significant that
the unanalyzable independent word belongs in most
cases to either group I or group IV, rather less commonly
to II or III. It is possible for a concrete concept,
represented by a simple word, to lose its material
significance entirely and pass over directly into the
relational sphere without at the same time losing its
independence as a word. This happens, for instance,
in Chinese and Cambodgian when the verb “give” is
used in an abstract sense as a mere symbol of the “indirect
objective” relation (e.g., Cambodgian “We make
102story this give all that person who have child,” i.e.,
“We have made this story for all those that have children”).

There are, of course, also not a few instances of
transitions between groups I and II and I and III, as
well as of the less radical one between II and III. To
the first of these transitions belongs that whole class
of examples in which the independent word, after
passing through the preliminary stage of functioning
as the secondary or qualifying element in a compound,
ends up by being a derivational affix pure and simple,
yet without losing the memory of its former independence.
Such an element and concept is the full of teaspoonful,
which hovers psychologically between the
status of an independent, radical concept (compare
full) or of a subsidiary element in a compound (cf.
brim-full) and that of a simple suffix (cf. dutiful) in
which the primary concreteness is no longer felt. In
general, the more highly synthetic our linguistic type,
the more difficult and even arbitrary it becomes to
distinguish groups I and II.

Not only is there a gradual loss of the concrete as
we pass through from group I to group IV, there is
also a constant fading away of the feeling of sensible
reality within the main groups of linguistic concepts
themselves. In many languages it becomes almost imperative,
therefore, to make various sub-classifications,
to segregate, for instance, the more concrete from the
more abstract concepts of group II. Yet we must always
beware of reading into such abstracter groups
that purely formal, relational feeling that we can
hardly help associating with certain of the abstracter
concepts which, with us, fall in group III, unless, indeed,
there is clear evidence to warrant such a reading
in. An example or two should make clear these
all-important distinctions. 1466 In Nootka we have an
103unusually large number of derivational affixes (expressing
concepts of group II). Some of these are quite material
in content (e.g., “in the house,” “to dream of”),
others, like an element denoting plurality and a diminutive
affix, are far more abstract in content. The
former type are more closely welded with the radical
element than the latter, which can only be suffixed to
formations that have the value of complete words. If,
therefore, I wish to say “the small fires in the house”
—and I can do this in one word—I must form the
word “fire-in-the-house,” to which elements corresponding
to “small,” our plural, and “the” are appended.
The element indicating the definiteness of
reference that is implied in our “the” comes at the
very end of the word. So far, so good. “Fire-in-the-house-the”
is an intelligible correlate of our “the
house-fire.” 1567 But is the Nootka correlate of “the small
fires in the house” the true equivalent of an English
“the house-firelets”? 1668 By no means. First of all, the
plural element precedes the diminutive in Nootka:
“fire-in-the-house-plural-small-the,” in other words
“the house-fireslet,” which at once reveals the important
fact that the plural concept is not as abstractly,
as relationally, felt as in English. A more adequate
rendering would be “the house-fire-several-let,” in
which, however, “several” is too gross a word, “-let”
too choice an element (“small” again is too gross). In
truth we cannot carry over into English the inherent
feeling of the Nootka word, which seems to hover
somewhere between “the house-firelets” and “the
104house-fire-several-small.” But what more than anything
else cuts off all possibility of comparison between the
English -s of “house-firelets” and the “-several-small”
of the Nootka word is this, that in Nootka neither the
plural nor the diminutive affix corresponds or refers
to anything else in the sentence. In English “the
house-firelets burn” (not “burns”), in Nootka neither
verb, nor adjective, nor anything else in the proposition
is in the least concerned with the plurality or the
diminutiveness of the fire. Hence, while Nootka recognizes
a cleavage between concrete and less concrete
concepts within group II, the less concrete do not
transcend the group and lead us into that abstracter
air into which our plural -s carries us. But at any rate,
the reader may object, it is something that the Nootka
plural affix is set apart from the concreter group of
affixes; and may not the Nootka diminutive have a
slenderer, a more elusive content than our -let or -ling
or the German -chen or -lein? 1769

Can such a concept as that of plurality ever be classified
with the more material concepts of group II?
Indeed it can be. In Yana the third person of the verb
makes no formal distinction between singular and
plural. Nevertheless the plural concept can be, and
nearly always is, expressed by the suffixing of an element
(-ba-) to the radical element of the verb. “It
burns in the east” is rendered by the verb ya-hau-si
“burn-east-s.” 1870 “They burn in the east” is ya-ba-hau-si.
Note that the plural affix immediately follows
the radical element (ya-), disconnecting it from the
local element (-hau-). It needs no labored argument
105to prove that the concept of plurality is here hardly less
concrete than that of location “in the east,” and that the
Yana form corresponds in feeling not so much to our
“They burn in the east” (ardunt oriente) as to a
“Burn-several-east-s, it plurally burns in the east,” an
expression which we cannot adequately assimilate for
lack of the necessary form-grooves into which to
run it.

But can we go a step farther and dispose of the
category of plurality as an utterly material idea, one
that would make of “books” a “plural book,” in which
the “plural,” like the “white” of “white book,” falls
contentedly into group I? Our “many books” and
“several books” are obviously not cases in point. Even
if we could say “many book” and “several book” (as
we can say “many a book” and “each book”), the
plural concept would still not emerge as clearly as it
should for our argument; “many” and “several” are
contaminated by certain notions of quantity or scale
that are not essential to the idea of plurality itself. We
must turn to central and eastern Asia for the type of
expression we are seeking. In Tibetan, for instance,
nga-s mi mthong 1971 “I-by man see, by me a man is seen,
I see a man” may just as well be understood to mean
“I see men,” if there happens to be no reason to emphasize
the fact of plurality. 2072 If the fact is worth expressing,
however, I can say nga-s mi rnams mthong
“by me man plural see,” where rnams is the perfect
conceptual analogue of -s in books, divested of all relational
strings. Rnams follows its noun as would any
other attributive word—“man plural” (whether two
or a million) like “man white.” No need to bother
about his plurality any more than about his whiteness
unless we insist on the point.

What is true of the idea of plurality is naturally
106just as true of a great many other concepts. They do
not necessarily belong where we who speak English
are in the habit of putting them. They may be shifted
towards I or towards IV, the two poles of linguistic
expression. Nor dare we look down on the Nootka
Indian and the Tibetan for their material attitude
towards a concept which to us is abstract and relational,
lest we invite the reproaches of the Frenchman
who feels a subtlety of relation in femme blanche and
homme blanc that he misses in the coarser-grained
white woman and white man. But the Bantu Negro,
were he a philosopher, might go further and find it
strange that we put in group II a category, the diminutive,
which he strongly feels to belong to group III
and which he uses, along with a number of other classificatory
concepts, 2173 to relate his subjects and objects,
attributes and predicates, as a Russian or a German
handles his genders and, if possible, with an even
greater finesse.

It is because our conceptual scheme is a sliding scale
rather than a philosophical analysis of experience that
we cannot say in advance just where to put a given
concept. We must dispense, in other words, with a
well-ordered classification of categories. What boots it
to put tense and mode here or number there when
the next language one handles puts tense a peg “lower
down” (towards I), mode and number a peg “higher
up” (towards IV)? Nor is there much to be gained in
a summary work of this kind from a general inventory
of the types of concepts generally found in groups
II, III, and IV. There are too many possibilities. It
would be interesting to show what are the most typical
noun-forming and verb-forming elements of group
II; how variously nouns may be classified (by gender;
personal and non-personal; animate and inanimate;
by form; common and proper); how the concept of
107number is elaborated (singular and plural; singular,
dual, and plural; singular, dual, trial, and plural;
single, distributive, and collective); what tense distinctions
may be made in verb or noun (the “past,” for
instance, may be an indefinite past, immediate, remote,
mythical, completed, prior); how delicately certain
languages have developed the idea of “aspect” 2274
(momentaneous, durative, continuative, inceptive, cessative,
durative-inceptive, iterative, momentaneous-iterative,
durative-iterative, resultative, and still others);
what modalities may be recognized (indicative,
imperative, potential, dubitative, optative, negative,
and a host of others 2375); what distinctions of person
are possible (is “we,” for instance, conceived of as a
plurality of “I” or is it as distinct from “I” as either
is from “you” or “he”?—both attitudes are illustrated
in language; moreover, does “we” include you to
whom I speak or not?—“inclusive” and “exclusive”
forms); what may be the general scheme of orientation,
the so-called demonstrative categories (“this”
and “that” in an endless procession of nuances); 2476 how
frequently the form expresses the source or nature of
the speaker's knowledge (known by actual experience,
108by hearsay, 2577 by inference); how the syntactic relations
may be expressed in the noun (subjective and objective;
agentive, instrumental, and person affected; 2678
various types of “genitive” and indirect relations) and,
correspondingly, in the verb (active and passive; active
and static; transitive and intransitive; impersonal, reflexive,
reciprocal, indefinite as to object, and many
other special limitations on the starting-point and
end-point of the flow of activity). These details, important
as many of them are to an understanding of
the “inner form” of language, yield in general significance
to the more radical group-distinctions that
we have set up. It is enough for the general reader
to feel that language struggles towards two poles of
linguistic expression—material content and relation—
and that these poles tend to be connected by a long
series of transitional concepts.

In dealing with words and their varying forms we
have had to anticipate much that concerns the sentence
as a whole. Every language has its special
method or methods of binding words into a larger
unity. The importance of these methods is apt to vary
with the complexity of the individual word. The
109more synthetic the language, in other words, the
more clearly the status of each word in the sentence
is indicated by its own resources, the less need is
there for looking beyond the word to the sentence
as a whole. The Latin agit “(he) acts” needs no
outside help to establish its place in a proposition.
Whether I say agit dominus “the master acts” or sic
femina agit
“thus the woman acts,” the net result as
to the syntactic feel of the agit is practically the same.
It can only be a verb, the predicate of a proposition,
and it can only be conceived as a statement of activity
carried out by a person (or thing) other than you or me.
It is not so with such a word as the English act. Act
is a syntactic waif until we have denned its status in
a proposition—one thing in “they act abominably,”
quite another in “that was a kindly act.” The Latin
sentence speaks with the assurance of its individual
members, the English word needs the prompting of
its fellows. Roughly speaking, to be sure. And yet to
say that a sufficiently elaborate word-structure compensates
for external syntactic methods is perilously
close to begging the question. The elements of the
word are related to each other in a specific way and
follow each other in a rigorously determined sequence.
This is tantamount to saying that a word which consists
of more than a radical element is a crystallization
of a sentence or of some portion of a sentence, that a
form like agit is roughly the psychological 2779 equivalent
of a form like age is “act he.” Breaking down,
then, the wall that separates word and sentence, we
may ask: What, at last analysis, are the fundamental
methods of relating word to word and element to element,
in short, of passing from the isolated notions
symbolized by each word and by each element to the
unified proposition that corresponds to a thought?

The answer is simple and is implied in the preceding
remarks. The most fundamental and the most
110powerful of all relating methods is the method of
order. Let us think of some more or less concrete idea,
say a color, and set down its symbol—red; of another
concrete idea, say a person or object, setting down
its symbol—dog; finally, of a third concrete idea, say
an action, setting down its symbol—run. It is hardly
possible to set down these three symbols—red dog run
—without relating them in some way, for example
(the) red dog run(s). I am far from wishing to state
that the proposition has always grown up in this analytic
manner, merely that the very process of juxtaposing
concept to concept, symbol to symbol, forces
some kind of relational “feeling,” if nothing else,
upon us. To certain syntactic adhesions we are very
sensitive, for example, to the attributive relation of
quality (red dog) or the subjective relation (dog run)
or the objective relation (kill dog), to others we
are more indifferent, for example, to the attributive
relation of circumstance (to-day red dog run or red
dog to-day run
or red dog run to-day, all of which are
equivalent propositions or propositions in embryo).
Words and elements, then, once they are listed in a
certain order, tend not only to establish some kind of
relation among themselves but are attracted to each
other in greater or in less degree. It is presumably this
very greater or less that ultimately leads to those
firmly solidified groups of elements (radical element or
elements plus one or more grammatical elements) that
we have studied as complex words. They are in all
likelihood nothing but sequences that have shrunk
together and away from other sequences or isolated
elements in the flow of speech. While they are fully
alive, in other words, while they are functional at every
point, they can keep themselves at a psychological distance
from their neighbors. As they gradually lose
much of their life, they fall back into the embrace of
the sentence as a whole and the sequence of independent
words regains the importance it had in part
111transferred to the crystallized groups of elements.
Speech is thus constantly tightening and loosening
its sequences. In its highly integrated forms (Latin,
Eskimo) the “energy” of sequence is largely locked
up in complex word formations, it becomes transformed
into a kind of potential energy that may not
be released for millennia. In its more analytic forms
(Chinese, English) this energy is mobile, ready to hand
for such service as we demand of it.

There can be little doubt that stress has frequently
played a controlling influence in the formation of
element-groups or complex words out of certain sequences
in the sentence. Such an English word as
withstand is merely an old sequence with stand, i.e.,
“against 2880 stand,” in which the unstressed adverb was
permanently drawn to the following verb and lost its
independence as a significant element. In the same
way French futures of the type irai “(I) shall go” are
but the resultants of a coalescence of originally independent
words: ir 2981 a′i “to-go I-have,” under the influence
of a unifying accent. But stress has done more
than articulate or unify sequences that in their own
right imply a syntactic relation. Stress is the most natural
means at our disposal to emphasize a linguistic
contrast, to indicate the major element in a sequence.
Hence we need not be surprised to find that accent
too, no less than sequence, may serve as the unaided
symbol of certain relations. Such a contrast as that of
go′ between (“one who goes between”) and to go between′
may be of quite secondary origin in English,
but there is every reason to believe that analogous
distinctions have prevailed at all times in linguistic
history. A sequence like see′ man might imply some
type of relation in which see qualifies the following
112word, hence “a seeing man” or “a seen (or visible)
man,” or is its predication, hence “the man sees” or
“the man is seen,” while a sequence like see man′
might indicate that the accented word in some way
limits the application of the first, say as direct object,
hence “to see a man” or “(he) sees the man.” Such alterations
of relation, as symbolized by varying stresses,
are important and frequent in a number of languages. 3082

It is somewhat venturesome and yet not an altogether
unreasonable speculation that sees in word
order and stress the primary methods for the expression
of all syntactic relations and looks upon the present
relational value of specific words and elements as
but a secondary condition due to a transfer of values.
Thus, we may surmise that the Latin -m of words like
feminam, dominum, and civem did not originally 3183
denote that “woman,” “master,” and “citizen” were
objectively related to the verb of the proposition but
indicated something far more concrete, 3284 that the objective
relation was merely implied by the position or
accent of the word (radical element) immediately preceding
the -m, and that gradually, as its more concrete
significance faded away, it took over a syntactic function
that did not originally belong to it. This sort of
evolution by transfer is traceable in many instances.
Thus, the of in an English phrase like “the law of the
land” is now as colorless in content, as purely a relational
indicator as the “gentive” suffix -is in the Latin
lex urbis “the law of the city.” We know, however,
that it was originally an adverb of considerable concreteness
of meaning, 3385 “away, moving from,” and
that the syntactic relation was originally expressed by
113the case form 3486 of the second noun. As the case form
lost its vitality, the adverb took over its function. If we
are actually justified in assuming that the expression
of all syntactic relations is ultimately traceable to
these two unavoidable, dynamic features of speech—
sequence and stress 3587—an interesting thesis results:
—All of the actual content of speech, its clusters of
vocalic and consonantal sounds, is in origin limited
to the concrete; relations were originally not expressed
in outward form but were merely implied and articulated
with the help of order and rhythm. In other
words, relations were intuitively felt and could only
“leak out” with the help of dynamic factors that themselves
move on an intuitional plane.

There is a special method for the expression of relations
that has been so often evolved in the history of
language that we must glance at it for a moment. This
is the method of “concord” or of like signaling. It is
based on the same principle as the password or label.
All persons or objects that answer to the same countersign
or that bear the same imprint are thereby
stamped as somehow related. It makes little difference,
once they are so stamped, where they are to
be found or how they behave themselves. They are
known to belong together. We are familiar with the
principle of concord in Latin and Greek. Many of us
have been struck by such relentless rhymes as vidi
illum bonum dominum
“I saw that good master” or
quarum dearum saevarum “of which stern goddesses.”
Not that sound-echo, whether in the form of rhyme or
of alliteration 3688 is necessary to concord, though in its
most typical and original forms concord is nearly always
accompanied by sound repetition. The essence of
the principle is simply this, that words (elements) that
114belong together, particularly if they are syntactic equivalents
or are related in like fashion to another word or
element, are outwardly marked by the same or functionally
equivalent affixes. The application of the
principle varies considerably according to the genius
of the particular language. In Latin and Greek, for
instance, there is concord between noun and qualifying
word (adjective or demonstrative) as regards gender,
number, and case, between verb and subject only
as regards number, and no concord between verb and

In Chinook there is a more far-reaching concord
between noun, whether subject or object, and verb.
Every noun is classified according to five categories—
masculine, feminine, neuter, 3789 dual, and plural.
“Woman” is feminine, “sand” is neuter, “table” is
masculine. If, therefore, I wish to say “The woman
put the sand on the table,” I must place in the verb
certain class or gender prefixes that accord with corresponding
noun prefixes. The sentence reads then,
“The (fem.)-woman she (fem.)-it (neut.)-it (masc.)-on-put
the (neut.)-sand the (masc.)-table.” If “sand” is
qualified as “much” and “table” as “large,” these new
ideas are expressed as abstract nouns, each with its
inherent class-prefix (“much” is neuter or feminine,
“large” is masculine) and with a possessive prefix referring
to the qualified noun. Adjective thus calls to
noun, noun to verb. “The woman put much sand
on the large table,” therefore, takes the form: “The
(fem.)-woman she (fem.)-it (neut.)-it (masc.)-on-put
the (fem.)-thereof (neut.)-quantity the (neut.)-sand the
(masc.)-thereof (masc.)-largeness the (masc.)-table.” The
classification of “table” as masculine is thus three
times insisted on—in the noun, in the adjective, and
115in the verb. In the Bantu languages, 3890 the principle
of concord works very much as in Chinook. In them
also nouns are classified into a number of categories
and are brought into relation with adjectives, demonstratives,
relative pronouns, and verbs by means of
prefixed elements that call off the class and make up
a complex system of concordances. In such a sentence
as “That fierce lion who came here is dead,” the class
of “lion,” which we may call the animal class, would
be referred to by concording prefixes no less than six
times,—with the demonstrative (“that”), the qualifying
adjective, the noun itself, the relative pronoun,
the subjective prefix to the verb of the relative clause,
and the subjective prefix to the verb of the main
clause (“is dead”). We recognize in this insistence on
external clarity of reference the same spirit as moves
in the more familiar illum bonum dominum.

Psychologically the methods of sequence and accent
lie at the opposite pole to that of concord. Where
they are all for implication, for subtlety of feeling,
concord is impatient of the least ambiguity but must
have its well-certificated tags at every turn. Concord
tends to dispense with order. In Latin and Chinook
the independent words are free in position, less so
in Bantu. In both Chinook and Bantu, however, the
methods of concord and order are equally important
for the differentiation of subject and object, as the
classifying verb prefixes refer to subject, object, or
indirect object according to the relative position they
occupy. These examples again bring home to us the
significant fact that at some point or other order asserts
itself in every language as the most fundamental
of relating principles.

The observant reader has probably been surprised
116that all this time we have had so little to say of the
time-honored “parts of speech.” The reason for this
is not far to seek. Our conventional classification of
words into parts of speech is only a vague, wavering
approximation to a consistently worked out inventory
of experience. We imagine, to begin with, that all
“verbs” are inherently concerned with action as such,
that a “noun” is the name of some definite object or
personality that can be pictured by the mind, that all
qualities are necessarily expressed by a definite group
of words to which we may appropriately apply the
term “adjective.” As soon as we test our vocabulary,
we discover that the parts of speech are far from corresponding
to so simple an analysis of reality. We say
“it is red” and define “red” as a quality-word or adjective.
We should consider it strange to think of an
equivalent of “is red” in which the whole predication
(adjective and verb of being) is conceived of as a verb
in precisely the same way in which we think of “extends”
or “lies” or “sleeps” as a verb. Yet as soon as
we give the “durative” notion of being red an inceptive
or transitional turn, we can avoid the parallel
form “it becomes red, it turns red” and say “it reddens.”
No one denies that “reddens” is as good a verb
as “sleeps” or even “walks.” Yet “it is red” is related
to “it reddens” very much as is “he stands” to “he
stands up” or “he rises.” It is merely a matter of English
or of general Indo-European idiom that we cannot
say “it reds” in the sense of “it is red.” There are
hundreds of languages that can. Indeed there are
many that can express what we should call an adjective
only by making a participle out of a verb. “Red”
in such languages is merely a derivative “being red,”
as our “sleeping” or “walking” are derivatives of primary

Just as we can verbify the idea of a quality in such
cases as “reddens,” so we can represent a quality or
an action to ourselves as a thing. We speak of “the
117height of a building” or “the fall of an apple” quite
as though these ideas were parallel to “the roof of a
building” or “the skin of an apple,” forgetting that
the nouns (height, fall) have not ceased to indicate a
quality and an act when we have made them speak
with the accent of mere objects. And just as there are
languages that make verbs of the great mass of adjectives,
so there are others that make nouns of them. In
Chinook, as we have seen, “the big table” is “the-table
its-bigness”; in Tibetan the same idea may be expressed
by “the table of bigness,” very much as we
may say “a man of wealth” instead of “a rich man.”

But are there not certain ideas that it is impossible
to render except by way of such and such parts of
speech? What can be done with the “to” of “he came
to the house”? Well, we can say “he reached the
house” and dodge the preposition altogether, giving
the verb a nuance that absorbs the idea of local relation
carried by the “to.” But let us insist on giving
independence to this idea of local relation. Must we
not then hold to the preposition? No, we can make
a noun of it. We can say something like “he reached
the proximity of the house” or “he reached the house-locality.”
Instead of saying “he looked into the glass”
we may say “he scrutinized the glass-interior.” Such
expressions are stilted in English because they do not
easily fit into our formal grooves, but in language
after language we find that local relations are expressed
in just this way. The local relation is nominalized.
And so we might go on examining the various
parts of speech and showing how they not merely
grade into each other but are to an astonishing degree
actually convertible into each other. The upshot of
such an examination would be to feel convinced that
the “part of speech” reflects not so much our intuitive
analysis of reality as our ability to compose that reality
into a variety of formal patterns. A part of speech
outside of the limitations of syntactic form is but a
118will o' the wisp. For this reason no logical scheme of
the parts of speech—their number, nature, and necessary
confines—is of the slightest interest to the linguist.
Each language has its own scheme. Everything
depends on the formal demarcations which it recognizes.

Yet we must not be too destructive. It is well to remember
that speech consists of a series of propositions.
There must be something to talk about and something
must be said about this subject of discourse once it is
selected. This distinction is of such fundamental importance
that the vast majority of languages have
emphasized it by creating some sort of formal barrier
between the two terms of the proposition. The subject
of discourse is a noun. As the most common subject of
discourse is either a person or a thing, the noun clusters
about concrete concepts of that order. As the
thing predicated of a subject is generally an activity
in the widest sense of the word, a passage from one
moment of existence to another, the form which has
been set aside for the business of predicating, in other
words, the verb, clusters about concepts of activity. No
language wholly fails to distinguish noun and verb,
though in particular cases the nature of the distinction
may be an elusive one. It is different with the other
parts of speech. Not one of them is imperatively required
for the life of language. 3991119

Chapter VI
Types of Linguistic Structure

So far, in dealing with linguistic form, we have been
concerned only with single words and with the relations
of words in sentences. We have not envisaged
whole languages as conforming to this or that general
type. Incidentally we have observed that one language
runs to tight-knit synthesis where another contents
itself with a more analytic, piece-meal handling
of its elements, or that in one language syntactic relations
appear pure which in another are combined
with certain other notions that have something concrete
about them, however abstract they may be felt
to be in practice. In this way we may have obtained
some inkling of what is meant when we speak of the
general form of a language. For it must be obvious to
any one who has thought about the question at all or
who has felt something of the spirit of a foreign language
that there is such a thing as a basic plan, a
certain cut, to each language. This type or plan or
structural “genius” of the language is something
much more fundamental, much more pervasive, than
any single feature of it that we can mention, nor can
we gain an adequate idea of its nature by a mere recital
of the sundry facts that make up the grammar of
the language. When we pass from Latin to Russian,
we feel that it is approximately the same horizon that
120bounds our view, even though the near, familiar landmarks
have changed. When we come to English, we
seem to notice that the hills have dipped down a little,
yet we recognize the general lay of the land. And
when we have arrived at Chinese, it is an utterly different
sky that is looking down upon us. We can translate
these metaphors and say that all languages differ
from one another but that certain ones differ far more
than others. This is tantamount to saying that it is possible
to group them into morphological types.

Strictly speaking, we know in advance that it is
impossible to set up a limited number of types that
would do full justice to the peculiarities of the thousands
of languages and dialects spoken on the surface
of the earth. Like all human institutions, speech is
too variable and too elusive to be quite safely ticketed.
Even if we operate with a minutely subdivided scale
of types, we may be quite certain that many of our
languages will need trimming before they fit. To get
them into the scheme at all it will be necessary to
overestimate the significance of this or that feature or
to ignore, for the time being, certain contradictions in
their mechanism. Does the difficulty of classification
prove the uselessness of the task? I do not think so. It
would be too easy to relieve ourselves of the burden
of constructive thinking and to take the standpoint
that each language has its unique history, therefore
its unique structure. Such a standpoint expresses only
a half truth. Just as similar social, economic, and religious
institutions have grown up in different parts
of the world from distinct historical antecedents, so
also languages, traveling along different roads, have
tended to converge toward similar forms. Moreover,
the historical study of language has proven to us beyond
all doubt that a language changes not only gradually
but consistently, that it moves unconsciously
from one type towards another, and that analogous
trends are observable in remote quarters of the globe.
121From this it follows that broadly similar morphologies
must have been reached by unrelated languages, independently
and frequently. In assuming the existence
of comparable types, therefore, we are not gainsaying
the individuality of all historical processes; we are
merely affirming that back of the face of history are
powerful drifts that move language, like other social
products, to balanced patterns, in other words, to
types. As linguists we shall be content to realize that
there are these types and that certain processes in the
life of language tend to modify them. Why similar
types should be formed, just what is the nature of the
forces that make them and dissolve them—these questions
are more easily asked than answered. Perhaps
the psychologists of the future will be able to give us
the ultimate reasons for the formation of linguistic

When it comes to the actual task of classification,
we find that we have no easy road to travel. Various
classifications have been suggested, and they all contain
elements of value. Yet none proves satisfactory. They
do not so much enfold the known languages in their
embrace as force them down into narrow, straight-backed
seats. The difficulties have been of various
kinds. First and foremost, it has been difficult to
choose a point of view. On what basis shall we classify?
A language shows us so many facets that we may
well be puzzled. And is one point of view sufficient?
Secondly, it is dangerous to generalize from a small
number of selected languages. To take, as the sum
total of our material, Latin, Arabic, Turkish, Chinese,
and perhaps Eskimo or Sioux as an afterthought,
is to court disaster. We have no right to assume that
a sprinkling of exotic types will do to supplement the
few languages nearer home that we are more immediately
interested in. Thirdly, the strong craving for
a simple formula 192 has been the undoing of linguists.
122There is something irresistible about a method of classification
that starts with two poles, exemplified, say,
by Chinese and Latin, clusters what it conveniently
can about these poles, and throws everything else into
a “transitional type.” Hence has arisen the still popular
classification of language into an “isolating”
group, an “agglutinative” group, and an “inflective”
group. Sometimes the languages of the American Indians
are made to straggle along as an uncomfortable
“polysynthetic” rear-guard to the agglutinative languages.
There is justification for the use of all of these
terms, though not perhaps in quite the spirit in which
they are commonly employed. In any case it is very
difficult to assign all known languages to one or other
of these groups, the more so as they are not mutually
exclusive. A language may be both agglutinative and
inflective, or inflective and polysynthetic, or even polysynthetic
and isolating, as we shall see a little later on.

There is a fourth reason why the classification of
languages has generally proved a fruitless undertaking.
It is probably the most powerful deterrent of all
to clear thinking. This is the evolutionary prejudice
which instilled itself into the social sciences towards
the middle of the last century and which is only now
beginning to abate its tyrannical hold on our mind.
Intermingled with this scientific prejudice and largely
anticipating it was another, a more human one. The
vast majority of linguistic theorists themselves spoke
languages of a certain type, of which the most fully
developed varieties were the Latin and Greek that
they had learned in their childhood. It was not difficult
for them to be persuaded that these familiar languages
represented the “highest” development that
speech had yet attained and that all other types were
but steps on the way to this beloved “inflective” type.
Whatever conformed to the pattern of Sanskrit and
Greek and Latin and German was accepted as expressive
of the “highest,” whatever departed from it was
123frowned upon as a shortcoming or was at best an interesting
aberration. 293 Now any classification that starts
with preconceived values or that works up to sentimental
satisfactions is self-condemned as unscientific.
A linguist that insists on talking about the Latin
type of morphology as though it were necessarily the
high-water mark of linguistic development is like the
zoologist that sees in the organic world a huge conspiracy
to evolve the race-horse or the Jersey cow. Language
in its fundamental forms is the symbolic expression
of human intuitions. These may shape themselves
in a hundred ways, regardless of the material advancement
or backwardness of the people that handle the
forms, of which, it need hardly be said, they are in the
main unconscious. If, therefore, we wish to understand
language in its true inwardness we must disabuse our
minds of preferred “values” 394 and accustom ourselves
to look upon English and Hottentot with the same
cool, yet interested, detachment.

We come back to our first difficulty. What point of
view shall we adopt for our classification? After all
124that we have said about grammatical form in the preceding
chapter, it is clear that we cannot now make
the distinction between form languages and formless
languages that used to appeal to some of the older
writers. Every language can and must express the fundamental
syntactic relations even though there is not
a single affix to be found in its vocabulary. We conclude
that every language is a form language. Aside
from the expression of pure relation a language may,
of course, be “formless”—formless, that is, in the mechanical
and rather superficial sense that it is not
encumbered by the use of non-radical elements. The
attempt has sometimes been made to formulate a distinction
on the basis of “inner form.” Chinese, for instance,
has no formal elements pure and simple, no
“outer form,” but it evidences a keen sense of relations,
of the difference between subject and object,
attribute and predicate, and so on. In other words, it
has an “inner form” in the same sense in which Latin
possesses it, though it is outwardly “formless” where
Latin is outwardly “formal.” On the other hand, there
are supposed to be languages 495 which have no true
grasp of the fundamental relations but content themselves
with the more or less minute expression of material
ideas, sometimes with an exuberant display of
“outer form,” leaving the pure relations to be merely
inferred from the context. I am strongly inclined to
believe that this supposed “inner formlessness” of certain
languages is an illusion. It may well be that in
these languages the relations are not expressed in as
immaterial a way as in Chinese or even as in Latin, 596
or that the principle of order is subject to greater fluctuations
than in Chinese, or that a tendency to complex
derivations relieves the language of the necessity
of expressing certain relations as explicitly as a more
125analytic language would have them expressed. 697 All
this does not mean that the languages in question
have not a true feeling for the fundamental relations.
We shall therefore not be able to use the notion of
“inner formlessness,” except in the greatly modified
sense that syntactic relations may be fused with notions
of another order. To this criterion of classification
we shall have to return a little later.

More justifiable would be a classification according
to the formal processes 798 most typically developed in
the language. Those languages that always identify the
word with the radical element would be set off as an
“isolating” group against such as either affix modifying
elements (affixing languages) or possess the power
to change the significance of the radical elements by
internal changes (reduplication; vocalic and consonantal
change; changes in quantity, stress, and pitch). The
latter type might be not inaptly termed “symbolic” languages. 899
The affixing languages would naturally subdivide
themselves into such as are prevailingly prefixing,
like Bantu or Tlingit, and such as are mainly or
entirely suffixing, like Eskimo or Algonkin or Latin.
There are two serious difficulties with this fourfold
classification (isolating, prefixing, suffixing, symbolic).
In the first place, most languages fall into more than
one of these groups. The Semitic languages, for instance,
are prefixing, suffixing, and symbolic at one and
126the same time. In the second place, the classification
in its bare form is superficial. It would throw together
languages that differ utterly in spirit merely because
of a certain external formal resemblance. There is
clearly a world of difference between a prefixing language
like Cambodgian, which limits itself, so far as
its prefixes (and infixes) are concerned, to the expression
of derivational concepts, and the Bantu languages,
in which the prefixed elements have a far-reaching
significance as symbols of syntactic relations.
The classification has much greater value if it is taken
to refer to the expression of relational concepts 9100 alone.
In this modified form we shall return to it as a subsidiary
criterion. We shall find that the terms “isolating,”
“affixing,” and “symbolic” have a real value. But instead
of distinguishing between prefixing and suffixing
languages, we shall find that it is of superior interest
to make another distinction, one that is based on the
relative firmness with which the affixed elements are
united with the core of the word. 10101

There is another very useful set of distinctions that
can be made, but these too must not be applied exclusively,
127or our classification will again be superficial. I
refer to the notions of “analytic,” “synthetic,” and
“polysynthetic.” The terms explain themselves. An analytic
language is one that either does not combine concepts
into single words at all (Chinese) or does so economically
(English, French). In an analytic language
the sentence is always of prime importance, the word
is of minor interest. In a synthetic language (Latin,
Arabic, Finnish) the concepts cluster more thickly, the
words are more richly chambered, but there is a tendency,
on the whole, to keep the range of concrete significance
in the single word down to a moderate compass.
A polysynthetic language, as its name implies, is
more than ordinarily synthetic. The elaboration of the
word is extreme. Concepts which we should never
dream of treating in a subordinate fashion are symbolized
by derivational affixes or “symbolic” changes in
the radical element, while the more abstract notions,
including the syntactic relations, may also be conveyed
by the word. A polysynthetic language illustrates no
principles that are not already exemplified in the more
familiar synthetic languages. It is related to them very
much as a synthetic language is related to our own
analytic English. 11102 The three terms are purely quantitative—and
relative, that is, a language may be “analytic”
from one standpoint, “synthetic” from another.
I believe the terms are more useful in defining certain
drifts than as absolute counters. It is often illuminating
to point out that a language has been becoming
more and more analytic in the course of its history or
that it shows signs of having crystallized from a simple
analytic base into a highly synthetic form. 12103128

We now come to the difference between an “inflective”
and an “agglutinative” language. As I have already
remarked, the distinction is a useful, even a
necessary, one, but it has been generally obscured by a
number of irrelevancies and by the unavailing effort
to make the terms cover all languages that are not,
like Chinese, of a definitely isolating cast. The meaning
that we had best assign to the term “inflective”
can be gained by considering very briefly what are
some of the basic features of Latin and Greek that
have been looked upon as peculiar to the inflective
languages. First of all, they are synthetic rather than
analytic. This does not help us much. Relatively to
many another language that resembles them in broad
structural respects, Latin and Greek are not notably
synthetic; on the other hand, their modern descendants,
Italian and Modern Greek, while far more analytic 13104
than they, have not departed so widely in
structural outlines as to warrant their being put in a
distinct major group. An inflective language, we must
insist, may be analytic, synthetic, or polysynthetic.

Latin and Greek are mainly affixing in their method,
with the emphasis heavily on suffixing. The agglutinative
languages are just as typically affixing as they,
some among them favoring prefixes, others running
to the use of suffixes. Affixing alone does not define
inflection. Possibly everything depends on just what
kind of affixing we have to deal with. If we compare
our English words farmer and goodness with such
words as height and depth, we cannot fail to be struck
by a notable difference in the affixing technique of
the two sets. The -er and -ness are affixed quite mechanically
to radical elements which are at the same
time independent words (farm, good). They are in
no sense independently significant elements, but they
convey their meaning (agentive, abstract quality) with
129unfailing directness. Their use is simple and regular
and we should have no difficulty in appending them
to any verb or to any adjective, however recent in
origin. From a verb to camouflage we may form the
noun camouflager “one who camouflages,” from an
adjective jazzy proceeds with perfect ease the noun
jazziness. It is different with height and depth. Functionally
they are related to high and deep precisely as
is goodness to good, but the degree of coalescence
between radical element and affix is greater. Radical
element and affix, while measurably distinct, cannot
be torn apart quite so readily as could the good and
-ness of goodness. The -t of height is not the typical
form of the affix (compare strength, length, filth,
, youth), while dep- is not identical with deep.
We may designate the two types of affixing as “fusing”
and “juxtaposing.” The juxtaposing technique we may
call an “agglutinative” one, if we like.

Is the fusing technique thereby set off as the essence
of inflection? I am afraid that we have not yet reached
our goal. If our language were crammed full of
coalescences of the type of depth, but if, on the other
hand, it used the plural independently of verb concord
(e.g., the books falls like the book falls, or the
book fall
like the books fall), the personal endings
independently of tense (e.g., the book fells like the
book falls
, or the book fall like the book fell), and the
pronouns independently of case (e.g., I see he like he
sees me
, or him see the man like the man sees him),
we should hesitate to describe it as inflective. The
mere fact of fusion does not seem to satisfy us as a
clear indication of the inflective process. There are,
indeed, a large number of languages that fuse radical
element and affix in as complete and intricate a fashion
as one could hope to find anywhere without
thereby giving signs of that particular kind of formalism
that marks off such languages as Latin and Greek
as inflective.130

What is true of fusion is equally true of the “symbolic”
processes. 14105 There are linguists that speak of
alternations like drink and drank as though they represented
the high-water mark of inflection, a kind of
spiritualized essence of pure inflective form. In such
Greek forms, nevertheless, as pepomph-a “I have sent,”
as contrasted with pemp-o “I send,” with its trebly symbolic
change of the radical element (reduplicating pe-,
change of e to o, change of p to ph), it is rather the
peculiar alternation of the first person singular -a of
the perfect with the -o of the present that gives them
their inflective cast. Nothing could be more erroneous
tiian to imagine that symbolic changes of the radical
element, even for the expression of such abstract concepts
as those of number and tense, are always associated
with the syntactic peculiarities of an inflective
language. If by an “agglutinative” language we mean
one that affixes according to the juxtaposing technique,
then we can only say that there are hundreds
of fusing and symbolic languages—non-agglutinative
by definition—that are, for all that, quite alien in
spirit to the inflective type of Latin and Greek. We
can call such languages inflective, if we like, but we
must then be prepared to revise radically our notion
of inflective form.

It is necessary to understand that fusion of the
radical element and the affix may be taken in a
broader psychological sense than I have yet indicated.
If every noun plural in English were of the type of
book: books, if there were not such conflicting patterns
as deer: deer, ox: oxen, goose: geese to complicate
the general form picture of plurality, there is
little doubt that the fusion of the elements book and
-s into the unified word books would be felt as a little
less complete than it actually is. One reasons, or feels,
unconsciously about the matter somewhat as follows:
—If the form pattern represented by the word books
131is identical, as far as use is concerned, with that of
the word oxen, the pluralizing elements -s and -en
cannot have quite so definite, quite so autonomous,
a value as we might at first be inclined to suppose.
They are plural elements only in so far as plurality
is predicated of certain selected concepts. The words
books and oxen are therefore a little other than mechanical
combinations of the symbol of a thing (book,
ox) and a clear symbol of plurality. There is a slight
psychological uncertainty or haze about the juncture
in books and ox-en. A little of the force of -s and -en
is anticipated by, or appropriated by, the words book
and ox themselves, just as the conceptual force of -th
in dep-th is appreciably weaker than that of -ness in
good-ness in spite of the functional parallelism between
depth and goodness. Where there is uncertainty
about the junctuie, where the affixed element cannot
rightly claim to possess its full share of significance,
the unity of the complete word is more strongly emphasized.
The mind must rest on something. If it
cannot linger on the constituent elements, it hastens
all the more eagerly to the acceptance of the word as
a whole. A word like goodness illustrates “agglutination,”
books “regular fusion,” depth “irregular fusion,”
geese “symbolic fusion” or “symbolism.” 15106

The psychological distinctness of the affixed elements
in an agglutinative term may be even more
marked than in the -ness of goodness. To be strictly
accurate, the significance of the -ness is not quite as
inherently determined, as autonomous, as it might be.
It is at the mercy of the preceding radical element to
this extent, that it requires to be preceded by a particular
132type of such element, an adjective. Its own
power is thus, in a manner, checked in advance. The
fusion here, however, is so vague and elementary, so
much a matter of course in the great majority of all
cases of affixing, that it is natural to overlook its
reality and to emphasize rather the juxtaposing or
agglutinative nature of the affixing process. If the
-ness could be affixed as an abstractive element to each
and every type of radical element, if we could say
fightness (“the act or quality of fighting”) or waterness
(“the quality or state of water”) or awayness
(“the state of being away”) as we can say goodness
(“the state of being good”), we should have moved
appreciably nearer the agglutinative pole. A language
that runs to synthesis of this loose-jointed sort may
be looked upon as an example of the ideal agglutinative
type, particularly if the concepts expressed by
the agglutinated elements are relational or, at the
least, belong to the abstracter class of derivational

Instructive forms may be cited from Nootka. We
shall return to our “fire in the house.” 16107 The Nootka
word inikw-ihl “fire in the house” is not as definitely
formalized a word as its translation suggests. The
radical element inikw- “fire” is really as much of a
verbal as of a nominal term; it may be rendered now
by “fire,” now by “burn,” according to the syntactic
exigencies of the sentence. The derivational element
-ihl “in the house” does not mitigate this vagueness
or generality; inikw-ihl is still “fire in the house” or
“burn in the house.” It may be definitely nominalized
or verbalized by the affixing of elements that are
exclusively nominal or verbal in force. For example,
inikw-ihl-'i, with its suffixed article, is a clear-cut
nominal form: “the burning in the house, the fire
in the house”; inikw-ihl-ma, with its indicative suffix,
is just as clearly verbal: “it burns in the house.” How
133weak must be the degree of fusion between “fire in
the house” and the nominalizing or verbalizing suffix
is apparent from the fact that the formally indifferent
inikwihl is not an abstraction gained by analysis but
a full-fledged word, ready for use in the sentence. The
nominalizing -'i and the indicative -ma are not fused
form-affixes, they are simply additions of formal import.
But we can continue to hold the verbal or
nominal nature of inikwihl in abeyance long before
we reach the -'i or -ma. We can pluralize it: inikw-ihl-'minih;
it is still either “fires in the house” or “burn
plurally in the house.” We can diminutivize this plural:
inikw-ihl-'minih-'is, “little fires in the house” or
“burn plurally and slightly in the house.” What if
we add the preterit tense suffix -it? Is not inikw-ihl-'minih-'is-it
necessarily a verb: “several small fires were
burning in the house”? It is not. It may still be nominalized;
inikwihl'minih'isit-'i means “the former small
fires in the house, the little fires that were once burning
in the house.” It is not an unambiguous verb until
it is given a form that excludes every other possibility,
as in the indicative inikwihl-minih'isit-a “several small
fires were burning in the house.” We recognize at once
that the elements -ihl, -'minih, -'is, and -it, quite aside
from the relatively concrete or abstract nature of their
content and aside, further, from the degree of their
outer (phonetic) cohesion with the elements that precede
them, have a psychological independence that
our own affixes never have. They are typically agglutinated
elements, though they have no greater external
independence, are no more capable of living apart
from the radical element to which they are suffixed,
than the -ness and goodness or the -s of books. It does
not follow that an agglutinative language may not
make use of the principle of fusion, both external and
psychological, or even of symbolism to a considerable
extent. It is a question of tendency. Is the formative
slant clearly towards the agglutinative method? Then
the language is “agglutinative.” As such, it may be
134prefixing or suffixing, analytic, synthetic, or polysynthetic.

To return to inflection. An inflective language like
Latin or Greek uses the method of fusion, and this
fusion has an inner psychological as well as an outer
phonetic meaning. But it is not enough that the fusion
operate merely in the sphere of derivational concepts
(group II), 17108 it must involve the syntactic relations,
which may either be expressed in unalloyed
form (group IV) or, as in Latin and Greek, as “concrete
relational concepts” (group III). 18109 As far as
Latin and Greek are concerned, their inflection consists
essentially of the fusing of elements that express
logically impure relational concepts with radical elements
and with elements expressing derivational
concepts. Both fusion as a general method and the
expression of relational concepts in the word are
necessary to the notion of “inflection.”135

But to have thus defined inflection is to doubt the
value of the term as descriptive of a major class. Why
emphasize both a technique and a particular content
at one and the same time? Surely we should be clear
in our minds as to whether we set more store by one
or the other. “Fusional” and “symbolic” contrast with
“agglutinative,” which is not on a par with “inflective”
at all. What are we to do with the fusional and
symbolic languages that do not express relational concepts
in the word but leave them to the sentence?
And are we not to distinguish between agglutinative
languages that express these same concepts in the word
—in so far inflective-like—and those that do not? We
dismissed the scale: analytic, synthetic, polysynthetic,
as too merely quantitative for our purpose. Isolating,
affixing, symbolic—this also seemed insufficient for the
reason that it laid too much stress on technical externals.
Isolating, agglutinative, fusional, and symbolic
is a preferable scheme, but still skirts the external.
We shall do best, it seems to me, to hold to “inflective”
as a valuable suggestion for a broader and more
consistently developed scheme, as a hint for a classification
based on the nature of the concepts expressed by
the language. The other two classifications, the first
based on degree of synthesis, the second on degree of
fusion, may be retained as intercrossing schemes that
give us the opportunity to subdivide our main conceptual

It is well to recall that all languages must needs
express radical concepts (group I) and relational ideas
(group IV). Of the two other large groups of concepts
—derivational (group II) and mixed relational (group
III)—both may be absent, both present, or only one
present. This gives us at once a simple, incisive, and
absolutely inclusive method of classifying all known
languages. They are:

A. Such as express only concepts of groups I and
IV; in other words, languages that keep the syntactic
relations pure and that do not possess the power to
136modify the significance of their radical elements by
means of affixes or internal changes. 19110 We may call
these Pure-relational non-deriving languages or, more
tersely, Simple Pure-relational languages. These are
the languages that cut most to the bone of linguistic

B. Such as express concepts of groups I, II, and
IV; in ether words, languages that keep the syntactic
relations pure and that also possess the power to
modify the significance of their radical elements by
means of affixes or internal changes. These are the
Pure-relational deriving languages or Complex Pure-relational

C. Such as express concepts of groups I and III; 20111
in other words, languages in which the syntactic
relations are expressed in necessary connection with
concepts that are not utterly devoid of concrete significance
but that do not, apart from such mixture,
possess the power to modify the significance of their
radical elements by means of affixes or internal
changes. 21112 These are the Mixed-relational non-deriving
137languages or Simple Mixed-relational languages.

D. Such as express concepts of groups I, II, and
III; in other words, languages in which the syntactic
relations are expressed in mixed form, as in C, and
that also possess the power to modify the significance
of their radical elements, by means of affixes or internal
changes. These are the Mixed-relational deriving
or Complex Mixed-relational languages.
Here belong the “inflective” languages that we are
most familiar with as well as a great many “agglutinative”
languages, some “polysynthetic,” others merely

This conceptual classification of languages, I must
repeat, does not attempt to take account of the technical
externals of language. It answers, in effect, two
fundamental questions concerning the translation of
concepts into linguistic symbols. Does the language, in
the first place, keep its radical concepts pure or does
it build up its concrete ideas by an aggregation of
inseparable elements (types A and C versus types B
and D)? And, in the second place, does it keep the
basic relational concepts, such as are absolutely unavoidable
in the ordering of a proposition, free of an
admixture of the concrete or not (types A and B
versus types C and D)? The second question, it seems
to me, is the more fundamental of the two. We can
therefore simplify our classification and present it in
the following form:

tableau Pure-relational Languages | Simple | Complex | Mixed-relational Languages

The classification is too sweeping and too broad for
an easy, descriptive survey of the many varieties of
human speech. It needs to be amplified. Each of the
types A, B, C, D may be subdivided into an agglutinative,
a fusional, and a symbolic sub-type, according to
138the prevailing method of modification of the radical
element. In type A we distinguish in addition an
isolating sub-type, characterized by the absence of all
affixes and modifications of the radical element. In the
isolating languages the syntactic relations are ex
pressed by the position of the words in the sentence.
This is also true of many languages of type B, the
terms “agglutinative,” “fusional,” and “symbolic”
applying in their case merely to the treatment of the
derivational, not the relational, concepts. Such languages
could be termed “agglutinative-isolating,” “fusional-isolating,”
and “symbolic-isolating.”

This brings up the important general consideration
that the method of handling one group of concepts
need not in the least be identical with that used for
another. Compound terms could be used to indicate
this difference, if desired, the first element of the compound
referring to the treatment of the concepts of
group II, the second to that of the concepts of groups
III and IV. An “agglutinative” language would normally
be taken to mean one that agglutinates all of
its affixed elements or that does so to a preponderating
extent. In an “agglutinative-fusional” language the
derivational elements are agglutinated, perhaps in the
form of prefixes, while the relational elements (pure
or mixed) are fused with the radical element, possibly
as another set of prefixes following the first set or in
the form of suffixes or as part prefixes and part suffixes.
By a “fusional-agglutinative” language we would understand
one that fuses its derivational elements but
allows a greater independence to those that indicate
relations. All these and similar distinctions are not
merely theoretical possibilities, they can be abundantly
illustrated from the descriptive facts of linguistic
morphology. Further, should it prove desirable
to insist on the degree of elaboration of the word, the
terms “analytic,” “synthetic,” and “polysynthetic” can
be added as descriptive terms. It goes without saying
139that languages of type A are necessarily analytic and
that languages of type C also are prevailingly analytic
and are not likely to develop beyond the synthetic

But we must not make too much of terminology.
Much depends on the relative emphasis laid on this
or that feature or point of view. The method of
classifying languages here developed has this great
advantage, that it can be refined or simplified according
to the needs of a particular discussion. The degree
of synthesis may be entirely ignored; “fusion” and
“symbolism” may often be combined with advantage
under the head of “fusion”; even the difference between
agglutination and fusion may, if desired, be
set aside as either too difficult to draw or as irrelevant
to the issue. Languages, after all, are exceedingly complex
historical structures. It is of less importance to
put each language in a neat pigeon-hole than to have
evolved a flexible method which enables us to place
it, from two or three independent standpoints, relatively
to another language. All this is not to deny that
certain linguistic types are more stable and frequently
represented than others that are just as possible from
a theoretical standpoint. But we are too ill-informed
as yet of the structural spirit of great numbers of
languages to have the right to frame a classification
that is other than flexible and experimental.

The reader will gain a somewhat livelier idea of
the possibilities of linguistic morphology by glancing
down the subjoined analytical table of selected types.
The columns II, III, IV refer to the groups of concepts
so numbered in the preceding chapter. The letters
a, b, c, d refer respectively to the processes of
isolation (position in the sentence), agglutination,
fusion, and symbolism. Where more than one technique
is employed, they are put in the order of their
importance. 22113140

I need hardly point out that these examples are far
from exhausting the possibilities of linguistic structure.
Nor that the fact that two languages are similarly
classified does not necessarily mean that they present
a great similarity on the surface. We are here concerned
with the most fundamental and generalized
features of the spirit, the technique, and the degree
of elaboration of a given language. Nevertheless, in
numerous instances we may observe this highly suggestive
and remarkable fact, that languages that fall
into the same class have a way of paralleling each
other in many details or in structural features not
envisaged by the scheme of classification. Thus, a most
interesting parallel could be drawn on structural lines
between Takelma and Greek, 23114 languages that are as
geographically remote from each other and as unconnected
in a historical sense as two languages selected
at random can well be. Their similarity goes beyond
the generalized facts registered in the table. It would
almost seem that linguistic features that are easily
thinkable apart from each other, that seem to have no
necessary connection in theory, have nevertheless a

tableau Fundamental Type | Technique | Synthesis | Examples | Simple Pure-relational | Complex Pure-relational | Isolating | Isolating (weakly agglutinative) | Agglutinative (mildly agglutinative-fusional) | Agglutinative-isolating | Fusional-isolating | Agglutinative | Agglutinative (symbolic tinge) | Fusional-agglutinative (symbolic tinge) | Agglutinative-fusional | Fusional | Symbolic | Analytic | Polysynthetic | Synthetic | Synthetic (mildly) | Synthetic (mildly polysynthetic) | Chinese; Annamite | Ewe (Guinea Coast) | Modern Tibetan | Polynesian | Haida | Cambodgian | Turkish | Yana (N. California) | Classical Tibetan | Sioux | Salinan (S. W. California) | Shilluk (Upper Nile)

Note.—Parentheses indicate a weak development of the process in question.142

tableau Fundamental Type | Technique | Synthesis | Examples | Simple Mixed-relational | Complex Mixed-relational | Agglutinative | Fusional | Agglutinative (symbolic tinge) | Fusional-agglutinative | Fusional (symbolic tinge) | Fusional (strongly symbolic) | Symbolic-fusional | Synthetic | Analytic (mildly synthetic) | Polysynthetic | Polysynthetic (mildly) | Analytic | Bantu | French* | Nootka (Vancouver Island)† | Chinook (lower Columbia R.) | Algonkin | English | Latin, Greek, Sanskrit | Takelma (S. W. Oregon) | Semitic (Arabic, Hebrew)

* Might nearly as well have come under D.

+ Very nearly complex pure-relational.143

tendency to cluster or to follow together in the wake
of some deep, controlling impulse to form that dominates
their drift. If, therefore, we can only be sure of
the intuitive similarity of two given languages, of their
possession of the same submerged form-feeling, we
need not be too much surprised to find that they seek
and avoid certain linguistic developments in common.
We are at present very far from able to define just
what these fundamental form intuitions are. We can
only feel them rather vaguely at best and must content
ourselves for the most part with noting their
symptoms. These symptoms are being garnered in our
descriptive and historical grammars of diverse languages.
Some day, it may be, we shall be able to read
from them the great underlying ground-plans.

Such a purely technical classification of languages
as the current one into “isolating,” “agglutinative,”
and “inflective” (read “fusional”) cannot claim to have
great value as an entering wedge into the discovery
of the intuitional forms of language. I do not know
whether the suggested classification into four conceptual
groups is likely to drive deeper or not. My
own feeling is that it does, but classifications, neat
constructions of the speculative mind, are slippery
things. They have to be tested at every possible opportunity
before they have the right to cry for acceptance.
Meanwhile we may take some encouragement from the
application of a rather curious, yet simple, historical
test. Languages are in constant process of change, but
it is only reasonable to suppose that they tend to
preserve longest what is most fundamental in their
structure. Now if we take great groups of genetically
related languages, 24115 we find that as we pass from one
to another or trace the course of their development we
frequently encounter a gradual change of morphological
type. This is not surprising, for there is no reason
144why a language should remain permanently true to
its original form. It is interesting, however, to note
that of the three intercrossing classifications represented
in our table (conceptual type, technique, and
degree of synthesis), it is the degree of synthesis that
seems to change most readily, that the technique is
modifiable but far less readily so, and that the conceptual
type tends to persist the longest of all.

The illustrative material gathered in the table is
far too scanty to serve as a real basis of proof, but it
is highly suggestive as far as it goes. The only changes
of conceptual type within groups of related languages
that are to be gleaned from the table are of B to A
(Shilluk as contrasted with Ewe; 25116 Classical Tibetan
as contrasted with Modern Tibetan and Chinese) and
of D to C (French as contrasted with Latin 26117). But
types A:B and C:D are respectively related to each
other as a simple and a complex form of a still more
fundamental type (pure-relational, mixed-relational).
Of a passage from a pure-relational to a mixed-relational
type or vice versa I can give no convincing

The table shows clearly enough how little relative
permanence there is in the technical features of language.
That highly synthetic languages (Latin; Sanskrit)
have frequently broken down into analytic forms
(French; Bengali) or that agglutinative languages
(Finnish) have in many instances gradually taken on
“inflective” features are well-known facts, but the
natural inference does not seem to have been often
drawn that possibly the contrast between synthetic
145and analytic or agglutinative and “inflective” (fusional)
is not so fundamental after all. Turning to the
Indo-Chinese languages, we find that Chinese is as
near to being a perfectly isolating language as any
example we are likely to find, while Classical Tibetan
has not only fusional but strong symbolic features
(e.g., g-tong-ba “to give,” past b-tang, future g-tang,
imperative thong); but both are pure-relational languages.
Ewe is either isolating or only barely agglutinative,
while Shilluk, though soberly analytic, is one
of the most definitely symbolic languages I know;
both of these Soudanese languages are pure-relational.
The relationship between Polynesian and Cambodgian
is remote, though practically certain; while the
latter has more markedly fusional features than the
former, 27118 both conform to the complex pure-relational
type. Yana and Salinan are superficially very dissimilar
languages. Yana is highly polysynthetic and quite
typically agglutinative, Salinan is no more synthetic
than and as irregularly and compactly fusional (“inflective”)
as Latin; both are pure-relational. Chinook
and Takelma, remotely related languages of Oregon,
have diverged very far from each other, not only as
regards technique and synthesis in general but in
almost all the details of their structure; both are complex
mixed-relational languages, though in very different
ways. Facts such as these seem to lend color to the
suspicion that in the contrast of pure-relational and
mixed-relational (or concrete-relational) we are confronted
by something deeper, more far-reaching, than
the contrast of isolating, agglutinative, and fusional. 28119146

Chapter VII
Language as a Historical Product: Drift

Everyone knows that language is variable. Two individuals
of the same generation and locality, speaking
precisely the same dialect and moving in the same
social circles, are never absolutely at one in their
speech habits. A minute investigation of the speech of
each individual would reveal countless differences of
detail—in choice of words, in sentence structure, in
the relative frequency with which particular forms or
combinations of words are used, in the pronunciation
of particular vowels and consonants and of combinations
of vowels and consonants, in all those features,
such as speed, stress, and tone, that give life to spoken
language. In a sense they speak slightly divergent
dialects of the same language rather than identically
the same language.

There is an important difference, however, between
individual and dialectic variations. If we take two
closely related dialects, say English as spoken by the
“middle classes” of London and English as spoken by
the average New Yorker, we observe that, however
much the individual speakers in each city differ from
each other, the body of Londoners forms a compact,
relatively unified group in contrast to the body of
New Yorkers. The individual variations are swamped
in or absorbed by certain major agreements—say of
147pronunciation and vocabulary—which stand out very
strongly when the language of the group as a whole
is contrasted with that of the other group. This means
that there is something like an ideal linguistic entity
dominating the speech habits of the members of each
group, that the sense of almost unlimited freedom
which each individual feels in the use of his language
is held in leash by a tacitly directing norm. One individual
plays on the norm in a way peculiar to himself,
the next individual is nearer the dead average in
that particular respect in which the first speaker most
characteristically departs from it but in turn diverges
from the average in a way peculiar to himself, and so
on. What keeps the individual's variations from rising
to dialectic importance is not merely the fact that
they are in any event of small moment—there are
well-marked dialectic variations that are of no greater
magnitude than individual variations within a dialect
—it is chiefly that they are silently “corrected” or
canceled by the consensus of usage. If all the speakers
of a given dialect were arranged in order in accordance
with the degree of their conformity to average
usage, there is little doubt that they would constitute
a very finely intergrading series clustered about a well-defined
center or norm. The differences between any
two neighboring speakers of the series 1120 would be
negligible for any but the most microscopic linguistic
research. The differences between the outermost members
of the series are sure to be considerable, in all
likelihood considerable enough to measure up to a
true dialectic variation. What prevents us from saying
that these untypical individuals speak distinct dialects
is that their peculiarities, as a unified whole, are not
referable to another norm than the norm of their own

If the speech of any member of the series could
actually be made to fit into another dialect series, 2121 we
should have no true barriers between dialects (and
languages) at all. We should merely have a continuous
series of individual variations extending over the
whole range of a historically unified linguistic area,
and the cutting up of this large area (in some cases
embracing parts of several continents) into distinct
dialects and languages would be an essentially arbitrary
proceeding with no warrant save that of practical
convenience. But such a conception of the nature of
dialectic variation does not correspond to the facts as
we know them. Isolated individuals may be found who
speak a compromise between two dialects of a language,
and if their number and importance increases
they may even end by creating a new dialectic norm
of their own, a dialect in which the extreme peculiarities
of the parent dialects are ironed out. In course of
time the compromise dialect may absorb the parents,
though more frequently these will tend to linger indefinitely
as marginal forms of the enlarged dialect
area. But such phenomena—and they are common
enough in the history of language—are evidently quite
secondary. They are closely linked with such social
developments as the rise of nationality, the formation
of literatures that aim to have more than a local appeal,
the movement of rural populations into the
cities, and all those other tendencies that break up the
intense localism that unsophisticated man has always
found natural.

The explanation of primary dialectic differences is
still to seek. It is evidently not enough to say that
if a dialect or language is spoken in two distinct localities
or by two distinct social strata it naturally
149takes on distinctive forms, which in time come to be
divergent enough to deserve the name of dialects. This
is certainly true as far as it goes. Dialects do belong,
in the first instance, to very definitely circumscribed
social groups, homogeneous enough to secure the common
feeling and purpose needed to create a norm. But
the embarrassing question immediately arises: If all
the individual variations within a dialect are being
constantly leveled out to the dialectic norm, if there
is no appreciable tendency for the individual's peculiarities
to initiate a dialectic schism, why should
we have dialectic variations at all? Ought not the
norm, wherever and whenever threatened, automatically
to reassert itself? Ought not the individual variations
of each locality, even in the absence of intercourse
between them, to cancel out to the same
accepted speech average?

If individual variations “on a flat” were the only
kind of variability in language, I believe we should be
at a loss to explain why and how dialects arise, why
it is that a linguistic prototype gradually breaks up
into a number of mutually unintelligible languages.
But language is not merely something that is spread
out in space, as it were—a series of reflections in individual
minds of one and the same timeless picture.
Language moves down time in a current of its own
making. It has a drift. If there were no breaking up
of a language into dialects, if each language continued
as a firm, self-contained unity, it would still be
constantly moving away from any assignable norm,
developing new features unceasingly and gradually
transforming itself into a language so different from
its starting point as to be in effect a new language.
Now dialects arise not because of the mere fact of
individual variation but because two or more groups
of individuals have become sufficiently disconnected
to drift apart, or independently, instead of together.
So long as they keep strictly together, no amount of
150individual variation would lead to the formation of
dialects. In practice, of course, no language can be
spread over a vast territory or even over a considerable
area without showing dialectic variations, for it is
impossible to keep a large population from segregating
itself into local groups, the language of each of
which tends to drift independently. Under cultural
conditions such as apparently prevail to-day, conditions
that fight localism at every turn, the tendency
to dialectic cleavage is being constantly counteracted
and in part “corrected” by the uniformizing factors
already referred to. Yet even in so young a country
as America the dialectic differences are not inconsiderable.

Under primitive conditions the political groups are
small, the tendency to localism exceedingly strong.
It is natural, therefore, that the languages of primitive
folk or of non-urban populations in general are
differentiated into a great number of dialects. There
are parts of the globe where almost every village has
its own dialect. The life of the geographically limited
community is narrow and intense; its speech is correspondingly
peculiar to itself. It is exceedingly doubtful
if a language will ever be spoken over a wide area
without multiplying itself dialectically. No sooner
are the old dialects ironed out by compromises or
ousted by the spread and influence of the one dialect
which is culturally predominant when a new crop of
dialects arises to undo the leveling work of the past.
This is precisely what happened in Greece, for instance.
In classical antiquity there were spoken a large
number of local dialects, several of which are represented
in the literature. As the cultural supremacy
of Athens grew, its dialect, the Attic, spread at the
expense of the rest, until, in the so-called Hellenistic
period following the Macedonian conquest, the Attic
dialect, in the vulgarized form known as the “Koine,”
became the standard speech of all Greece. But this
151linguistic uniformity 3122 did not long continue. During
the two millennia that separate the Greek of to-day
from its classical prototype the Koine gradually split
up into a number of dialects. Now Greece is as richly
diversified in speech as in the time of Homer, though
the present local dialects, aside from those of Attica
itself, are not the lineal descendants of the old dialects
of pre-Alexandrian days. 4123 The experience of Greece
is not exceptional. Old dialects are being continually
wiped out only to make room for new ones. Languages
can change at so many points of phonetics, morphology,
and vocabulary that it is not surprising that once
the linguistic community is broken it should slip off
in different directions. It would be too much to expect
a locally diversified language to develop along
strictly parallel lines. If once the speech of a locality
has begun to drift on its own account, it is practically
certain to move further and further away from its
linguistic fellows. Failing the retarding effect of dialectic
interinfluences, which I have already touched
upon, a group of dialects is bound to diverge on the
whole, each from all of the others.

In course of time each dialect itself splits up into
subdialects, which gradually take on the dignity of
dialects proper while the primary dialects develop into
mutually unintelligible languages. And so the budding
process continues, until the divergences become
so great that none but a linguistic student, armed
with his documentary evidence and with his comparative
or reconstructive method, would infer that
the languages in question were genealogically related,
represented independent lines of development, in
152other words, from a remote and common starting
point. Yet it is as certain as any historical fact can be
that languages so little resembling each other as Modern
Irish, English, Italian, Greek, Russian, Armenian,
Persian, and Bengali are but end-points in the present
of drifts that converge to a meeting-point in the dim
past. There is naturally no reason to believe that
this earliest “Indo-European” (or “Aryan”) prototype
which we can in part reconstruct, in part but dimly
guess at, is itself other than a single “dialect” of a
group that has either become largely extinct or is now
further represented by languages too divergent for us,
with our limited means, to recognize as clear kin. 5124

All languages that are known to be genetically related,
i.e., to be divergent forms of a single prototype,
may be considered as constituting a “linguistic stock.”
There is nothing final about a linguistic stock. When
we set it up, we merely say, in effect, that thus far we
can go and no farther. At any point in the progress
of our researches an unexpected ray of light may
reveal the “stock” as but a “dialect” of a larger group.
The terms dialect, language, branch, stock—it goes
without saying—are purely relative terms. They are
convertible as our perspective widens or contracts. 6125 It
would be vain to speculate as to whether or not we
shall ever be able to demonstrate that all languages
stem from a common source. Of late years linguists
have been able to make larger historical syntheses
than were at one time deemed feasible, just as students
of culture have been able to show historical connections
between culture areas or institutions that
were at one time believed to be totally isolated from
each other. The human world is contracting not only
153prospectively but to the backward-probing eye of culture-history.
Nevertheless we are as yet far from able
to reduce the riot of spoken languages to a small
number of “stocks.” We must still operate with a
quite considerable number of these stocks. Some of
them, like Indo-European or Indo-Chinese, are spoken
over tremendous reaches; others, like Basque, 7126 have
a curiously restricted range and are in all likelihood
but dwindling remnants of groups that were at one
time more widely distributed. As for the single or
multiple origin of speech, it is likely enough that
language as a human institution (or, if one prefers,
as a human “faculty”) developed but once in the history
of the race, that all the complex history of language
is a unique cultural event. Such a theory constructed
“on general principles” is of no real interest,
however, to linguistic science. What lies beyond the
demonstrable must be left to the philosopher or the

We must return to the conception of “drift” in language.
If the historical changes that take place in a
language, if the vast accumulation of minute modifications
which in time results in the complete remodeling
of the language, are not in essence identical with
the individual variations that we note on every hand
about us, if these variations are born only to die
without a trace, while the equally minute, or even
minuter, changes that make up the drift are forever
imprinted on the history of the language, are we not
imputing to this history a certain mystical quality?
Are we not giving language a power to change of its
own accord over and above the involuntary tendency
of individuals to vary the norm? And if this drift of
language is not merely the familiar set of individual
variations seen in vertical perspective, that is historically,
instead of horizontally, that is in daily experience,
what is it? Language exists only in so far as it
154is actually used—spoken and heard, written and read.
What significant changes take place in it must exist,
to begin with, as individual variations. This is perfectly
true, and yet it by no means follows that the
general drift of language can be understood 8127 from
an exhaustive descriptive study of these variations
alone. They themselves are random phenomena, 9128 like
the waves of the sea, moving backward and forward in
purposeless flux. The linguistic drift has direction. In
other words, only those individual variations embody
it or carry it which move in a certain direction, just
as only certain wave movements in the bay outline
the tide. The drift of a language is constituted by the
unconscious selection on the part of its speakers of
those individual variations that are cumulative in
some special direction. This direction may be inferred,
in the main, from the past history of the
language. In the long run any new feature of the
drift becomes part and parcel of the common, accepted
speech, but for a long time it may exist as a
mere tendency in the speech of a few, perhaps of a
despised few. As we look about us and observe current
usage, it is not likely to occur to us that our
language has a “slope,” that the changes of the next
few centuries are in a sense prefigured in certain obscure
tendencies of the present and that these changes,
when consummated, will be seen to be but continuations
of changes that have been already effected. We
feel rather that our language is practically a fixed system
and that what slight changes are destined to take
place in it are as likely to move in one direction as
another. The feeling is fallacious. Our very uncertainty
as to the impending details of change make?
the eventual consistency of their direction all the
more impressive.155

Sometimes we can feel where the drift is taking us
even while we struggle against it. Probably the majority
of those who read these words feel that it is
quite “incorrect” to say “Who did you see?” We
readers of many books are still very careful to say
“Whom did you see?” but we feel a little uncomfortable
(uncomfortably proud, it may be) in the process.
We are likely to avoid the locution altogether and
to say “Who was it you saw?” conserving literary
tradition (the “whom”) with the dignity of silence. 10129
The folk makes no apology. “Whom did you see?”
might do for an epitaph, but “Who did you see?” is
the natural form for an eager inquiry. It is of course
the uncontrolled speech of the folk to which we must
look for advance information as to the general linguistic
movement. It is safe to prophesy that within
a couple of hundred years from to-day not even the
most learned jurist will be saying “Whom did you
see?” By that time the “whom” will be as delightfully
archaic as the Elizabethan “his” for “its.” 11130 No logical
or historical argument will avail to save this hapless
“whom.” The demonstration “I:me = he:him = who:
whom” will be convincing in theory and will go unheeded
in practice.

Even now we may go so far as to say that the majority
of us are secretly wishing they could say “Who
did you see?” It would be a weight off their unconscious
minds if some divine authority, overruling the
156lifted finger of the pedagogue, gave them carte
. But we cannot too frankly anticipate the
drift and maintain caste. We must affect ignorance
of whither we are going and rest content with our
mental conflict—uncomfortable conscious acceptance
of the “whom,” unconscious desire for the “who.” 12131
Meanwhile we indulge our sneaking desire for the
forbidden locution by the use of the “who” in certain
twilight cases in which we can cover up our fault by
a bit of unconscious special pleading. Imagine that
some one drops the remark when you are not listening
attentively, “John Smith is coming to-night.” You
have not caught the name and ask, not “Whom did
you say?” but “Who did you say?” There is likely to
be a little hesitation in the choice of the form, but
the precedent of usages like “Whom did you see?” will
probably not seem quite strong enough to induce a
“Whom did you say?” Not quite relevant enough, the
grammarian may remark, for a sentence like “Who
did you say?” is not strictly analogous to “Whom did
you see?” or “Whom did you mean?” It is rather an
abbreviated form of some such sentence as “Who, did
you say, is coming to-night?” This is the special pleading
that I have referred to, and it has a certain logic
on its side. Yet the case is more hollow than the
grammarian thinks it to be, for in reply to such a
query as “You're a good hand at bridge, John, aren't
you?” John, a little taken aback, might mutter “Did
you say me?” hardly “Did you say I?” Yet the logic
for the latter (“Did you say I was a good hand at
bridge?”) is evident. The real point is that there is
not enough vitality in the “whom” to carry it over
157such little difficulties as a “me” can compass without
a thought. The proportion “I : me = he : him = who :
whom” is logically and historically sound, but psychologically
shaky. “Whom did you see?” is correct,
but there is something false about its correctness.

It is worth looking into the reason for our curious
reluctance to use locutions involving the word
“whom,” particularly in its interrogative sense. The
only distinctively objective forms which we still possess
in English are me, him, her (a little blurred because
of its identity with the possessive her), us, them,
and whom. In all other cases the objective has come
to be identical with the subjective—that is, in outer
form, for we are not now taking account of position
in the sentence. We observe immediately in looking
through the list of objective forms that whom is psychologically
isolated. Me, him, her, us, and them form
a solid, well-integrated group of objective personal
pronouns parallel to the subjective series I, he, she,
we, they. The forms who and whom are technically
“pronouns” but they are not felt to be in the same
box as the personal pronouns. Whom has clearly a
weak position, an exposed flank, for words of a
feather tend to flock together, and if one strays behind,
it is likely to incur danger of life. Now the other
interrogative and relative pronouns (which, what,
that), with which whom should properly flock, do not
distinguish the subjective and objective forms. It is
psychologically unsound to draw the line of form
cleavage between whom and the personal pronouns
on the one side, the remaining interrogative and relative
pronouns on the other. The form groups should
be symmetrically related to, if not identical with, the
function groups. Had which, what, and that objective
forms parallel to whom, the position of this last
would be more secure. As it is, there is something
unesthetic about the word. It suggests a form pattern
which is not filled out by its fellows. The only way
158to remedy the irregularity of form distribution is to
abandon the whom altogether, for we have lost the
power to create new objective forms and cannot remodel
our which-what-that group so as to make it
parallel with the smaller group who-whom. Once this
is done, who joins its flock and our unconscious desire
for form symmetry is satisfied. We do not secretly
chafe at “Whom did you see?” without reason. 13132

But the drift away from whom has still other determinants.
The words who and whom in their interrogative
sense are psychologically related not merely to the
pronouns which and what, but to a group of interrogative
adverbs—where, when, how—all of which are
invariable and generally emphatic. I believe it is safe
to infer that there is a rather strong feeling in English
that the interrogative pronoun or adverb, typically an
emphatic element in the sentence, should be invariable.
The inflective -m of whom is felt as a drag upon
the rhetorical effectiveness of the word. It needs to
be eliminated if the interrogative pronoun is to receive
all its latent power. There is still a third, and
a very powerful, reason for the avoidance of whom.
The contrast between the subjective and objective
series of personal pronouns (I, he, she, we, they: me,
, her, us, them) is in English associated with a
difference of position. We say I see the man but the
man sees me
; he told him, never him he told or him
told he
. Such usages as the last two are distinctly
poetic and archaic; they are opposed to the present
drift of the language. Even in the interrogative one
does not say Him did you see? It is only in sentences
of the type Whom did you see? than an inflected objective
before the verb is now used at all. On the
159other hand, the order in Whom did you see? is imperative
because of its interrogative form; the interrogative
pronoun or adverb normally comes first in
the sentence (What are you doing? When did he go?
Where are you from?). In the “whom” of Whom did
you see?
there is concealed, therefore, a conflict between
the order proper to a sentence containing an
inflected objective and the order natural to a sentence
with an interrogative pronoun or adverb. The
solution Did you see whom? or You saw whom? 14133 is
too contrary to the idiomatic drift of our language
to receive acceptance. The more radical solution Who
did you see?
is the one the language is gradually making

These three conflicts—on the score of form grouping,
of rhetorical emphasis, and of order—are supplemented
by a fourth difficulty. The emphatic whom,
with its heavy build (half-long vowel followed by
labial consonant), should contrast with a lightly tripping
syllable immediately following. In whom did,
however, we have an involuntary retardation that
makes the locution sound “clumsy.” This clumsiness
is a phonetic verdict, quite apart from the dissatisfaction
due to the grammatical factors which we have
analyzed. The same prosodic objection does not apply
to such parallel locutions as what did and when did.
The vowels of what and when are shorter and their
final consonants melt easily into the following d,
which is pronounced in the same tongue position as
t and n. Our instinct for appropriate rhythms makes
it as difficult for us to feel content with whom did as
for a poet to use words like dreamed and hummed
in a rapid line. Neither common feeling nor the poet's
choice need be at all conscious. It may be that not all
160are equally sensitive to the rhythmic flow of speech,
but it is probable that rhythm is an unconscious
linguistic determinant even with those who set little
store by its artisic use. In any event the poet's rhythms
can only be a more sensitive and stylicized application
of rhythmic tendencies that are characteristic of the
daily speech of his people.

We have discovered no less than four factors which
enter into our subtle disinclination to say “Whom
did you see?” The uneducated folk that says “Who
did you see?” with no twinge of conscience has a
more acute flair for the genuine drift of the language
than its students. Naturally the four restraining factors
do not operate independently. Their separate
energies, if we may make bold to use a mechanical
concept, are “canalized” into a single force. This force
or minute embodiment of the general drift of the
language is psychologically registered as a slight hesitation
in using the word whom. The hesitation is
likely to be quite unconscious, though it may be
readily acknowledged when attention is called to it.
The analysis is certain to be unconscious, or rather
unknown, to the normal speaker. 15134 How, then, can
we be certain in such an analysis as we have undertaken
that all of the assigned determinants are really
operative and not merely some one of them? Certainly
they are not equally powerful in all cases. Their
values are variable, rising and falling according to
the individual and the locution. 16135 But that they really
exist, each in its own right, may sometimes be tested
161by the method of elimination. If one or other of the
factors is missing and we observe a slight diminution
in the corresponding psychological reaction (“hesitation”
in our case), we may conclude that the factor
is in other uses genuinely positive. The second of our
four factors applies only to the interrogative use of
whom, the fourth factor applies with more force to
the interrogative than to the relative. We can therefore
understand why a sentence like Is he the man
whom you referred to?
though not as idiomatic as Is
he the man (that) you referred to?
(remember that it
sins against counts one and three), is still not as difficult
to reconcile with our innate feeling for English
expression as Whom did you see? If we eliminate the
fourth factor from the interrogative usage, 17136 say in
Whom are you looking at? where the vowel following
whom relieves this word of its phonetic weight, we
can observe, if I am not mistaken, a lesser reluctance
to use the whom. Who are you looking at? might even
sound slightly offensive to ears that welcome Who did
you see?

We may set up a scale of “hesitation values” somewhat
after this fashion:

Value 1: factors 1, 3. “The man whom I referred to.”

Value 2: factors 1, 3, 4. “The man whom they referred

Value 3: factors 1, 2, 3. “Whom are you looking at?”

Value 4: factors 1, 2, 3, 4. “Whom did you see?”

We may venture to surmise that while whom will
ultimately disappear from English speech, locutions
of the type Whom did you see? will be obsolete when
phrases like The man whom I referred to are still in
lingering use. It is impossible to be certain, however,
for we can never tell if we have isolated all the
determinants of a drift. In our particular case we have
162ignored what may well prove to be a controlling factor
in the history of who and whom in the relative
sense. This is the unconscious desire to leave these
words to their interrogative function and to concentrate
on that or mere word order as expressions of
the relative (e.g., The man that I referred to or The
man I referred to
). This drift, which does not directly
concern the use of whom as such (merely of whom as
a form of who), may have made the relative who obsolete
before the other factors affecting relative whom
have run their course. A consideration like this is
instructive because it indicates that knowledge of the
general drift of a language is insufficient to enable us
to see clearly what the drift is heading for. We need
to know something of the relative potencies and
speeds of the components of the drift.

It is hardly necessary to say that the particular drifts
involved in the use of whom are of interest to us not
for their own sake but as symptoms of larger tendencies
at work in the language. At least three drifts of
major importance are discernible. Each of these has
operated for centuries, each is at work in other parts
of our linguistic mechanism, each is almost certain
to continue for centuries, possibly millennia. The
first is the familiar tendency to level the distinction
between the subjective and the objective, itself but a
late chapter in the steady reduction of the old Indo-European
system of syntactic cases. This system, which
is at present best preserved in Lithuanian, 18137 was already
considerably reduced in the old Germanic language
of which English, Dutch, German, Danish, and
Swedish are modern dialectic forms. The seven Indo-European
cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative,
ablative, locative, instrumental) had been already
163reduced to four (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative).
We know this from a careful comparison of and
reconstruction based on the oldest Germanic dialects
of which we still have records (Gothic, Old Icelandic,
Old High German, Anglo-Saxon). In the group of
West Germanic dialects, for the study of which Old
High German, Anglo-Saxon, Old Frisian, and Old
Saxon are our oldest and most valuable sources, we
still have these four cases, but the phonetic form of
the case syllables is already greatly reduced and in
certain paradigms particular cases have coalesced. The
case system is practically intact but it is evidently
moving towards further disintegration. Within the
Anglo-Saxon and early Middle English period there
took place further changes in the same direction. The
phonetic form of the case syllables became still further
reduced and the distinction between the accusative
and the dative finally disappeared. The new
“objective” is really an amalgam of old accusative
and dative forms; thus him, the old dative (we still
say I give him the book, not “abbreviated” from I
give to him
; compare Gothic imma, Modern German
ihm), took over the functions of the old accusative
(Anglo-Saxon hine; compare Gothic ina, Modern German
ihn) and dative. The distinction between the
nominative and accusative was nibbled away by phonetic
processes and morphological levelings until only
certain pronouns retained distinctive subjective and
objective forms.

In later medieval and in modern times there have
been comparatively few apparent changes in our case
system apart from the gradual replacement of thou
thee (singular) and subjective ye—objective you (plural)
by a single undifferentiated form you. All the
while, however, the case system, such as it is (subjective-objective,
really absolutive, and possessive in
nouns; subjective, objective, and possessive in certain
pronouns) has been steadily weakening in psychological
respects. At present it is more seriously undermined
164than most of us realize. The possessive has
little vitality except in the pronoun and in animate
nouns. Theoretically we can still say the moon's
or a newspaper's vogue; practically we limit
ourselves pretty much to analytic locutions like the
phases of the moon
and the vogue of a newspaper.
The drift is clearly toward the limitation of possessive
forms to animate nouns. All the possessive pronominal
forms except its and, in part, their and theirs, are also
animate. It is significant that theirs is hardly ever used
in reference to inanimate nouns, that there is some
reluctance to so use their, and that its also is beginning
to give way to of it. The appearance of it or the looks
of it
is more in the current of the language than its
. It is curiously significant that its young
(referring to an animal's cubs) is idiomatically preferable
to the young of it. The form is only ostensibly
neuter, in feeling it is animate; psychologically it
belongs with his children, not with the pieces of it.
Can it be that so common a word as its is actually
beginning to be difficult? Is it too doomed to disappear?
It would be rash to say that it shows signs of
approaching obsolescence, but that it is steadily weakening
is fairly clear. 19138 In any event, it is not too much
to say that there is a strong drift towards the restriction
of the inflected possessive forms to animate nouns
and pronouns.

How is it with the alternation of subjective and
objective in the pronoun? Granted that whom is a
weak sister, that the two cases have been leveled in
you (in it, that, and what they were never distinct, so
far as we can tell 20139), and that her as an objective is a
trifle weak because of its formal identity with the
165possessive her, is there any reason to doubt the vitality
of such alternations as I see the man and the man sees
Surely the distinction between subjective I and
objective me, between subjective he and objective him,
and correspondingly for other personal pronouns, belongs
to the very core of the language. We can throw
whom to the dogs, somehow make shift to do without
an its, but to level I and me to a single case—would
that not be to un-English our language beyond recognition?
There is no drift toward such horrors as Me
see him
or I see he. True, the phonetic disparity between
I and me, he and him, we and us, has been too
great for any serious possibility of form leveling. It
does not follow that the case distinction as such is
still vital. One of the most insidious peculiarities of
a linguistic drift is that where it cannot destroy what
lies in its way it renders it innocuous by washing the
old significance out of it. It turns its very enemies
to its own uses. This brings us to the second of
the major drifts, the tendency to fixed position in the
sentence, determined by the syntactic relation of the

We need not go into the history of this all-important
drift. It is enough to know that as the inflected
forms of English became scantier, as the syntactic
relations were more and more inadequately expressed
by the forms of the words themselves, position in the
sentence gradually took over functions originally foreign
to it. The man in the man sees the dog is subjective;
in the dog sees the man, objective. Strictly
parallel to these sentences are he sees the dog and the
dog sees him
. Are the subjective value of he and the
objective value of him entirely, or even mainly, dependent
on the difference of form? I doubt it. We
could hold to such a view if it were possible to say
the dog sees he or him sees the dog. It was once possible
to say such things, but we have lost the power. In
other words, at least part of the case feeling in he and
166him is to be credited to their position before or after
the verb. May it not be, then, that he and him, we and
us, are not so much subjective and objective forms
as pre-verbal and post-verbal 21140 forms, very much as
my and mine are now pre-nominal and post-nominal
forms of the possessive (my father but father mine;
it is my book but the book is mine)? That this interpretation
corresponds to the actual drift of the English
language is again indicated by the language of
the folk. The folk says it is me, not it is I, which is
“correct” but just as falsely so as the whom did you
that we have analyzed. I'm the one, it's me; we're
the ones
, it's us that will win out—such are the live
parallelisms in English to-day. There is little doubt
that it is I will one day be as impossible in English
as c'est je, for c'est moi, is now in French.

How differently our I : me feels than in Chaucer's
day is shown by the Chaucerian it am I. Here the distinctively
subjective aspect of the I was enough to
influence the form of the preceding verb in spite of
the introductory it; Chaucer's locution clearly felt
more like a Latin sum ego than a modern it is I or
colloquial it is me. We have a curious bit of further
evidence to prove that the English personal pronouns
have lost some share of their original syntactic force.
Were he and she subjective forms pure and simple,
were they not striving, so to speak, to become caseless
absolutives, like man or any other noun, we should
not have been able to coin such compounds as he-goat
and she-goat, words that are psychologically
analogous to bull-moose and mother-bear. Again, in
inquiring about a new-born baby, we ask Is it a he
or a she?
quite as though he and she were the equivalents
167of male and female or boy and girl. All in all,
we may conclude that our English case system is
weaker than it looks and that, in one way or another,
it is destined to get itself reduced to an absolutive
(caseless) form for all nouns and pronouns but those
that are animate. Animate nouns and pronouns are
sure to have distinctive possessive forms for an indefinitely
long period.

Meanwhile observe that the old alignment of case
forms is being invaded by two new categories—a positional
category (pre-verbal, post-verbal) and a classificatory
category (animate, inanimate). The facts that
in the possessive animate nouns and pronouns are
destined to be more and more sharply distinguished
from inanimate nouns and pronouns (the man's, but
of the house; his, but of it) and that, on the whole, it
is only animate pronouns that distinguish pre-verbal
and post-verbal forms 22141 are of the greatest theoretical
interest. They show that, however the language strive
for a more and more analytic form, it is by no means
manifesting a drift toward the expression of “pure”
relational concepts in the Indo-Chinese manner. 23142 The
insistence on the concreteness of the relational concepts
is clearly stronger than the destructive power
of the most sweeping and persistent drifts that we
know of in the history and prehistory of our language.

The drift toward the abolition of most case distinctions
and the correlative drift toward position as
an all-important grammatical method are accompanied,
in a sense dominated, by the last of the three
major drifts that I have referred to. This is the drift
toward the invariable word. In analyzing the “whom”
sentence I pointed out that the rhetorical emphasis
natural to an interrogative pronoun lost something by
168its form variability (who, whose, whom). This striving
for a simple, unnuanced correspondence between idea
and word, as invariable as may be, is very strong in
English. It accounts for a number of tendencies which
at first sight seem unconnected. Certain well-established
forms, like the present third person singular -s
of works or the plural -s of books, have resisted the
drift to invariable words, possibly because they symbolize
certain stronger form cravings that we do not
yet fully understand. It is interesting to note that derivations
that get away sufficiently from the concrete
notion of the radical word to exist as independent
conceptual centers are not affected by this elusive drift.
As soon as the derivation runs danger of being felt as
a mere nuancing of, a finicky play on, the primary
concept, it tends to be absorbed by the radical word,
to disappear as such. English words crave spaces between
them, they do not like to huddle in clusters of
slightly divergent centers of meaning, each edging a
little away from the rest. Goodness, a noun of quality,
almost a noun of relation, that takes its cue from the
concrete idea of “good” without necessarily predicating
that quality (e.g., I do not think much of his goodness)
is sufficiently spaced from good itself not to need
fear absorption. Similarly, unable can hold its own
against able because it destroys the latter's sphere of
influence; unable is psychologically as distinct from
able as is blundering or stupid. It is different with adverbs
in -ly. These lean too heavily on their adjectives
to have the kind of vitality that English demands of
its words. Do it quickly! drags psychologically. The
nuance expressed by quickly is too close to that of
quick, their circles of concreteness are too nearly the
same, for the two words to feel comfortable together.
The adverbs in -ly are likely to go to the wall in the
not too distant future for this very reason and in face
of their obvious usefulness. Another instance of the
sacrifice of highly useful forms to this impatience of
169nuancing is the group whence, whither, hence, hither,
thence, thither. They could not persist in live usage
because they impinged too solidly upon the circles of
meaning represented by the words where, here and
there. In saying whither we feel too keenly that we repeat
all of where. That we add to where an important
nuance of direction irritates rather than satisfies. We
prefer to merge the static and the directive (Where
do you live?
like Where are you going?) or, if need be,
to overdo a little the concept of direction (Where are
you running to?

Now it is highly symptomatic of the nature of the
drift away from word clusters that we do not object to
nuances as such, we object to having the nuances formally
earmarked for us. As a matter of fact our vocabulary
is rich in near-synonyms and in groups of
words that are psychologically near relatives, but these
near-synonyms and these groups do not hang together
by reason of etymology. We are satisfied with believe
and credible just because they keep aloof from each
other. Good and well go better together than quick
and quickly. The English vocabulary is a rich medley
because each English word wants its own castle. Has
English long been peculiarly receptive to foreign words
because it craves the staking out of as many word areas
as possible, or, conversely, has the mechanical imposition
of a flood of French and Latin loan-words, unrooted
in our earlier tradition, so dulled our feeling
for the possibilities of our native resources that we are
allowing these to shrink by default? I suspect that
both propositions are true. Each feeds on the other.
I do not think it likely, however, that the borrowings
in English have been as mechanical and external a
process as they are generally represented to have been.
There was something about the English drift as early
as the period following the Norman Conquest that
welcomed the new words. They were a compensation
for something that was weakening within.170

Chapter VIII
Language as a Historical Product: Phonetic Law

I have preferred to take up in some detail the analysis
of our hesitation in using a locution like “Whom did
you see?” and to point to some of the English drifts,
particular and general, that are implied by this hesitation
than to discuss linguistic change in the abstract.
What is true of the particular idiom that we started
with is true of everything else in language. Nothing
is perfectly static. Every word, every grammatical element,
every locution, every sound and accent is a
slowly changing configuration, molded by the invisible
and impersonal drift that is the life of language. The
evidence is overwhelming that this drift has a certain
consistent direction. Its speed varies enormously according
to circumstances that it is not always easy to
define. We have already seen that Lithuanian is to-day
nearer its Indo-European prototype than was the hypothetical
Germanic mother-tongue five hundred or a
thousand years before Christ. German has moved more
slowly than English; in some respects it stands roughly
midway between English and Anglo-Saxon, in others
it has of course diverged from the Anglo-Saxon line.
When I pointed out in the preceding chapter that dialects
formed because a language broken up into local
segments could not move along the same drift in all
of these segments, I meant of course that it could not
171move along identically the same drift. The general
drift of a language has its depths. At the surface the
current is relatively fast. In certain features dialects
drift apart rapidly. By that very fact these features betray
themselves as less fundamental to the genius of
the language than the more slowly modifiable features
in which the dialects keep together long after they
have grown to be mutually alien forms of speech. But
this is not all. The momentum of the more fundamental,
the pre-dialectic, drift is often such that languages
long disconnected will pass through the same or strikingly
similar phases. In many such cases it is perfectly
clear that there could have been no dialectic interinfluencing.

These parallelisms in drift may operate in the phonetic
as well as in die morphological sphere, or they
may affect both at the same time. Here is an interesting
example. The English type of plural represented
by foot: feet, mouse: mice is strictly parallel to the
German Fuss: Füsse, Maus: Mäuse. One would be inclined
to surmise that these dialectic forms go back to
old Germanic or West-Germanic alternations of the
same type. But the documentary evidence shows conclusively
that there could have been no plurals of this
type in primitive Germanic. There is no trace of such
vocalic mutation (“umlaut”) in Gothic, our most archaic
Germanic language. More significant still is the
fact that it does not appear in our oldest Old High
German texts and begins to develop only at the very
end of the Old High German period (circa 1000 A.D.).
In the Middle High German period the mutation was
carried through in all dialects. The typical Old High
German forms are singular fuoss, plural fuossi; 1143 singular
mus, plural musi. The corresponding Middle High
172German forms are fuoss, füesse; mus, müse. Modern
German Fuss: Füsse, Maus: Mäuse are the regular
developments of these medieval forms. Turning to
Anglo-Saxon, we find that our modern English forms
correspond to fot, fet; mus, mys. 2144 These forms are already
in use in the earliest English monuments that
we possess, dating from the eighth century, and thus
antedate the Middle High German forms by three
hundred years or more. In other words, on this particular
point it took German at least three hundred
years to catch up with a phonetic-morphological drift 3145
that had long been under way in English. The mere
fact that the affected vowels of related words (Old
High German uo, Anglo-Saxon o) are not always the
same shows that the affection took place at different
periods in German and English. 4146 There was evidently
some general tendency or group of tendencies at work
in early Germanic, long before English and German
had developed as such, that eventually drove both of
these dialects along closely parallel paths.

How did such strikingly individual alternations as
fot: fet, fuoss: füesse develop? We have now reached
what is probably the most central problem in linguistic
history, gradual phonetic change. “Phonetic laws”
make up a large and fundamental share of the subject-matter
of linguistics. Their influence reaches far beyond
173the proper sphere of phonetics and invades that
of morphology, as we shall see. A drift that begins as
a slight phonetic readjustment or unsettlement may in
the course of millennia bring about the most profound
structural changes. The mere fact, for instance, that
there is a growing tendency to throw the stress automatically
on the first syllable of a word may eventually
change the fundamental type of the language, reducing
its final syllables to zero and driving it to the
use of more and more analytical or symbolic 5147 methods.
The English phonetic laws involved in the rise of the
words foot, feet, mouse and mice from their early
West-Germanic prototypes fot, foti, mus, musi 6148 may be
briefly summarized as follows:

1. In foti “feet” the long o was colored by the following
i to long ö, that is, o kept its lip-rounded quality
and its middle height of tongue position but anticipated
the front tongue position of the i; ö is the
resulting compromise. This assimilatory change was
regular, i.e., every accented long o followed by an i
in the following syllable automatically developed to
long ö; hence tothi “teeth” became töthi, fodian “to
feed” became födian. At first there is no doubt the alternation
between o and ö was not felt as intrinsically
significant. It could only have been an unconscious
mechanical adjustment such as may be observed in the
speech of many to-day who modify the “oo” sound of
words like you and few in the direction of German ü
without, however, actually departing far enough from
the “oo” vowel to prevent their acceptance of who
and you as satisfactory rhyming words. Later on the
quality of the ö vowel must have departed widely
enough from that of o to enable ö to rise in consciousness 7149
as a neatly distinct vowel. As soon as this happened,
174the expression of plurality in föti, töthi, and
analogous words became symbolic and fusional, not
merely fusional.

2. In musi “mice” the long u was colored by the
following i to long ü. This change also was regular;
lusi “lice” became lüsi, kui “cows” became küi (later
simplified to ; still preserved as ki- in kine), fulian
“to make foul” became fülian (still preserved as -file
in defile). The psychology of this phonetic law is entirely
analogous to that of 1.

3. The old drift toward reducing final syllables, a
rhythmic consequence of the strong Germanic stress
on the first syllable, now manifested itself. The final
-i, originally an important functional element, had
long lost a great share of its value, transferred as that
was to the symbolic vowel change (o : ö). It had little
power of resistance, therefore, to the drift. It became
dulled to a colorless -e; föti became föte.

4. The weak -e finally disappeared. Probably the
forms föte and föt long coexisted as prosodic variants
according to the rhythmic requirements of the sentence,
very much as Füsse and Füss' now coexist in

5. The ö of föt became “unrounded” to long e (our
present a of fade). The alternation of fot: foti, transitionally
fot: föti, föte, föt, now appears as fot: fet.
Analogously, töth appears as teth, födian as fedian,
later fedan. The new long e-vowel “fell together” with
the older e-vowel already existent (e.g., her “here,”
he “he”). Henceforward the two are merged and their
later history is in common. Thus our present he has
the same vowel as feet, teeth, and feed. In other words,
the old sound pattern o, e, after an interim of o, ö, e,
reappeared as o, e, except that now the e had greater
“weight” than before.

6. Fot: fet, mus: müs (written mys) are the typical
forms of Anglo-Saxon literature. At the very end of
the Anglo-Saxon period, say about 1050 to 1100 A.D.,
the ü, whether long or short, became unrounded to i.
175Mys was then pronounced mis with long i (rhyming
with present niece). The change is analogous to 5, but
takes place several centuries later.

7. In Chaucer's day (circa 1350-1400 A.D.) the forms
were still fot: fet (written foot, feet) and mus: mis
(written very variably, but mous, myse are typical).
About 1500 all the long i-vowels, whether original (as
in write, ride, wine) or unrounded from Anglo-Saxon
ü (as in hide, bride, mice, defile), became diphthongized
to ei (i.e., e of met + short i). Shakespeare pronounced
mice as meis (almost the same as the present
Cockney pronunciation of mace).

8. About the same time the long u-vowels were
diphthongized to ou (i.e., o of present Scotch not + u
of full). The Chaucerian mus: mis now appears as the
Shakespearean mous: meis. This change may have
manifested itself somewhat later than 7; all English
dialects have diphthongized old Germanic long i, 8150 but
the long undiphthongized u is still preserved in Lowland
Scotch, in which house and mouse rhyme with
our loose. 7 and 8 are analogous developments, as
were 5 and 6; 8 apparently lags behind 7 as 6, centuries
earlier, lagged behind 7.

9. Some time before 1550 the long e of fet (written
feet) took the position that had been vacated by the
old long i, now diphthongized (see 7), i.e., e took the
higher tongue position of i. Our (and Shakespeare's)
“long e” is, then, phonetically the same as the old
long i. Feet now rhymed with the old write and the
present beat.

10. About the same time the long o of fot (written
foot) took the position that had been vacated by the
old long u, now diphthongized (see 8), i.e., o took the
higher tongue position of u. Our (and Shakespeare's)
“long oo” is phonetically the same as the old long u.
Foot now rhymed with the old out and the present
boot. To summarize 7 to 10, Shakespeare pronounced
176meis, mous, fit, fut, of which meis and mous would
affect our ears as a rather “mincing” rendering of our
present mice and mouse, fit would sound practically
identical with (but probably a bit more “drawled”
than) our present feet, while foot, rhyming with boot,
would now be set down as “broad Scotch.”

11. Gradually the first vowel of the diphthong in
mice (see 7) was retracted and lowered in position.
The resulting diphthong now varies in different English
dialects, but ai (i.e., a of father, but shorter, +
short i) may be taken as a fairly accurate rendering of
its average quality. 9151 What we now call the “long i
(of words like ride, bite, mice) is, of course, an ai-diphthong.
Mice is now pronounced mais.

12. Analogously to 11, the first vowel of the diphthong
in mouse (see 8) was unrounded and lowered
in position. The resulting diphthong may be phonetically
rendered au, though it too varies considerably
according to dialect. Mouse, then, is now pronounced

13. The vowel of foot (see 10) became “open” in
quality and shorter in quantity, i.e., it fell together
with the old short u-vowel of words like full, wolf,
wool. This change has taken place in a number of
words with an originally long u (Chaucerian long close
o), such as forsook, hook, book, look, rook, shook, all
of which formerly had the vowel of boot. The older
vowel, however, is still preserved in most words of
this class, such as fool, moon, spool, stoop. It is highly
significant of the nature of the slow spread of a “phonetic
law” that there is local vacillation at present in
several words. One hears roof, soot, and hoop, for
instance, both with the “long” vowel of boot and the
“short” of foot. It is impossible now, in other words,
to state in a definitive manner what is the “phonetic
law” that regulated the change of the older foot
(rhyming with boot) to the present foot. We know
177that there is a strong drift towards the short, open
vowel of foot, but whether or not all the old “long
oo” words will eventually be affected we cannot presume
to say. If they all, or practically all, are taken
by the drift, phonetic law 13 will be as “regular,”
as sweeping, as most of the twelve that have preceded
it. If not, it may eventually be possible, if past experience
is a safe guide, to show that the modified
words form a natural phonetic group, that is, that
the “law” will have operated under certain definable
limiting conditions, e.g., that all words ending in a
voiceless consonant (such as p, t, k, f) were affected
(e.g., hoof, foot, look, roof), but that all words ending
in the oo-vowel or in a voiced consonant remained
unaffected (e.g., do, food, move, fool). Whatever the
upshot, we may be reasonably certain that when the
“phonetic law” has run its course, the distribution of
“long” and “short” vowels in the old oo-words will not
seem quite as erratic as at the present transitional
moment. 10152 We learn, incidentally, the fundamental
fact that phonetic laws do not work with spontaneous
automatism, that they are simply a formula for a
consummated drift that sets in at a psychologically
exposed point and gradually worms its way through a
gamut of phonetically analogous forms.

It will be instructive to set down a table of form
sequences, a kind of gross history of the words foot,
feet, mouse, mice for the last 1500 years: 11153

I. fot: foti; mus: musi (West Germanic)

II. fot: föti; mus: müsi

III. fot: föte; mus: müse

IV. fot: föt; mus: müs

V. fot: fet; mus: müs (Anglo-Saxon)178

VI. fot: fet; mus: mis (Chaucer)

VII. fot: fet; mous: meis

VIII. fut (rhymes with boot): fit; mous: meis (Shakespeare)

IX. fut: fit; maus: mais

X. fut (rhymes with put): fit; maus: mais (English of

It will not be necessary to list the phonetic laws
that gradually differentiated the modern German
equivalents of the original West Germanic forms from
their English cognates. The following table gives a
rough idea of the form sequences in German: 12154

I. fot: foti; mus: musi (West Germanic)

II. foss: 13155 fossi; mus: musi

III. fuoss: fuossi; mus: musi (Old High German)

IV. fuoss: füessi; mus: müsi

V. fuoss: füesse; mus: müse (Middle High German)

VI. fuoss: füesse; mus: müze 14156

VII. fuos: füese; mus: müze

VIII. fuos: füese; mous: möüze

IX. fus: füse; mous: möüze (Luther)

X. fus: füse; maus: moize (German of 1900)

We cannot even begin to ferret out and discuss all
the psychological problems that are concealed behind
179these bland tables. Their general parallelism is obvious.
Indeed we might say that to-day the English
and German forms resemble each other more than
does either set the West Germanic prototypes from
which each is independently derived. Each table illustrates
the tendency to reduction of unaccented syllables,
the vocalic modification of the radical element
under the influence of the following vowel, the rise
in tongue position of the long middle vowels (English
o to u, e to i; German o to uo to u, üe to ü), the diphthongizing
of the old high vowels (English i to ei to
ai; English and German u to ou to au; German ü to
öü to oi). These dialectic parallels cannot be accidental.
They are rooted in a common, pre-dialectic

Phonetic changes are “regular.” All but one (English
table, X.), and that as yet uncompleted, of the
particular phonetic laws represented in our tables
affect all examples of the sound in question or, if the
phonetic change is conditional, all examples of the
same sound that are analogously circumstanced. 15157 An
example of the first type of change is the passage in
English of all old long i-vowels to diphthongal ai via
ei. The passage could hardly have been sudden or
automatic, but it was rapid enough to prevent an
irregularity of development due to cross drifts. The
second type of change is illustrated in the development
of Anglo-Saxon long o to long e, via ö, under
the influence of a following i. In the first case we
may say that au mechanically replaced long u, in the
second that the old long o “split” into two sounds—
long o, eventually u, and long e, eventually i. The
180former type of change did no violence to the old
phonetic pattern, the formal distribution of sounds
into groups; the latter type rearranged the pattern
somewhat. If neither of the two sounds into which
an old one “splits” is a new sound, it means that
there has been a phonetic leveling, that two groups
of words, each with a distinct sound or sound combination,
have fallen together into one group. This
kind of leveling is quite frequent in the history of
language. In English, for instance, we have seen that
all the old long ü-vowels, after they had become unrounded,
were indistinguishable from the mass of long
i-vowels. This meant that the long i-vowel became a
more heavily weighted point of the phonetic pattern
than before. It is curious to observe how often languages
have striven to drive originally distinct sounds
into certain favorite positions, regardless of resulting
confusions. 16158 In Modern Greek, for instance, the vowel
i is the historical resultant of no less than ten etymologically
distinct vowels (long and short) and diphthongs
of the classical speech of Athens. There is,
then, good evidence to show that there are general
phonetic drifts toward particular sounds.

More often the phonetic drift is of a more general
character. It is not so much a movement toward a
particular set of sounds as toward particular types of
articulation. The vowels tend to become higher or
lower, the diphthongs tend to coalesce into monophthongs,
the voiceless consonants tend to become
voiced, stops tend to become spirants. As a matter of
fact, practically all the phonetic laws enumerated in
the two tables are but specific instances of such far-reaching
phonetic drifts. The raising of English long
o to u and of long e to i, for instance, was part of
a general tendency to raise the position of the long
181vowels, just as the change of t to ss in Old High
German was part of a general tendency to make voiceless
spirants of the old voiceless stopped consonants.
A single sound change, even if there is no phonetic
leveling, generally threatens to upset the old phonetic
pattern because it brings about a disharmony in the
grouping of sounds. To reëstablish the old pattern without
going back on the drift the only possible method
is to have the other sounds of the series shift in
analogous fashion. If, for some reason or other, p becomes
shifted to its voiced correspondent b, the old
series p, t, k appears in the unsymmetrical form b,
t, k. Such a series is, in phonetic effect, not the equivalent
of the old series, however it may answer to it
in etymology. The general phonetic pattern is impaired
to that extent. But if t and k are also shifted
to their voiced correspondents d and g, the old series
is reestablished in a new form: b, d, g. The pattern
as such is preserved, or restored. Provided that the
new series b, d, g does not become confused with an
old series b, d, g of distinct historical antecedents. If
there is no such older series, the creation of a b, d, g
series causes no difficulties. If there is, the old patterning
of sounds can be kept intact only by shifting the
old b, d, g sounds in some way. They may become
aspirated to bh, dh, gh or spirantized or nasalized
or they may develop any other peculiarity that keeps
them intact as a series and serves to differentiate them
from other series. And this sort of shifting about without
loss of pattern, or with a minimum loss of it, is
probably the most important tendency in the history
of speech sounds. Phonetic leveling and “splitting”
counteract it to some extent but, on the whole, it
remains the central unconscious regulator of the
course and speed of sound changes.

The desire to hold on to a pattern, the tendency to
“correct” a disturbance by an elaborate chain of supplementary
changes, often spread over centuries or
182even millennia—these psychic undercurrents of language
are exceedingly difficult to understand in terms
of individual psychology, though there can be no denial
of their historical reality. What is the primary
cause of the unsettling of a phonetic pattern and what
is the cumulative force that selects these or those particular
variations of the individual on which to float
the pattern readjustments we hardly know. Many
linguistic students have made the fatal error of thinking
of sound change as a quasi-physiological instead
of as a strictly psychological phenomenon, or they
have tried to dispose of the problem by bandying such
catchwords as “the tendency to increased ease of articulation”
or “the cumulative result of faulty perception”
(on the part of children, say, in learning to
speak). These easy explanations will not do. “Ease
of articulation” may enter in as a factor, but it is a
rather subjective concept at best. Indians find hopelessly
difficult sounds and sound combinations that
are simple to us; one language encourages a phonetic
drift that another does everything to fight. “Faulty
perception” does not explain that impressive drift in
speech sounds which I have insisted upon. It is much
better to admit that we do not yet understand the primary
cause or causes of the slow drift in phonetics,
though we can frequently point to contributing factors.
It is likely that we shall not advance seriously
until we study the intuitional bases of speech. How
can we understand the nature of the drift that frays
and reforms phonetic patterns when we have never
thought of studying sound patterning as such and the
“weights” and psychic relations of the single elements
(the individual sounds) in these patterns?

Every linguist knows that phonetic change is frequently
followed by morphological rearrangements,
but he is apt to assume that morphology exercises
little or no influence on the course of phonetic history.
I am inclined to believe that our present tendency
183to isolate phonetics and grammar as mutually
irrelevant linguistic provinces is unfortunate. There
are likely to be fundamental relations between them
and their respective histories that we do not yet fully
grasp. After all, if speech sounds exist merely because
they are the symbolic carriers of significant concepts
and groupings of concepts, why may not a strong drift
or a permanent feature in the conceptual sphere exercise
a furthering or retarding influence on the phonetic
drift? I believe that such influences may be
demonstrated and that they deserve far more careful
study than they have received.

This brings us back to our unanswered question:
How is it that both English and German developed
the curious alternation of unmodified vowel in the
singular (foot, Fuss) and modified vowel in the plural
(feet, Füsse)? Was the pre-Anglo-Saxon alternation of
fot and föti an absolutely mechanical matter, without
other than incidental morphological interest? It is
always so represented, and, indeed, all the external
facts support such a view. The change from o to ö,
later e, is by no means peculiar to the plural. It is
found also in the dative singular (fet), for it too goes
back to an older foti. Moreover, fet of the plural applies
only to the nominative and accusative; the genitive
has fota, the dative fotum. Only centuries later
was the alternation of o and e reinterpreted as a means
of distinguishing number; o was generalized for the
singular, e for the plural. Only when this reassortment
of forms took place 17159 was the modern symbolic value
of the foot: feet alternation clearly established. Again,
we must not forget that o was modified to ö (e) in all
manner of other grammatical and derivative formations.
Thus, a pre-Anglo-Saxon hohan (later hon) “to
hang” corresponded to a höhith, hehith (later hehth)
“hangs”; to dom “doom,” blod “blood,” and fod
184“food” corresponded the verbal derivatives dömian
(later deman) “to deem,” blödian (later bledan) “to
bleed,” and födian (later fedan) “to feed.” All this
seems to point to the purely mechanical nature of the
modification of o to ö to e. So many unrelated functions
were ultimately served by the vocalic change
that we cannot believe that it was motivated by any
one of them.

The German facts are entirely analogous. Only
later in the history of the language was the vocalic
alternation made significant for number. And yet
consider the following facts. The change of foti to
föti antedated that of föti to föte, föt. This may be
looked upon as a “lucky accident,” for if foti had
become fote, fot before the -i had had the chance to
exert a retroactive influence on the o, there would
have been no difference between the singular and the
plural. This would have been anomalous in AngloSaxon
for a masculine noun. But was the sequence of
phonetic changes an “accident”? Consider two further
facts. All the Germanic languages were familiar with
vocalic change as possessed of functional significance.
Alternations like sing, sang, sung (Anglo-Saxon singan,
sang, sungen) were ingrained in the linguistic consciousness.
Further, the tendency toward the weakening
of final syllables was very strong even then and
had been manifesting itself in one way and another
for centuries. I believe that these further facts help
us to understand the actual sequence of phonetic
changes. We may go so far as to say that the o (and u)
could afford to stay the change to ö (and ü) until the
destructive drift had advanced to the point where
failure to modify the vowel would soon result in
morphological embarrassment. At a certain moment
the -i ending of the plural (and analogous endings
with -i in other formations) was felt to be too weak to
quite bear its functional burden. The unconscious
Anglo-Saxon mind, if I may be allowed a somewhat
185summary way of putting the complex facts, was glad
of the opportunity afforded by certain individual
variations, until then automatically canceled out, to
have some share of the burden thrown on them. These
particular variations won through because they so
beautifully allowed the general phonetic drift to take
its course without unsettling the morphological contours
of the language. And the presence of symbolic
variation (sing, sang, sung) acted as an attracting force
on the rise of a new variation of similar character.
All these factors were equally true of the German
vocalic shift. Owing to the fact that the destructive
phonetic drift was proceeding at a slower rate in
German than in English, the preservative change of
uo to üe (u to ü) did not need to set in until 300 years
or more after the analogous English change. Nor did
it. And this is to my mind a highly significant fact.
Phonetic changes may sometimes be unconsciously encouraged
in order to keep intact the psychological
spaces between words and word forms. The general
drift seizes upon those individual sound variations
that help to preserve the morphological balance or to
lead to the new balance that the language is striving

I would suggest, then, that phonetic change is compacted
of at least three basic strands: (1) A general
drift in one direction, concerning the nature of which
we know almost nothing but which may be suspected
to be of prevailingly dynamic character (tendencies,
e.g., to greater or less stress, greater or less voicing of
elements); (2) A readjusting tendency which aims to
preserve or restore the fundamental phonetic pattern
of the language; (3) A preservative tendency which
sets in when a too serious morphological unsettlement
is threatened by the main drift. I do not imagine for
a moment that it is always possible to separate these
strands or that this purely schematic statement does
justice to the complex forces that guide the phonetic
drift. The phonetic pattern of a language is not invariable,
186but it changes far less readily than the
sounds that compose it. Every phonetic element that
it possesses may change radically and yet the pattern
remain unaffected. It would be absurd to claim that
our present English pattern is identical with the old
Indo-European one, yet it is impressive to note that
even at this late day the English series of initial consonants:

p t k
b d g
f th h

corresponds point for point to the Sanskrit series:

b d g
bh dh gh
p t k

The relation between phonetic pattern and individual
sound is roughly parallel to that which obtains between
the morphologic type of a language and one
of its specific morphological features. Both phonetic
pattern and fundamental type are exceedingly conservative,
all superficial appearances to the contrary
notwithstanding. Which is more so we cannot say. I
suspect that they hang together in a way that we cannot
at present quite understand.

If all the phonetic changes brought about by the
phonetic drift were allowed to stand, it is probable
that most languages would present such irregularities
of morphological contour as to lose touch with their
formal ground-plan. Sound changes work mechanically.
Hence they are likely to affect a whole morphological
group here—this does not matter—, only part
of a morphological group there—and this may be disturbing.
Thus, the old Anglo-Saxon paradigm:

tableau Sing. | Plur. | fot | fet (older foti) | fotes | fota | fotum187

could not long stand unmodified. The o—e alternation
was welcome in so far as it roughly distinguished
the singular from the plural. The dative singular fet,
however, though justified historically, was soon felt
to be an intrusive feature. The analogy of simpler
and more numerously represented paradigms created
the form fote (compare, e.g., fisc “fish,” dative singular
fisce). Fet as a dative becomes obsolete. The singular
now had o throughout. But this very fact made the
genitive and dative o-forms of the plural seem out
of place. The nominative and accusative fet was
naturally far more frequently in use than were the
corresponding forms of the genitive and dative. These,
in the end, could not but follow the analogy of fet.
At the very beginning of the Middle English period,
therefore, we find that the old paradigm has yielded
to a more regular one:

tableau Sing. | Plur. | *fot | *fet | *fotes | fete | fote | feten

The starred forms are the old nucleus around which
the new paradigm is built. The unstarred forms are
not genealogical kin of their formal prototypes. They
are analogical replacements.

The history of the English language teems with
such levelings or extensions. Elder and eldest were
at one time the only possible comparative and superlative
forms of old (compare German alt, älter, der
; the vowel following the old-, alt- was originally
an i, which modified the quality of the stem
vowel). The general analogy of the vast majority of
English adjectives, however, has caused the replacement
of the forms elder and eldest by the forms with
unmodified vowel, older and oldest. Elder and eldest
survive only as somewhat archaic terms for the older
and oldest brother or sister. This illustrates the tendency
188for words that are psychologically disconnected
from their etymological or formal group to preserve
traces of phonetic laws that have otherwise left no
recognizable trace or to preserve a vestige of a morphological
process that has long lost its vitality. A
careful study of these survivals or atrophied forms is
not without value for the reconstruction of the earlier
history of a language or for suggestive hints as
to its remoter affiliations.

Analogy may not only refashion forms within the
confines of a related cluster of forms (a “paradigm”)
but may extend its influence far beyond. Of a number
of functionally equivalent elements, for instance, only
one may survive, the rest yielding to its constantly
widening influence. This is what happened with the
English -s plural. Originally confined to a particular
class of masculines, though an important class, the -s
plural was gradually generalized for all nouns but a
mere handful that still illustrate plural types now all
but extinct (foot: feet, goose: geese, tooth: teeth,
mouse: mice, louse: lice; ox: oxen; child: children;
sheep: sheep, deer: deer). Thus analogy not only
regularizes irregularities that have come in the wake
of phonetic processes but introduces disturbances, generally
in favor of greater simplicity or regularity, in
a long established system of forms. These analogical
adjustments are practically always symptoms of the
general morphological drift of the language.

A morphological feature that appears as the incidental
consequence of a phonetic process, like the
English plural with modified vowel, may spread by
analogy no less readily than old features that owe their
origin to other than phonetic causes. Once the e-vowel
of Middle English fet had become confined to the
plural, there was no theoretical reason why alternations
of the type fot: fet and mus: mis might not
have become established as a productive type of number
distinction in the noun. As a matter of fact, it
189did not so become established. The fot: fet type of
plural secured but a momentary foothold. It was swept
into being by one of the surface drifts of the language,
to be swept aside in the Middle English period by
the more powerful drift toward the use of simple
distinctive forms. It was too late in the day for our
language to be seriously interested in such pretty symbolisms
as foot: feet. What examples of the type arose
legitimately, in other words via purely phonetic processes,
were tolerated for a time, but the type as such
never had a serious future.

It was different in German. The whole series of
phonetic changes comprised under the term “umlaut,”
of which u: ü and au: oi (written äu) are but specific
examples, struck the German language at a time
when the general drift to morphological simplification
was not so strong but that the resulting formal types
(e.g., Fuss: Füsse; fallen “to fall”: fällen “to fell”;
Horn “horn”: Gehörne “group of horns”; Haus
“house”: Häuslein “little house”) could keep themselves
intact and even extend to forms that did not
legitimately come within their sphere of influence.
“Umlaut” is still a very live symbolic process in German,
possibly more alive to-day than in medieval
times. Such analogical plurals as Baum “tree”: Bäume
(contrast Middle High German boum: boume) and
derivatives as lachen “to laugh”: Gelächter “laughter”
(contrast Middle High German gelach) show that
vocalic mutation has won through to the status of a
productive morphologic process. Some of the dialects
have even gone further than standard German, at least
in certain respects. In Yiddish, 18160 for instance, “umlaut”
plurals have been formed where there are no
Middle High German prototypes or modern literary
190parallels, e.g., tog “day”: teg “days” (but German Tag:
Tage) on the analogy of gast “guest”: gest “guests”
(German Gast: Gäste), shuch 19161 “shoe”: shich “shoes”
(but German Schuh: Schuhe) on the analogy of fus
“foot”: fis “feet.” It is possible that “umlaut” will run
its course and cease to operate as a live functional
process in German, but that time is still distant. Meanwhile
all consciousness of the merely phonetic nature
of “umlaut” vanished centuries ago. It is now
a strictly morphological process, not in the least a
mechanical phonetic adjustment. We have in it a
splendid example of how a simple phonetic law,
meaningless in itself, may eventually color or transform
large reaches of the morphology of a language.191

Chapter IX
How Languages Influence Each Other

Languages, like cultures, are rarely sufficient unto
themselves. The necessities of intercourse bring the
speakers of one language into direct or indirect contact
with those of neighboring or culturally dominant
languages. The intercourse may be friendly or hostile.
It may move on the humdrum plane of business and
trade relations or it may consist of a borrowing or
interchange of spiritual goods—art, science, religion.
It would be difficult to point to a completely isolated
language or dialect, least of all among the primitive
peoples. The tribe is often so small that intermarriages
with alien tribes that speak other dialects or even
totally unrelated languages are not uncommon. It may
even be doubted whether intermarriage, intertribal
trade, and general cultural interchanges are not of
greater relative significance on primitive levels than on
our own. Whatever the degree or nature of contact
between neighboring peoples, it is generally sufficient
to lead to some kind of linguistic inter influencing.
Frequently the influence runs heavily in one direction.
The language of a people that is looked upon as a
center of culture is naturally far more likely to exert
an appreciable influence on other languages spoken in
its vicinity than to be influenced by them. Chinese
has flooded the vocabularies of Korean, Japanese, and
192Annamite for centuries, but has received nothing in
return. In the western Europe of medieval and modern
times French has exercised a similar, though
probably a less overwhelming, influence. English borrowed
an immense number of words from the French
of the Norman invaders, later also from the court
French of Isle de France, appropriated a certain number
of affixed elements of derivational value (e.g., -ess
of princess, -ard of drunkard, -ty of royalty), may have
been somewhat stimulated in its general analytic drift
by contact with French, 1162 and even allowed French to
modify its phonetic pattern slightly (e.g., initial v
and j in words like veal and judge; in words of Anglo-Saxon
origin v and j can only occur after vowels, e.g.,
over, hedge). But English has exerted practically no
influence on French.

The simplest kind of influence that one language
may exert on another is the “borrowing” of words.
When there is cultural borrowing there is always the
likelihood that the associated words may be borrowed
too. When the early Germanic peoples of northern
Europe first learned of wine-culture and of paved
streets from their commercial or warlike contact with
the Romans, it was only natural that they should
adopt the Latin words for the strange beverage
(vinum, English wine, German Wein) and the unfamiliar
type of road (strata [via], English street,
German Strasse). Later, when Christianity was introduced
into England, a number of associated words,
such as bishop and angel, found their way into English.
And so the process has continued uninterruptedly
down to the present day, each cultural wave bringing
to the language a new deposit of loan-words. The careful
study of such loan-words constitutes an interesting
commentary on the history of culture. One can almost
193estimate the rôle which various peoples have played
in the development and spread of cultural ideas by
taking note of the extent to which their vocabularies
have filtered into those of other peoples. When we
realize that an educated Japanese can hardly frame
a single literary sentence without the use of Chinese
resources, that to this day Siamese and Burmese and
Cambodgian bear the unmistakable imprint of the
Sanskrit and Pali that came in with Hindu Buddhism
centuries ago, or that whether we argue for or against
the teaching of Latin and Greek our argument is
sure to be studded with words that have come to us
from Rome and Athens, we get some inkling of what
early Chinese culture and Buddhism and classical
Mediterranean civilization have meant in the world's
history. There are just five languages that have had
an overwhelming significance as carriers of culture.
They are classical Chinese, Sanskrit, Arabic, Greek,
and Latin. In comparison with these even such culturally
important languages as Hebrew and French
sink into a secondary position. It is a little disappointing
to learn that the general cultural influence of
English has so far been all but negligible. The English
language itself is spreading because the English
have colonized immense territories. But there is nothing
to show that it is anywhere entering into the
lexical heart of other languages as French has colored
the English complexion or as Arabic has permeated
Persian and Turkish. This fact alone is significant of
the power of nationalism, cultural as well as political,
during the last century. There are now psychological
resistances to borrowing, or rather to new sources of
borrowing, 2163 that were not greatly alive in the Middle
Ages or during the Renaissance.

Are there resistances of a more intimate nature to
the borrowing of words? It is generally assumed that
194the nature and extent of borrowing depend entirely
on the historical facts of culture relation; that if
German, for instance, has borrowed less copiously
than English from Latin and French it is only because
Germany has had less intimate relations than
England with the culture spheres of classical Rome
and France. This is true to a considerable extent, but
it is not the whole truth. We must not exaggerate the
physical importance of the Norman invasion nor
underrate the significance of the fact that Germany's
central geographical position made it peculiarly sensitive
to French influences all through the Middle
Ages, to humanistic influences in the latter fifteenth
and early sixteenth centuries, and again to the powerful
French influences of the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries. It seems very probable that the psychological
attitude of the borrowing language itself
towards linguistic material has much to do with its
receptivity to foreign words. English has long been
striving for the completely unified, unanalyzed word,
regardless of whether it is monosyllabic or polysyllabic.
Such words as credible, certitude, intangible are
entirely welcome in English because each represents
a unitary, well-nuanced idea and because their formal
analysis (cred-ible, cert-itude, in-tang-ible) is not a
necessary act of the unconscious mind (cred-, cert-,
and tang- have no real existence in English comparable
to that of good- in goodness). A word like intangible,
once it is acclimated, is nearly as simple a
psychological entity as any radical monosyllable (say
vague, thin, grasp). In German, however, polysyllabic
words strive to analyze themselves into significant
elements. Hence vast numbers of French and Latin
words, borrowed at the height of certain cultural influences,
could not maintain themselves in the language.
Latin-German words like kredibel “credible”
and French-German words like reussieren “to succeed”
offered nothing that the unconscious mind could
195assimilate to its customary method of feeling and
handling words. It is as though this unconscious mind
said: “I am perfectly willing to accept kredibel if you
will just tell me what you mean by kred-.” Hence
German has generally found it easier to create new
words out of its own resources, as the necessity for
them arose.

The psychological contrast between English and
German as regards the treatment of foreign material
is a contrast that may be studied in all parts of the
world. The Athabaskan languages of America are
spoken by peoples that have had astonishingly varied
cultural contacts, yet nowhere do we find that an
Athabaskan dialect has borrowed at all freely 3164 from
a neighboring language. These languages have always
found it easier to create new words by compounding
afresh elements ready to hand. They have for this
reason been highly resistant to receiving the linguistic
impress of the external cultural experiences of their
speakers. Cambodgian and Tibetan offer a highly
instructive contrast in their reaction to Sanskrit influence.
Both are analytic languages, each totally different
from the highly wrought, inflective language of
India. Cambodgian is isolating, but, unlike Chinese,
it contains many polysyllabic words whose etymological
analysis does not matter. Like English, therefore,
in its relation to French and Latin, it welcomed immense
numbers of Sanskrit loan-words, many of which
are in common use to-day. There was no psychological
resistance to them. Classical Tibetan literature was a
slavish adaptation of Hindu Buddhist literature and
nowhere has Buddhism implanted itself more firmly
than in Tibet, yet it is strange how few Sanskrit
words have found their way into the language. Tibetan
was highly resistant to the polysyllabic words
of Sanskrit because they could not automatically fall
into significant syllables, as they should have in order
196to satisfy the Tibetan feeling for form. Tibetan was
therefore driven to translating the great majority of
these Sanskrit words into native equivalents. The
Tibetan craving for form was satisfied, though the
literally translated foreign terms must often have done
violence to genuine Tibetan idiom. Even the proper
names of the Sanskrit originals were carefully translated,
element for element, into Tibetan; e.g., Suryagarbha
“Sun-bosomed” was carefully Tibetanized into
Nyi-mai snying-po “Sun-of heart-the, the heart (or
essence) of the sun.” The study of how a language
reacts to the presence of foreign words—rejecting
them, translating them, or freely accepting them—
may throw much valuable light on its innate formal

The borrowing of foreign words always entails their
phonetic modification. There are sure to be foreign
sounds or accentual peculiarities that do not fit the
native phonetic habits. They are then so changed as
to do as little violence as possible to these habits.
Frequently we have phonetic compromises. Such an
English word as the recently introduced camouflage,
as now ordinarily pronounced, corresponds to the
typical phonetic usage of neither English nor French.
The aspirated k, the obscure vowel of the second syllable,
the precise quality of the l and of the last a, and,
above all, the strong accent on the first syllable, are
all the results of unconscious assimilation to our English
habits of pronunciation. They differentiate our
camouflage clearly from the same word as pronounced
by the French. On the other hand, the long, heavy
vowel in the third syllable and the final position of
the “zh” sound (like z in azure) are distinctly unEnglish,
just as, in Middle English, the initial j and
v 4165 must have been felt at first as not strictly in accord
with English usage, though the strangeness has worn
off by now. In all four of these cases—initial j, initial
197v, final “zh,” and unaccented a of father—English has
not taken on a new sound but has merely extended
the use of an old one.

Occasionally a new sound is introduced, but it is
likely to melt away before long. In Chaucer's day the
old Anglo-Saxon ü (written y) had long become unrounded
to i, but a new set of ü-vowels had come in
from the French (in such words as due, value, nature).
The new ü did not long hold its own; it became
diphthongized to iu and was amalgamated with the
native iw of words like new and slew. Eventually this
diphthong appears as yu, with change of stress—dew
(from Anglo-Saxon deaw) like due (Chaucerian ).
Facts like these show how stubbornly a language
resists radical tampering with its phonetic pattern.

Nevertheless, we know that languages do influence
each other in phonetic respects, and that quite aside
from the taking over of foreign sounds with borrowed
words. One of the most curious facts that linguistics
has to note is the occurrence of striking phonetic
parallels in totally unrelated or very remotely related
languages of a restricted geographical area. These
parallels become especially impressive when they are
seen contrastively from a wide phonetic perspective.
Here are a few examples. The Germanic languages
as a whole have not developed nasalized vowels. Certain
Upper German (Suabian) dialects, however, have
now nasalized vowels in lieu of the older vowel +
nasal consonant (n). Is it only accidental that these
dialects are spoken in proximity to French, which
makes abundant use of nasalized vowels? Again, there
are certain general phonetic features that mark off
Dutch and Flemish in contrast, say, to North German
and Scandinavian dialects. One of these is the presence
of unaspirated voiceless stops (p, t, k), which have
a precise, metallic quality reminiscent of the corresponding
French sounds, but which contrast with the
stronger, aspirated stops of English, North German,
198and Danish. Even if we assume that the unaspirated
stops are more archaic, that they are the unmodified
descendants of the old Germanic consonants, is it not
perhaps a significant historical fact that the Dutch
dialects, neighbors of French, were inhibited from
modifying these consonants in accordance with what
seems to have been a general Germanic phonetic drift?
Even more striking than these instances is the peculiar
resemblance, in certain special phonetic respects, of
Russian and other Slavic languages to the unrelated
Ural-Altaic languages 5166 of the Volga region. The peculiar,
dull vowel, for instance, known in Russian
as “yeri” 6167 has Ural-Altaic analogues, but is entirely
wanting in Germanic, Greek, Armenian, and Indo-Iranian,
the nearest Indo-European congeners of
Slavic. We may at least suspect that the Slavic vowel
is not historically unconnected with its Ural-Altaic
parallels. One of the most puzzling cases of phonetic
parallelism is afforded by a large number of American
Indian languages spoken west of the Rockies. Even at
the most radical estimate there are at least four totally
unrelated linguistic stocks represented in the region
from southern Alaska to central California. Nevertheless
all, or practically all, the languages of this immense
area have some important phonetic features
in common. Chief of these is the presence of a “glottalized”
series of stopped consonants of very distinctive
formation and of quite unusual acoustic effect. 7168
In the northern part of the area all the languages,
whether related or not, also possess various voiceless
l-sounds and a series of “velar” (back-guttural) stopped
consonants which are etymologically distinct from the
ordinary k-series. It is difficult to believe that three
199such peculiar phonetic features as I have mentioned
could have evolved independently in neighboring
groups of languages.

How are we to explain these and hundreds of
similar phonetic convergences? In particular cases we
may really be dealing with archaic similarities due
to a genetic relationship that it is beyond our present
power to demonstrate. But this interpretation will not
get us far. It must be ruled entirely out of court, for
instance, in two of the three European examples I
have instanced; both nasalized vowels and the Slavic
“yeri” are demonstrably of secondary origin in Indo-European.
However we envisage the process in detail,
we cannot avoid the inference that there is a tendency
for speech sounds or certain distinctive manners
of articulation to spread over a continuous area in
somewhat the same way that elements of culture ray
out from a geographical center. We may suppose that
individual variations arising at linguistic borderlands
—whether by the unconscious suggestive influence of
foreign speech habits or by the actual transfer of
foreign sounds into the speech of bilingual individuals—have
gradually been incorporated into the
phonetic drift of a language. So long as its main
phonetic concern is the preservation of its sound patterning,
not of its sounds as such, there is really no
reason why a language may not unconsciously assimilate
foreign sounds that have succeeded in worming
their way into its gamut of individual variations,
provided always that these new variations (or reinforced
old variations) are in the direction of the
native drift.

A simple illustration will throw light on this conception.
Let us suppose that two neighboring and
unrelated languages, A and B, each possess voiceless
l-sounds (compare Welsh ll). We surmise that this is
not an accident. Perhaps comparative study reveals
the fact that in language A the voiceless l-sounds correspond
to a sibilant series in other related languages
200that an old alternation s: sh has been shifted to the
new alternation l (voiceless): s. 8169 Does it follow that
the voiceless l of language B has had the same history?
Not in the least. Perhaps B has a strong tendency
toward audible breath release at the end of a
word, so that the final l, like a final vowel, was originally
followed by a marked aspiration. Individuals
perhaps tended to anticipate a little the voiceless release
and to “unvoice” the latter part of the final
l-sound (very much as the l of English words like felt
tends to be partly voiceless in anticipation of the
voicelessness of the t). Yet this final l with its latent
tendency to unvoicing might never have actually developed
into a fully voiceless l had not the presence
of voiceless l-sounds in A acted as an unconscious
stimulus or suggestive push toward a more radical
change in the line of B's own drift. Once the final
voiceless l emerged, its alternation in related words
with medial voiced l is very likely to have led to its
analogical spread. The result would be that both A
and B have an important phonetic trait in common.
Eventually their phonetic systems, judged as mere
assemblages of sounds, might even become completely
assimilated to each other, though this is an extreme
case hardly ever realized in practice. The highly significant
thing about such phonetic interinfluencings
is the strong tendency of each language to keep its
phonetic pattern intact. So long as the respective
alignments of the similar sounds is different, so long
as they have differing “values” and “weights” in the
unrelated languages, these languages cannot be said
to have diverged materially from the line of their
inherent drift. In phonetics, as in vocabulary, we must
be careful not to exaggerate the importance of interlinguistic

I have already pointed out in passing that English
has taken over a certain number of morphological
201elements from French. English also uses a number
of affixes that are derived from Latin and Greek. Some
of these foreign elements, like the -ize of materialize
or the -able of breakable, are even productive to-day.
Such examples as these are hardly true evidences of a
morphological influence exerted by one language on
another. Setting aside the fact that they belong to the
sphere of derivational concepts and do not touch the
central morphological problem of the expression of
relational ideas, they have added nothing to the
structural peculiarities of our language. English was
already prepared for the relation of pity to piteous
by such a native pair as luck and lucky; material and
materialize merely swelled the ranks of a form pattern
familiar from such instances as wide and widen. In
other words, the morphological influence exerted by
foreign languages on English, if it is to be gauged by
such examples as I have cited, is hardly different in
kind from the mere borrowing of words. The introduction
of the suffix -ize made hardly more difference
to the essential build of the language than did the
mere fact that it incorporated a given number of
words. Had English evolved a new future on the
model of the synthetic future in French or had it
borrowed from Latin and Greek their employment
or reduplication as a functional device (Latin tango:
; Greek leipo: leloipa), we should have the right
to speak of true morphological influence. But such
far-reaching influences are not demonstrable. Within
the whole course of the history of the English language
we can hardly point to one important morphological
change that was not determined by the
native drift, though here and there we may surmise
that this drift was hastened a little by the suggestive
influence of French forms. 9170202

It is important to realize the continuous, self-contained
morphological development of English and
the very modest extent to which its fundamental build
has been affected by influences from without. The
history of the English language has sometimes been
represented as though it relapsed into a kind of chaos
on the arrival of the Normans, who proceeded to play
nine-pins with the Anglo-Saxon tradition. Students
are more conservative to-day. That a far-reaching analytic
development may take place without such external
foreign influence as English was subjected to
is clear from the history of Danish, which has gone
even further than English in certain leveling tendencies.
English may be conveniently used as an a
test. It was flooded with French loan-words
during the later Middle Ages, at a time when its drift
toward the analytic type was especially strong. It was
therefore changing rapidly both within and on the
surface. The wonder, then, is not that it took on a
number of external morphological features, mere
accretions on its concrete inventory, but that, exposed
as it was to remolding influences, it remained so true
to its own type and historic drift. The experience
gained from the study of the English language is
strengthened by all that we know of documented
linguistic history. Nowhere do we find any but superficial
morphological interinfluencings. We may infer
one of several things from this:—That a really serious
morphological influence is not, perhaps, impossible,
but that its operation is so slow that it has hardly
ever had the chance to incorporate itself in the relatively
small portion of linguistic history that lies open
to inspection; or that there are certain favorable conditions
that make for profound morphological disturbances
from without, say a peculiar instability of
linguistic type or an unusual degree of cultural contact,
conditions that do not happen to be realized in
our documentary material; or, finally, that we have
203not the right to assume that a language may easily
exert a remolding morphological influence on another.

Meanwhile we are confronted by the baffling fact that
important traits of morphology are frequently found
distributed among widely differing languages within
a large area, so widely differing, indeed, that it is
customary to consider them genetically unrelated.
Sometimes we may suspect that the resemblance is
due to a mere convergence, that a similar morphological
feature has grown up independently in unrelated
languages. Yet certain morphological distributions are
too specific in character to be so lightly dismissed.
There must be some historical factor to account for
them. Now it should be remembered that the concept
of a “linguistic stock” is never definitive 10171 in an exclusive
sense. We can only say, with reasonable certainty,
that such and such languages are descended
from a common source, but we cannot say that such
and such other languages are not genetically related.
All we can do is to say that the evidence for relationship
is not cumulative enough to make the inference
of common origin absolutely necessary. May it not
be, then, that many instances of morphological similarity
between divergent languages of a restricted area
are merely the last vestiges of a community of type
and phonetic substance that the destructive work of
diverging drifts has now made unrecognizable? There
is probably still enough lexical and morphological
resemblance between modern English and Irish to
enable us to make out a fairly conclusive case for
their genetic relationship on the basis of the presentday
descriptive evidence alone. It is true that the
case would seem weak in comparison to the case that
we can actually make with the help of the historical
and the comparative data that we possess. It would
not be a bad case nevertheless. In another two or three
millennia, however, the points of resemblance are likely
204to have become so obliterated that English and Irish,
in the absence of all but their own descriptive evidence,
will have to be set down as “unrelated” languages.
They will still have in common certain fundamental
morphological features, but it will be difficult
to know how to evaluate them. Only in the light of
the contrastive perspective afforded by still more
divergent languages, such as Basque and Finnish, will
these vestigial resemblances receive their true historic

I cannot but suspect that many of the more significant
distributions of morphological similarities
are to be explained as just such vestiges. The theory
of “borrowing” seems totally inadequate to explain
those fundamental features of structure, hidden away
in the very core of the linguistic complex, that have
been pointed out as common, say, to Semitic and
Hamitic, to the various Soudanese languages, to
Malayo-Polynesian and Mon-Khmer 11172 and Munda, 12173
to Athabaskan and Tlingit and Haida. We must not
allow ourselves to be frightened away by the timidity
of the specialists, who are often notably lacking in
the sense of what I have called “contrastive perspective.”

Attempts have sometimes been made to explain the
distribution of these fundamental structural features
by the theory of diffusion. We know that myths, religious
ideas, types of social organization, industrial
devices, and other features of culture may spread from
point to point, gradually making themselves at home
in cultures to which they were at one time alien. We
also know that words may be diffused no less freely
than cultural elements, that sounds also may be “borrowed,”
and that even morphological elements may
be taken over. We may go further and recognize that
205certain languages have, in all probability, taken on
structural features owing to the suggestive influence
of neighboring languages. An examination of such
cases, 13174 however, almost invariably reveals the significant
fact that they are but superficial additions on
the morphological kernel of the language. So long as
such direct historical testimony as we have gives us
no really convincing examples of profound morphological
influence by diffusion, we shall do well not to
put too much reliance in diffusion theories. On the
whole, therefore, we shall ascribe the major concordances
and divergences in linguistic form—phonetic
pattern and morphology—to the autonomous
drift of language, not to the complicating effect of
single, diffused features that cluster now this way,
now that. Language is probably the most self-contained,
the most massively resistant of all social
phenomena. It is easier to kill it off than to disintegrate
its individual form.206

Chapter X
Language, Race and Culture

Language has a setting. The people that speak it
belong to a race (or a number of races), that is, to a
group which is set off by physical characteristics from
other groups. Again, language does not exist apart
from culture, that is, from the socially inherited assemblage
of practices and beliefs that determines the
texture of our lives. Anthropologists have been in the
habit of studying man under the three rubrics of
race, language, and culture. One of the first things
they do with a natural area like Africa or the South
Seas is to map it out from this threefold point of view.
These maps answer the questions: What and where
are the major divisions of the human animal, biologically
considered (e.g., Congo Negro, Egyptian White;
Australian Black, Polynesian)? What are the most
inclusive linguistic groupings, the “linguistic stocks,”
and what is the distribution of each (e.g., the Hamitic
languages of northern Africa, the Bantu languages of
the south; the Malayo-Polynesian languages of Indonesia,
Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia)? How
do the peoples of the given area divide themselves as
cultural beings? what the outstanding “cultural areas”
and what are the dominant ideas in each (e.g., the
Mohammedan north of Africa; the primitive hunting,
non-agricultural culture of the Bushmen in the south;
207the culture of the Australian natives, poor in physical
respects but richly developed in ceremonialism; the
more advanced and highly specialized culture of Polynesia)?

The man in the street does not stop to analyze his
position in the general scheme of humanity. He feels
that he is the representative of some strongly integrated
portion of humanity—now thought of as a
“nationality,” now as a “race”—and that everything
that pertains to him as a typical representative of this
large group somehow belongs together. If he is an
Englishman, he feels himself to be a member of the
“Anglo-Saxon” race, the “genius” of which race has
fashioned the English language and the “Anglo-Saxon”
culture of which the language is the expression.
Science is colder. It inquires if these three types
of classification—racial, linguistic, and cultural—are
congruent, if their association is an inherently necessary
one or is merely a matter of external history. The
answer to the inquiry is not encouraging to “race”
sentimentalists. Historians and anthropologists find
that races, languages, and cultures are not distributed
in parallel fashion, that their areas of distribution
intercross in the most bewildering fashion, and that
the history of each is apt to follow a distinctive course.
Races intermingle in a way that languages do not. On
the other hand, languages may spread far beyond
their original home, invading the territory of new
races and of new culture spheres. A language may
even die out in its primary area and live on among
peoples violently hostile to the persons of its original
speakers. Further, the accidents of history are constantly
rearranging the borders of culture areas without
necessarily effacing the existing linguistic cleavages.
If we can once thoroughly convince ourselves
that race, in its only intelligible, that is biological,
sense, is supremely indifferent to the history of languages
and cultures, that these are no more directly
explainable on the score of race than on that of the
208laws of physics and chemistry, we shall have gained
a viewpoint that allows a certain interest to such
mystic slogans as Slavophilism, Anglo-Saxondom, Teutonism,
and the Latin genius but that quite refuses
to be taken in by any of them. A careful study of
linguistic distributions and of the history of such
distributions is one of the driest of commentaries on
these sentimental creeds.

That a group of languages need not in the least correspond
to a racial group or a culture area is easily
demonstrated. We may even show how a single language
intercrosses with race and culture lines. The
English language is not spoken by a unified race. In
the United States there are several millions of negroes
who know no other language. It is their mothertongue,
the formal vesture of their inmost thoughts
and sentiments. It is as much their property, as inalienably
“theirs,” as the King of England's. Nor do the
English-speaking whites of America constitute a definite
race except by way of contrast to the negroes. Of
the three fundamental white races in Europe generally
recognized by physical anthropologists—the Baltic or
North European, the Alpine, and the Mediterranean
—each has numerous English-speaking representatives
in America. But does not the historical core of English-speaking
peoples, those relatively “unmixed” populations
that still reside in England and its colonies,
represent a race, pure and single? I cannot see that
the evidence points that way. The English people are
an amalgam of many distinct strains. Besides the old
“Anglo-Saxon,” in other words North German, element
which is conventionally represented as the basic
strain, the English blood comprises Norman French, 1175
Scandinavian, “Celtic,” 2176 and pre-Celtic elements. If
209by “English” we mean also Scotch and Irish, 3177 then
the term “Celtic” is loosely used for at least two quite
distinct racial elements—the short, dark-complexioned
type of Wales and the taller, lighter, often ruddy-haired
type of the Highlands and parts of Ireland.
Even if we confine ourselves to the Saxon element,
which, needless to say, nowhere appears “pure,” we
are not at the end of our troubles. We may roughly
identify this strain with the racial type now predominant
in southern Denmark and adjoining parts of
northern Germany. If so, we must content ourselves
with the reflection that while the English language is
historically most closely affiliated with Frisian, in second
degree with the other West Germanic dialects
(Low Saxon or “Plattdeutsch,” Dutch, High German),
only in third degree with Scandinavian, the specific
“Saxon” racial type that overran England in the fifth
and sixth centuries was largely the same as that now
represented by the Danes, who speak a Scandinavian
language, while the High German-speaking population
of central and southern Germany 4178 is markedly

But what if we ignore these finer distinctions and
simply assume that the “Teutonic” or Baltic or North
European racial type coincided in its distribution with
that of the Germanic languages? Are we not on safe
210ground then? No, we are now in hotter water than
ever. First of all, the mass of the German-speaking
population (central and southern Germany, German
Switzerland, German Austria) do not belong to the
tall, blond-haired, long-headed 5179 “Teutonic” race at
all, but to the shorter, darker-complexioned, shortheaded 6180
Alpine race, of which the central population
of France, the French Swiss, and many of the western
and northern Slavs (e.g., Bohemians and Poles) are
equally good representatives. The distribution of these
“Alpine” populations corresponds in part to that of
the old continental “Celts,” whose language has everywhere
given way to Italic, Germanic, and Slavic pressure.
We shall do well to avoid speaking of a “Celtic
race,” but if we were driven to give the term a content,
it would probably be more appropriate to apply
it to, roughly, the western portion of the Alpine peoples
than to the two island types that I referred to
before. These latter were certainly “Celticized,” in
speech and, partly, in blood, precisely as, centuries
later, most of England and part of Scotland was “Teutonized”
by the Angles and Saxons. Linguistically
speaking, the “Celts” of to-day (Irish Gaelic, Manx,
Scotch Gaelic, Welsh, Breton) are Celtic and most of
the Germans of to-day are Germanic precisely as the
American Negro, Americanized Jew, Minnesota Swede,
and German-American are “English.” But, secondly,
the Baltic race was, and is, by no means an exclusively
Germanic-speaking people. The northernmost “Celts,”
such as the Highland Scotch, are in all probability a
specialized offshoot of this race. What these people
spoke before they were Celticized nobody knows, but
there is nothing whatever to indicate that they spoke
a Germanic language. Their language may quite well
have been as remote from any known Indo-European
idiom as are Basque and Turkish to-day. Again, to the
211cast of the Scandinavians are non-Germanic members
of the race—the Finns and related peoples, speaking
languages that are not definitely known to be related
to Indo-European at all.

We cannot stop here. The geographical position of
the Germanic languages is such 7181 as to make it highly
probable that they represent but an outlying transfer
of an Indo-European dialect (possibly a Celto-Italic
prototype) to a Baltic people speaking a language or
a group of languages that was alien to Indo-European. 8182
Not only, then, is English not spoken by a unified
race at present but its prototype, more likely than
not, was originally a foreign language to the race with
which English is more particularly associated. We
need not seriously entertain the idea that English or
the group of languages to which it belongs is in any
intelligible sense the expression of race, that there are
embedded in it qualities that reflect the temperament
or “genius” of a particular breed of human beings.

Many other, and more striking, examples of the lack
of correspondence between race and language could
be given if space permitted. One instance will do for
many. The Malayo-Polynesian languages form a welldefined
group that takes in the southern end of the
Malay Peninsula and the tremendous island world to
the south and east (except Australia and the greater
part of New Guinea). In this vast region we find represented
no less than three distinct races—the Negro
212like Papuans of New Guinea and Melanesia, the Malay
race of Indonesia, and the Polynesians of the outer
islands. The Polynesians and Malays all speak languages
of the Malayo-Polynesian group, while the languages
of the Papuans belong partly to this group
(Melanesian), partly to the unrelated languages (“Papuan”)
of New Guinea. 9183 In spite of the fact that the
greatest race cleavage in this region lies between the
Papuans and the Polynesians, the major linguistic division
is of Malayan on the one side, Melanesian and
Polynesian on the other.

As with race, so with culture. Particularly in more
primitive levels, where the secondarily unifying power
of the “national” 10184 ideal does not arise to disturb the
flow of what we might call natural distributions, is it
easy to show that language and culture are not intrinsically
associated. Totally unrelated languages share in
one culture, closely related languages—even a single
language—belong to distinct culture spheres. There
are many excellent examples in aboriginal America.
The Athabaskan languages form as clearly unified, as
structurally specialized, a group as any that I know
of. 11185 The speakers of these languages belong to four
distinct culture areas—the simple hunting culture of
western Canada and the interior of Alaska (Loucheux,
Chipewyan), the buffalo culture of the Plains (Sarcee),
213the highly ritualized culture of the southwest (Navaho),
and the peculiarly specialized culture of northwestern
California (Hupa). The cultural adaptability
of the Athabaskan-speaking peoples is in the strangest
contrast to the inaccessibility to foreign influences of
the languages themselves. 12186 The Hupa Indians are
very typical of the culture area to which they belong.
Culturally identical with them are the neighboring
Yurok and Karok. There is the liveliest intertribal
intercourse between the Hupa, Yurok, and Karok, so
much so that all three generally attend an important
religious ceremony given by any one of them. It is difficult
to say what elements in their combined culture
belong in origin to this tribe or that, so much at one
are they in communal action, feeling, and thought.
But their languages are not merely alien to each other;
they belong to three of the major American linguistic
groups, each with an immense distribution on the
northern continent. Hupa, as we have seen, is Athabaskan
and, as such, is also distantly related to Haida
(Queen Charlotte Islands) and Tlingit (southern
Alaska); Yurok is one of the two isolated Californian
languages of the Algonkin stock, the center of gravity
of which lies in the region of the Great Lakes; Karok
is the northernmost member of the Hokan group,
which stretches far to the south beyond the confines
of California and has remoter relatives along the Gulf
of Mexico.

Returning to English, most of us would readily
admit, I believe, that the community of language between
Great Britain and the United States is far from
arguing a like community of culture. It is customary
to say that they possess a common “Anglo-Saxon” cultural
heritage, but are not many significant differences
in life and feeling obscured by the tendency of the
“cultured” to take this common heritage too much for
granted? In so far as America is still specifically “English,”
it is only colonially or vestigially so; its prevailing
214cultural drift is partly towards autonomous and
distinctive developments, partly towards immersion in
the larger European culture of which that of England
is only a particular facet. We cannot deny that the
possession of a common language is still and will long
continue to be a smoother of the way to a mutual cultural
understanding between England and America,
but it is very clear that other factors, some of them
rapidly cumulative, are working powerfully to counteract
this leveling influence. A common language cannot
indefinitely set the seal on a common culture when
the geographical, political, and economic determinants
of the culture are no longer the same throughout its

Language, race, and culture are not necessarily correlated.
This does not mean that they never are. There
is some tendency, as a matter of fact, for racial and
cultural lines of cleavage to correspond to linguistic
ones, though in any given case the latter may not be
of the same degree of importance as the others. Thus,
there is a fairly definite line of cleavage between the
Polynesian languages, race, and culture on the one
hand and those of the Melanesians on the other, in
spite of a considerable amount of overlapping. 13187 The
racial and cultural division, however, particularly the
former, are of major importance, while the linguistic
division is of quite minor significance, the Polynesian
languages constituting hardly more than a special
dialectic subdivision of the combined Melanesian-Polynesian
group. Still clearer-cut coincidences of cleavage
may be found. The language, race, and culture of
the Eskimo are markedly distinct from those of their
neighbors; 14188 in southern Africa the language, race, and
215culture of the Bushmen offer an even stronger contrast
to those of their Bantu neighbors. Coincidences
of this sort are of the greatest significance, of course,
but this significance is not one of inherent psychological
relation between the three factors of race, language,
and culture. The coincidences of cleavage point
merely to a readily intelligible historical association.
If the Bantu and Bushmen are so sharply differentiated
in all respects, the reason is simply that the former
are relatively recent arrivals in southern Africa.
The two peoples developed in complete isolation from
each other; their present propinquity is too recent for
the slow process of cultural and racial assimilation to
have set in very powerfully. As we go back in time,
we shall have to assume that relatively scanty populations
occupied large territories for untold generations
and that contact with other masses of population was
not as insistent and prolonged as it later became. The
geographical and historical isolation that brought
about race differentiations was naturally favorable also
to far-reaching variations in language and culture.
The very fact that races and cultures which are
brought into historical contact tend to assimilate in
the long run, while neighboring languages assimilate
each other only casually and in superficial respects, 15189
indicates that there is no profound causal relation between
the development of language and the specific
development of race and of culture.

But surely, the wary reader will object, there must
be some relation between language and culture, and
between language and at least that intangible aspect
of race that we call “temperament.” Is it not inconceivable
that the particular collective qualities of
mind that have fashioned a culture are not precisely
the same as were responsible for the growth of a particular
linguistic morphology? This question takes us
216into the heart of the most difficult problems of social
psychology. It is doubtful if any one has yet attained
to sufficient clarity on the nature of the historical process
and on the ultimate psychological factors involved
in linguistic and cultural drifts to answer it intelligently.
I can only very briefly set forth my own views,
or rather my general attitude. It would be very difficult
to prove that “temperament,” the general emotional
disposition of a people, 16190 is basically responsible for
the slant and drift of a culture, however much it may
manifest itself in an individual's handling of the elements
of that culture. But granted that temperament
has a certain value for the shaping of culture, difficult
though it be to say just how, it does not follow that
it has the same value for the shaping of language. It
is impossible to show that the form of a language has
the slightest connection with national temperament.
Its line of variation, its drift, runs inexorably in the
channel ordained for it by its historic antecedents; it
is as regardless of the feelings and sentiments of its
speakers as is the course of a river of the atmospheric
humors of the landscape. I am convinced that it is futile
to look in linguistic structure for differences corresponding
to the temperamental variations which are
supposed to be correlated with race. In this connection
it is well to remember that the emotional aspect
of our psychic life is but meagerly expressed in the
build of language. 17191

Language and our thought-grooves are inextricably
217interrelated, are, in a sense, one and the same. As
there is nothing to show that there are significant racial
differences in the fundamental conformation of
thought, it follows that the infinite variability of linguistic
form, another name for the infinite variability
of the actual process of thought, cannot be an index
of such significant racial differences. This is only apparently
a paradox. The latent content of all languages
is the same—the intuitive science of experience.
It is the manifest form that is never twice the same,
for this form, which we call linguistic morphology, is
nothing more nor less than a collective art of thought,
an art denuded of the irrelevancies of individual sentiment.
At last analysis, then, language can no more
flow from race as such than can the sonnet form.

Nor can I believe that culture and language are in
any true sense causally related. Culture may be defined
as what a society does and thinks. Language is a particular
how of thought. It is difficult to see what particular
causal relations may be expected to subsist between
a selected inventory of experience (culture, a
significant selection made by society) and the particular
manner in which the society expresses all experience.
The drift of culture, another way of saying history,
is a complex series of changes in society's selected
inventory—additions, losses, changes of emphasis and
relation. The drift of language is not properly concerned
with changes of content at all, merely with
changes in formal expression. It is possible, in thought,
to change every sound, word, and concrete concept of
a language without changing its inner actuality in the
least, just as one can pour into a fixed mold water or
plaster or molten gold. If it can be shown that culture
has an innate form, a series of contours, quite apart
from subject-matter of any description whatsoever, we
have a something in culture that may serve as a term
of comparison with and possibly a means of relating
it to language. But until such purely formal patterns of
218culture are discovered and laid bare, we shall do well
to hold the drifts of language and of culture to be
non-comparable and unrelated processes. From this it
follows that all attempts to connect particular types of
linguistic morphology with certain correlated stages
of cultural development are vain. Rightly understood,
such correlations are rubbish. The merest coup d'œil
verifies our theoretical argument on this point. Both
simple and complex types of language of an indefinite
number of varieties may be found spoken at any desired
level of cultural advance. When it comes to linguistic
form, Plato walks with the Macedonian swineherd,
Confucius with the head-hunting savage of

It goes without saying that the mere content of
language is intimately related to culture. A society
that has no knowledge of theosophy need have no
name for it; aborigines that had never seen or heard
of a horse were compelled to invent or borrow a word
for the animal when they made his acquaintance. In
the sense that the vocabulary of a language more or
less faithfully reflects the culture whose purposes it
serves it is perfectly true that the history of language
and the history of culture move along parallel lines.
But this superficial and extraneous kind of parallelism
is of no real interest to the linguist except in so far as
the growth or borrowing of new words incidentally
throws light on the formal trends of the language. The
linguistic student should never make the mistake of
identifying a language with its dictionary.

If both this and the preceding chapter have been
largely negative in their contentions, I believe that
they have been healthily so. There is perhaps no better
way to learn the essential nature of speech than to
realize what it is not and what it does not do. Its superficial
connections with other historic processes are
so close that it needs to be shaken free of them if we
are to see it in its own right. Everything that we have
219so far seen to be true of language points to the fact
that it is the most significant and colossal work that
the human spirit has evolved—nothing short of a
finished form of expression for all communicable experience.
This form may be endlessly varied by the
individual without thereby losing its distinctive contours;
and it is constantly reshaping itself as is all art.
Language is the most massive and inclusive art we
know, a mountainous and anonymous work of unconscious

Chapter XI
Language and Literature

Languages are more to us than systems of thought
transference. They are invisible garments that drapt
themselves about our spirit and give a predetermined
form to all its symbolic expression. When the expression
is of unusual significance, we call it literature. 1192
Art is so personal an expression that we do not like to
feel that it is bound to predetermined form of any
sort. The possibilities of individual expression are infinite,
language in particular is the most fluid of mediums.
Yet some limitation there must be to this freedom,
some resistance of the medium. In great art there
is the illusion of absolute freedom. The formal restraints
imposed by the material—paint, black and
white, marble, piano tones, or whatever it may be—
are not perceived; it is as though there were a limitless
margin of elbow-room between the artist's fullest utilization
of form and the most that the material is innately
capable of. The artist has intuitively surrendered
to the inescapable tyranny of the material, made
its brute nature fuse easily with his conception. 2193 The
221material “disappears” precisely because there is nothing
in the artist's conception to indicate that any other
material exists. For the time being, he, and we with
him, move in the artistic medium as a fish moves in
the water, oblivious of the existence of an alien atmosphere.
No sooner, however, does the artist transgress
the law of his medium than we realize with a start
that there is a medium to obey.

Language is the medium of literature as marble or
bronze or clay are the materials of the sculptor. Since
every language has its distinctive peculiarities, the innate
formal limitations—and possibilities—of one literature
are never quite the same as those of another.
The literature fashioned out of the form and substance
of a language has the color and the texture of
its matrix. The literary artist may never be conscious
of just how he is hindered or helped or otherwise
guided by the matrix, but when it is a question of
translating his work into another language, the nature
of the original matrix manifests itself at once. All his
effects have been calculated, or intuitively felt, with
reference to the formal “genius” of his own language;
they cannot be carried over without loss or modification.
Croce 3194 is therefore perfectly right in saying that
a work of literary art can never be translated. Nevertheless
literature does get itself translated, sometimes
with astonishing adequacy. This brings up the question
whether in the art of literature there are not intertwined
two distinct kinds or levels of art—a generalized,
non-linguistic art, which can be transferred
without loss into an alien linguistic medium, and a
222specifically linguistic art that is not transferable. 4195 I
believe the distinction is entirely valid, though we
never get the two levels pure in practice. Literature
moves in language as a medium, but that medium
comprises two layers, the latent content of language
—our intuitive record of experience—and the particular
conformation of a given language—the specific
how of our record of experience. Literature that draws
its sustenance mainly—never entirely—from the lower
level, say a play of Shakespeare's, is translatable without
too great a loss of character. If it moves in the
upper rather than in the lower level—a fair example
is a lyric of Swinburne's—it is as good as untranslatable.
Both types of literary expression may be great or

There is really no mystery in the distinction. It can
be clarified a little by comparing literature with science.
A scientific truth is impersonal, in its essence it
is untinctured by the particular linguistic medium in
which it finds expression. It can as readily deliver its
message in Chinese 5196 as in English. Nevertheless it must
have some expression, and that expression must needs
be a linguistic one. Indeed the apprehension of die
scientific truth is itself a linguistic process, for thought
is nothing but language denuded of its outward garb.
The proper medium of scientific expression is therefore
223a generalized language that may be defined as a
symbolic algebra of which all known languages are
translations. One can adequately translate scientific
literature because the original scientific expression is
itself a translation. Literary expression is personal and
concrete, but this does not mean that its significance
is altogether bound up with the accidental qualities of
the medium. A truly deep symbolism, for instance
does not depend on the verbal associations of a particular
language but rests securely on an intuitive basis
that underlies all linguistic expression. The artist's
“intuition,” to use Croce's term, is immediately fashioned
out of a generalized human experience—
thought and feeling—of which his own individual experience
is a highly personalized selection. The thought
relations in this deeper level have no specific linguistic
vesture; the rhythms are free, not bound, in the first
instance, to the traditional rhythms of the artist's language.
Certain artists whose spirit moves largely in the
non-linguistic (better, in the generalized linguistic)
layer even find a certain difficulty in getting themselves
expressed in the rigidly set terms of their accepted
idiom. One feels that they are unconsciously
striving for a generalized art language, a literary algebra,
that is related to the sum of all known languages
as a perfect mathematical symbolism is related to all
the roundabout reports of mathematical relations that
normal speech is capable of conveying. Their art expression
is frequently strained, it sounds at times like
a translation from an unknown original—which, indeed,
is precisely what it is. These artists—Whitmans
and Brownings—impress us rather by the greatness of
their spirit than the felicity of their art. Their relative
failure is of the greatest diagnostic value as an index
of the pervasive presence in literature of a larger,
more intuitive linguistic medium than any particular

Nevertheless, human expression being what it is, the
224greatest—or shall we say the most satisfying—literary
artists, the Shakespeares and Heines, are those who
have known subconsciously to fit or trim the deeper
intuition to the provincial accents of their daily
speech. In them there is no effect of strain. Their personal
“intuition” appears as a completed synthesis of
the absolute art of intuition and the innate, specialized
art of the linguistic medium. With Heine, for
instance, one is under the illusion that the universe
speaks German. The material “disappears.”

Every language is itself a collective art of expression.
There is concealed in it a particular set of esthetic
factors—phonetic, rhythmic, symbolic, morphological
—which it does not completely share with any other language.
These factors may either merge their potencies
with those of that unknown, absolute language to
which I have referred—this is the method of Shakespeare
and Heine—or they may weave a private, technical
art fabric of their own, the innate art of the
language intensified or sublimated. The latter type,
the more technically “literary” art of Swinburne and
of hosts of delicate “minor” poets, is too fragile for
endurance. It is built out of spiritualized material, not
out of spirit. The successes of the Swinburnes are as
valuable for diagnostic purposes as the semi-failures
of the Brownings. They show to what extent literary
art may lean on the collective art of the language itself.
The more extreme technical practitioners may
so over-individualized this collective art as to make it
almost unendurable. One is not always thankful to
have one's flesh and blood frozen to ivory.

An artist must utilize the native esthetic resources
of his speech. He may be thankful if the given palette
of colors is rich, if the springboard is light. But he deserves
no special credit for felicities that are the language's
own. We must take for granted this language
with all its qualities of flexibility or rigidity and see
the artist's work in relation to it. A cathedral on the
225lowlands is higher than a stick on Mont Blanc. In
other words, we must not commit the folly of admiring
a French sonnet because the vowels are more sonorous
than our own or of condemning Nietzche's prose
because it harbors in its texture combinations of consonants
that would affright on English soil. To so
judge literature would be tantamount to loving “Tristan
und Isolde” because one is fond of the timbre of
horns. There are certain things that one language can
do supremely well which it would be almost vain for
another to attempt. Generally there are compensations.
The vocalism of English is an inherently drabber
thing than the vowel scale of French, yet English
compensates for this drawback by its greater rhythmical
alertness. It is even doubtful if the innate sonority of
a phonetic system counts for as much, as esthetic determinant,
as the relations between the sounds, the
total gamut of their similarities and contrasts. As
long as the artist has the wherewithal to lay out his
sequences and rhythms, it matters little what are the
sensuous qualities of the elements of his material.

The phonetic groundwork of a language, however,
is only one of the features that give its literature a
certain direction. Far more important are its morphological
peculiarities. It makes a great deal of difference
for the development of style if the language can
or cannot create compound words, if its structure is
synthetic or analytic, if the words of its sentences have
considerable freedom of position or are compelled to
fall into a rigidly determined sequence. The major
characteristics of style, in so far as style is a technical
matter of the building and placing of words, are given
by the language itself, quite as inescapably, indeed, as
the general acoustic effect of verse is given by the
sounds and natural accents of the language. These
necessary fundamentals of style are hardly felt by the
artist to constrain his individuality of expression.
They rather point the way to those stylistic developments
that most suit the natural bent of the language.
226It is not in the least likely that a truly great style can
seriously oppose itself to the basic form patterns of the
language. It not only incorporates them, it builds on
them. The merit of such a style as W. H. Hudson's or
George Moore's 6197 is that it does with ease and economy
what the language is always trying to do. Carlylese,
though individual and vigorous, is yet not style; it is
a Teutonic mannerism. Nor is the prose of Milton and
his contemporaries strictly English; it is semi-Latin
done into magnificent English words.

It is strange how long it has taken the European literatures
to learn that style is not an absolute, a something
that is to be imposed on the language from
Greek or Latin models, but merely the language itself,
running in its natural grooves, and with enough of an
individual accent to allow the artist's personality to be
felt as a presence, not as an acrobat. We understand
more clearly now that what is effective and beautiful
in one language is a vice in another. Latin and Eskimo,
with their highly inflected forms, lend themselves
to an elaborately periodic structure that would
be boring in English. English allows, even demands, a
looseness that would be insipid in Chinese. And Chinese,
with its unmodified words and rigid sequences,
has a compactness of phrase, a terse parallelism, and a
silent suggestivenes that would be too tart, too mathematical,
for the English genius. While we cannot
assimilate the luxurious period of Latin nor the
pointilliste style of the Chinese classics, we can enter
sympathetically into the spirit of these alien techniques.

I believe that any English poet of to-day would be
thankful for the concision that a Chinese poetaster attains
without effort. Here is an example: 7198227

Wu-river 8199 stream mouth evening sun sink,
North look Liao-Tung, 9200 not see home.
Steam whistle several noise, sky-earth boundless,
Float float one reed out Middle-Kingdom.

These twenty-eight syllables may be clumsily interpreted:
“At the mouth of the Yangtsze River, as the
sun is about to sink, I look north toward Liao-Tung
but do not see my home. The steam-whistle shrills
several times on the boundless expanse where meet
sky and earth. The steamer, floating gently like a hollow
reed, sails out of the Middle Kingdom.” 10201 But
we must not envy Chinese its terseness unduly. Our
more sprawling mode of expression is capable of its
own beauties, and the more compact luxuriance of
Latin style has its loveliness too. There are almost as
many natural ideals of literary style as there are languages.
Most of these are merely potential, awaiting
the hand of artists who will never come. And yet in
the recorded texts of primitive tradition and song
there are many passages of unique vigor and beauty.
The structure of the language often forces an assemblage
of concepts that impresses us as a stylistic discovery.
Single Algonkin words are like tiny imagist
poems. We must be careful not to exaggerate a freshness
of content that is at least half due to our freshness
of approach, but the possibility is indicated none
the less of utterly alien literary styles, each distinctive
with its disclosure of the search of the human spirit
for beautiful form.

Probably nothing better illustrates the formal dependence
of literature on language than the prosodic
aspect of poetry. Quantitative verse was entirely natural
to the Greeks, not merely because poetry grew
228up in connection with the chant and the dance, 11202 but
because alternations of long and short syllables were
keenly live facts in the daily economy of the language.
The tonal accents, which were only secondarily stress
phenomena, helped to give the syllable its quantitative
individuality. When the Greek meters were carried
over into Latin verse, there was comparatively little
strain, for Latin too was characterized by an acute
awareness of quantitative distinctions. However, the
Latin accent was more markedly stressed than that of
Greek. Probably, therefore, the purely quantitative
meters modeled after the Greek were felt as a shade
more artificial than in the language of their origin.
The attempt to cast English verse into Latin and
Greek molds has never been successful. The dynamic
basis of English is not quantity, 12203 but stress, the alternation
of accented and unaccented syllables. This fact
gives English verse an entirely different slant and has
determined the development of its poetic forms, is still
responsible for the evolution of new forms. Neither
stress nor syllabic weight is a very keen psychologic
factor in the dynamics of French. The syllable has
great inherent sonority and does not fluctuate significantly
as to quantity and stress. Quantitative or accentual
metrics would be as artificial in French as stress
metrics in classical Greek or quantitative or purely
syllabic metrics in English. French prosody was compelled
to develop on the basis of unit syllablegroups.
Assonance, later rhyme, could not but prove
a welcome, an all but necessary, means of articulating
or sectioning the somewhat spineless movement of sonorous
syllables. English was hospitable to the French
229suggestion of rhyme, but did not seriously need it in
its rhythmic economy. Hence rhyme has always been
strictly subordinated to stress as a somewhat decorative
feature and has been frequently dispensed with.
It is no psychologic accident that rhyme came later
into English than in French and is leaving it sooner. 13204
Chinese verse has developed along very much the same
lines as French verse. The syllable is an even mor
integral and sonorous unit than in French, whil
quantity and stress are too uncertain to form the basis
of a metric system. Syllable-groups—so and so many
syllables per rhythmic unit—and rhyme are therefore
two of the controlling factors in Chinese prosody. The
third factor, the alternation of syllables with level tone
and syllables with inflected (rising or falling) tone, is
peculiar to Chinese.

To summarize, Latin and Greek verse depends on
the principle of contrasting weights; English verse, on,
the principle of contrasting stresses; French verse,
on the principles of number and echo; Chinese verse,
on the principles of number, echo, and contrasting
pitches. Each of these rhythmic systems proceeds from
the unconscious dynamic habit of the language, falling
from the lips of the folk. Study carefully the phonetic
system of a language, above all its dynamic features,
and you can tell what kind of a verse it has
developed—or, if history has played pranks with its
psychology, what kind of verse it should have developed
and some day will.

Whatever be the sounds, accents, and forms of a
language, however these lay hands on the shape of its
literature, there is a subtle law of compensations that
gives the artist space. If he is squeezed a bit here, he
can swing a free arm there. And generally he has rope
230enough to hang himself with, if he must. It is not
strange that this should be so. Language is itself the
collective art of expression, a summary of thousands
upon thousands of individual intuitions. The individual
goes lost in the collective creation, but his personal
expression has left some trace in a certain give
and flexibility that are inherent in all collective works
of the human spirit. The language is ready, or can be
quickly made ready, to define the artist's individuality.
If no literary artist appears, it is not essentially
because the language is too weak an instrument, it is
because the culture of the people is not favorable to
the growth of such personality as seeks a truly individual
verbal expression.231

11 We shall reserve capitals for radical elements.

22 These words are not here used in a narrowly technical sense.

33 It is not a question of the general isolating character of such
languages as Chinese (see Chapter VI). Radical-words may and
do occur in languages of all varieties, many of them of a high
degree of complexity.

44 Spoken by a group of Indian tribes in Vancouver Island.

55 In this and other examples taken from exotic languages I am
forced by practical considerations to simplify the actual phonetic
forms. This should not matter perceptibly, as we are concerned
with form as such, not with phonetic content.

66 These oral experiences, which I have had time and again as
a field student of American Indian languages, are very neatly
confirmed by personal experiences of another sort. Twice I have
taught intelligent young Indians to write their own languages
according to the phonetic system which I employ. They were
taught merely how to render accurately the sounds as such. Both
had some difficulty in learning to break up a word into its constituent
sounds, but none whatever in determining the words.
This they both did with spontaneous and complete accuracy. In
the hundreds of pages of manuscript Nootka text that I have
obtained from one of these young Indians the words, whether
abstract relational entities like English that and but or complex
sentence-words like the Nootka example quoted above, are, practically
without exception, isolated precisely as I or any other
student would have isolated them. Such experiences with naïve
speakers and recorders do more to convince one of the definitely
plastic unity of the word than any amount of purely theoretical

77Coördinate sentences” like I shall remain but you may go
may only doubtfully be considered as truly unified predications,
as true sentences. They are sentences in a stylistic sense rather
than from the strictly formal linguistic standpoint. The orthography
I shall remain. But you may go is as intrinsically justified
as I shall remain. Now you may go. The closer connection in
sentiment between the first two propositions has led to a conventional
visual representation that must not deceive the analytic

88 Except, possibly, in a newspaper headline. Such headlines,
however, are language only in a derived sense.

99 E.g., the brilliant Dutch writer, Jac van Ginneken.

101 Observe the “voluntary.” When we shout or grunt or otherwise
allow our voices to take care of themselves, as we are likely
to do when alone in the country on a fine spring day, we are no
longer fixing vocal adjustments by voluntary control. Under these
circumstances we are almost certain to hit on speech sounds that
we could never learn to control in actual speech.

112 If speech, in its acoustic and articulatory aspect, is indeed a
rigid system, how comes it, one may plausibly object, that no
two people speak alike? The answer is simple. All that part of
speech which falls out of the rigid articulatory framework is
not speech in idea, but is merely a superadded, more or less
instinctively determined vocal complication inseparable from
speech in practice. All the individual color of speech—personal
emphasis, speed, personal cadence, personal pitch—is a nonlinguistic
fact, just as the incidental expression of desire and
emotion are, for the most part, alien to linguistic expression.
Speech, like all elements of culture, demands conceptual selection,
inhibition of the randomness of instinctive behavior. That
its “idea” is never realized as such in practice, its carriers being
instinctively animated organisms, is of course true of each and
every aspect of culture.

123 Purely acoustic classifications, such as more easily suggest
themselves to a first attempt at analysis, are now in less favor
among students of phonetics than organic classifications. The
latter have the advantage of being more objective. Moreover,
the acoustic quality of a sound is dependent on the articulation,
even though in linguistic consciousness this quality is the primary,
not the secondary, fact.

134 By “quality” is here meant the inherent nature and resonance
of the sound as such. The general “quality” of the individual's
voice is another matter altogether. This is chiefly determined
by the individual anatomical characteristics of the
larynx and is of no linguistic interest whatever.

145 As at the end of the snappily pronounced no! (sometimes
written nope!) or in the over-carefully pronounced at all, where
one may hear a slight check between the t and the a.

156 “Singing” is here used in a wide sense. One cannot sing continuously
on such a sound as b or d, but one may easily outline
a tune on a series of b's or d's in the manner of the plucked
“pizzicato” on stringed instruments. A series of tones executed
on continuant consonants, like m, z, or l, gives the effect of humming,
droning, or buzzing. The sound of “humming,” indeed, is
nothing but a continuous voiced nasal, held on one pitch or
varying in pitch, as desired.

167 The whisper of ordinary speech is a combination of unvoiced
sounds and “whispered” sounds, as the term is understood
in phonetics.

178 Aside from the involuntary nasalizing of all voiced sounds
in the speech of those that talk with a “nasal twang.”

189 These may be also defined as free unvoiced breath with
varying vocalic timbres. In the long Paiute word quoted on
page 30 the first u and the final ü are pronounced without voice.

1910 Nasalized stops, say m or n, can naturally not be truly
“stopped,” as there is no way of checking the stream of breath
in the nose by a definite articulation.

2011 The lips also may theoretically so articulate. “Labial trills,”
however, are certainly rare in natural speech.

2112 This position, known as “faucal,” is not common.

2213 “Points of articulation” must be understood to include
tongue and lip positions of the vowels.

2314 Including, under the fourth category, a number of special
resonance adjustments that we have not been able to take up

2415 In so far, it should be added, as these sounds are expiratory,
i.e., pronounced with the outgoing breath. Certain languages,
like the South African Hottentot and Bushman, have also a
number of inspiratory sounds, pronounced by sucking in the
breath at various points of oral contact. These are the so-called

2516 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.

261 For the symbolism, see Chapter II.

272 “Plural” is here a symbol for any prefix indicating plurality.

283 The language of the Aztecs, still spoken in large parts of

294 An Indian language of British Columbia closely related to
the Nass already cited.

305 Including such languages as Navaho, Apache, Hupa, Carrier,
Chipewyan, Loucheux.

316 This may seem surprising to an English reader. We generally
think of time as a function that is appropriately expressed
in a purely formal manner. This notion is due to the bias that
Latin grammar has given us. As a matter of fact the English
future (I shall go) is not expressed by affixing at all; moreover,
it may be expressed by the present, as in to-morrow I leave this
, where the temporal function is inherent in the independent
adverb. Though in lesser degree, the Hupa -te is as
irrelevant to the vital word as is to-morrow to the grammatical
“feel” of I leave.

327 Wishram dialect.

338 Really “him,” but Chinook, like Latin or French, possesses
grammatical gender. An object may be referred to as “he,”
“she,” or “it,” according to the characteristic form of its noun.

349 This analysis is doubtful. It is likely that -n- possesses a
function that still remains to be ascertained. The Algonkin languages
are unusually complex and present many unsolved problems
of detail.

3510 “Secondary stems” are elements which are suffixes from a
formal point of view, never appearing without the support of
a true radical element, but whose function is as concrete, to
all intents and purposes, as that of the radical element itself.
Secondary verb stems of this type are characteristic of the Algonkin
languages and of Yana.

3611 In the Algonkin languages all persons and things are conceived
of as either animate or inanimate, just as in Latin or
German they are conceived of as masculine, feminine, or neuter.

3712 Egyptian dialect.

3813 There are changes of accent and vocalic quantity in these
forms as well, but the requirements of simplicity force us to
neglect them.

3914 A Berber language of Morocco.

4015 Some of the Berber languages allow consonantal combinations
that seem unpronounceable to us.

4116 One of the Hamitic languages of eastern Africa.

4217 See page 48.

4318 Spoken in the south-central part of California.

4419 See page 51.

4520 These orthographies are but makeshifts for simple sounds.

4621 Whence our ping-pong.

4722 An African language of the Guinea Coast.

4823 In the verbal adjective the tone of the second syllable differs
from that of the first.

4924 Initial “click” (see page 53, note 15) omitted.

5025 An Indian language of Nevada.

5126 An Indian language of Oregon.

5227 It is not unlikely, however, that these Athabaskan alternations
are primarily tonal in character.

531 Not in its technical sense.

542 It is, of course, an “accident” that -s denotes plurality in the
noun, singularity in the verb.

553 “To cause to be dead” or “to cause to die” in the sense of
“to kill” is an exceedingly wide-spread usage. It is found, for
instance, also in Nootka and Sioux.

564 Agriculture was not practised by the Yana. The verbal idea
of “to farm” would probably be expressed in some such synthetic
manner as “to dig-earth” or “to grow-cause.” These are
suffixed elements corresponding to -er and -ling.

575 “Doer,” not “done to.” This is a necessarily clumsy tag to
represent the “nominative” (subjective) in contrast to the “accusative”

586 I.e., not you or I.

597 By “case” is here meant not only the subjective-objective relation
but also that of attribution.

608 Except in so far as Latin uses this method as a rather awkward,
roundabout method of establishing the attribution of the
color to the particular object or person. In effect one cannot
in Latin directly say that a person is white, merely that what
is white is identical with the person who is, acts, or is acted
upon in such and such a manner. In origin the feel of the Latin
illa alba femina is really “that-one, the-white-one, (namely)
the-woman”—three substantive ideas that are related to each
other by a juxtaposition intended to convey an identity. English
and Chinese express the attribution directly by means of order.
In Latin the illa and alba may occupy almost any position in
the sentence. It is important to observe that the subjective form
of illa and alba does not truly define a relation of these qualifying
concepts to femina. Such a relation might be formally expressed
via an attributive case, say the genitive (woman of
). In Tibetan both the methods of order and of true
case relation may be employed: woman white (i.e., “white
woman”) or white-of woman (i.e., “woman of whiteness, woman
who is white, white woman”).

619 Aside, naturally, from the life and imminence that may be
created for such a sentence by a particular context.

6210 This has largely happened in popular French and German,
where the difference is stylistic rather than functional. The
preterits are more literary or formal in tone than the perfects.

6311 Hence, “the square root of 4 is 2,” precisely as “my uncle is
here now.” There are many “primitive” languages that are more
philosophical and distinguish between a true “present” and a
“customary” or “general” tense.

6412 Except, of course, the fundamental selection and contrast
necessarily implied in defining one concept as against another.
“Man” and “white” possess an inherent relation to “woman”
and “black,” but it is a relation of conceptual content only and
is of no direct interest to grammar.

6513 Thus, the -er of farmer may be defined as indicating that
particular substantive concept (object or thing) that serves as
the habitual subject of the particular verb to which it is affixed.
This relation of “subject” (a farmer farms) is inherent in and
specific to the word; it does not exist for the sentence as a
whole. In the same way the -ling of duckling defines a specific
relation of attribution that concerns only the radical element,
not the sentence.

6614 It is precisely the failure to feel the “value” or “tone,” as
distinct from the outer significance, of the concept expressed by
a given grammatical element that has so often led students to
misunderstand the nature of languages profoundly alien to their
own. Not everything that calls itself “tense” or “mode” or “number”
or “gender” or “person” is genuinely comparable to what
we mean by these terms in Latin or French.

6715 Suffixed articles occur also in Danish and Swedish and in
numerous other languages. The Nootka element for “in the
house” differs from our “house-” in that it is suffixed and can
not occur as an independent word; nor is it related to the
Nootka word for “house.”

6816 Assuming the existence of a word “firelet.”

6917 The Nootka diminutive is doubtless more of a feeling-element,
an element of nuance, than our -ling. This is shown by
the fact that it may be used with verbs as well as with nouns.
In speaking to a child, one is likely to add the diminutive to
any word in the sentence, regardless of whether there is an
inherent diminutive meaning in the word or not.

7018 -si is the third person of the present tense, -hau- “east” is
an affix, not a compounded radical element.

7119 These are classical, not modern colloquial, forms.

7220 Just as in English “He has written books” makes no commitment
on the score of quantity (“a few, several, many”).

7321 Such as person class, animal class, instrument class, augmentative

7422 A term borrowed from Slavic grammar. It indicates the
lapse of action, its nature from the standpoint of continuity.
Our “cry” is indefinite as to aspect, “be crying” is durative, “cry
out” is momentaneous, “burst into tears” is inceptive, “keep
crying” is continuative, “start in crying” is durative-inceptive,
“cry now and again” is iterative, “cry out every now and then”
or “cry in fits and starts” is momentaneous-iterative. “To put
on a coat” is momentaneous, “to wear a coat” is resultative. As
our examples show, aspect is expressed in English by all kinds
of idiomatic turns rather than by a consistently worked out set
of grammatical forms. In many languages aspect is of far greater
formal significance than tense, with which the naïve student is
apt to confuse it.

7523 By “modalities” I do not mean the matter of fact statement,
say, of negation or uncertainty as such, rather their implication
in terms of form. There are languages, for instance, which have
as elaborate an apparatus of negative forms for the verb as
Greek has of the optative or wish-modality.

7624 Compare page 93.

7725 It is because of this classification of experience that in many
languages the verb forms which are proper, say, to a mythical
narration differ from those commonly used in daily intercourse.
We leave these shades to the context or content ourselves
with a more explicit and roundabout mode of expression,
e.g., “He is dead, as I happen to know,” “They say he is dead,”
“He must be dead by the looks of things.”

7826 We say “I sleep” and “I go,” as well as “I kill him,” but “he
kills me.” Yet me of the last example is at least as close psychologically
to I of “I sleep” as is the latter to I of “I kill him.” It
is only by form that we can classify the “I” notion of “I sleep”
as that of an acting subject. Properly speaking, I am handled
by forces beyond my control when I sleep just as truly as when
some one is killing me. Numerous languages differentiate clearly
between active subject and static subject (I go and I kill him
as distinct from I sleep, I am good, I am killed) or between
transitive subject and intransitive subject (I kill him as distinct
from I sleep, I am good, I am killed, I go). The intransitive or
static subjects may or may not be identical with the object of
the transitive verb.

7927 Ultimately, also historical—say, age to “act that (one).”

8028 For with in the sense of “against,” compare German wider

8129 Cf. Latin ire “to go”; also our English idiom “I have to go,”
i.e., “must go.”

8230 In Chinese no less than in English.

8331 By “originally” I mean, of course, some time antedating the
earliest period of the Indo-European languages that we can get
at by comparative evidence.

8432 Perhaps it was a noun-classifying element of some sort.

8533 Compare its close historical parallel off.

8634 “Ablative” at last analysis.

8735 Very likely pitch should be understood along with stress.

8836 As in Bantu or Chinook.

8937 Perhaps better “general.” The Chinook “neuter” may refer
to persons as well as things and may also be used as a plural.
“Masculine” and “feminine,” as in German and French, include
a great number of inanimate nouns.

9038 Spoken in the greater part of the southern half of Africa.
Chinook is spoken in a number of dialects in the lower Columbia
River valley. It is impressive to observe how the human
mind has arrived at the same form of expression in two such
historically unconnected regions.

9139 In Yana the noun and the verb are well distinct, though
there are certain features that they hold in common which tend
to draw them nearer to each other than we feel to be possible.
But there are, strictly speaking, no other parts of speech. The
adjective is a verb. So are the numeral, the interrogative pronoun
(e.g., “to be what?”), and certain “conjunctions” and
adverbs (e.g., “to be and” and “to be not”; one says “and-past-
I go,” i.e., “and I went”). Adverbs and prepositions are either
nouns or merely derivative affixes in the verb.

921 If possible, a triune formula.

932 One celebrated American writer on culture and language delivered
himself of the dictum that, estimable as the speakers of
agglutinative languages might be, it was nevertheless a crime
for an inflecting woman to marry an agglutinating man. Tremendous
spiritual values were evidently at stake. Champions of
the “inflective” languages are wont to glory in the very irrationalities
of Latin and Greek, except when it suits them to
emphasize their profoundly “logical” character. Yet the sober
logic of Turkish or Chinese leaves them cold. The glorious
irrationalities and formal complexities of many “savage” languages
they have no stomach for. Sentimentalists are difficult

943 I have in mind valuations of form as such. Whether or not
a language has a large and useful vocabulary is another matter.
The actual size of a vocabulary at a given time is not a thing
of real interest to the linguist, as all languages have the resources
at their disposal for the creation of new words, should
need for them arise. Furthermore, we are not in the least concerned
with whether or not a language is of great practical value
or is the medium of a great culture. All these considerations,
important from other standpoints, have nothing to do with form

954 E.g., Malay, Polynesian.

965 Where, as we have seen, the syntactic relations are by no
means free from an alloy of the concrete.

976 Very much as an English cod-liver oil dodges to some extent
the task of explicitly denning the relations of the three nouns.
Contrast French huile de foie de morue “oil of liver of cod.”

987 See Chapter IV.

998 There is probably a real psychological connection between
symbolism and such significant alternations as drink, drank,
drunk or Chinese mai (with rising tone) “to buy” and mai (with
falling tone) “to sell.” The unconscious tendency toward symbolism
is justly emphasized by recent psychological literature.
Personally I feel that the passage from sing to sang has very
much the same feeling as the alternation of symbolic colors—
e.g., green for safe, red for danger. But we probably differ
greatly as to the intensity with which we feel symbolism in
linguistic changes of this type.

1009 Pure or “concrete relational.” See Chapter V.

10110 In spite of my reluctance to emphasize the difference between
a prefixing and a suffixing language, I feel that there is
more involved in this difference than linguists have generally
recognized. It seems to me that there is a rather important
psychological distinction between a language that settles the
formal status of a radical element before announcing it—and
this, in effect, is what such languages as Tlingit and Chinook
and Bantu are in the habit of doing—and one that begins with
the concrete nucleus of a word and defines the status of this
nucleus by successive limitations, each curtailing in some degree
the generality of all that precedes. The spirit of the former
method has something diagrammatic or architectural about it,
the latter is a method of pruning afterthoughts. In the more
highly wrought prefixing languages the word is apt to affect us
as a crystallization of floating elements, the words ot the typical
suffixing languages (Turkish, Eskimo, Nootka) are “determinative”
formations, each added element determining the form of
the whole anew. It is so difficult in practice to apply these elusive,
yet important, distinctions that an elementary study has no
recourse but to ignore them.

10211 English, however, is only analytic in tendency. Relatively to
French, it is still fairly synthetic, at least in certain aspects.

10312 The former process is demonstrable for English, French,
Danish, Tibetan, Chinese, and a host of other languages. The
latter tendency may be proven, I believe, for a number of
American Indian languages, e.g., Chinook, Navaho. Underneath
their present moderately polysynthetic form is discernible an
analytic base that in the one case may be roughly described
as English-like, in the other, Tibetan-like.

10413 This applies more particularly to the Romance group:
Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Roumanian. Modern Greek
is not so clearly analytic.

10514 See pages 126, 127.

10615 The following formulæ may prove useful to those that
are mathematically inclined. Agglutination: c = a + b; regular
fusion: c = a + (b - x) + x; irregular fusion: c = (a - x) +
(b - y) + (x + y); symbolism: c = (a - x) + x. I do not wish
to imply that there is any mystic value in the process of fusion.
It is quite likely to have developed as a purely mechanical product
of phonetic forces that brought about irregularities of various

10716 See page 104.

10817 See Chapter V.

10918 If we deny the application of the term “inflective” to fusing
languages that express the syntactic relations in pure form, that
is, without the admixture of such concepts as number, gender,
and tense, merely because such admixture is familiar to us in
Latin and Greek, we make of “inflection” an even more arbitrary
concept than it need be. At the same time it is true that
the method of fusion itself tends to break down the wall between
our conceptual groups II and IV, to create group III. Yet
the possibility of such “inflective” languages should not be
denied. In modern Tibetan, for instance, in which concepts of
group II are but weakly expressed, if at all, and in which the
relational concepts (e.g., the genitive, the agentive or instrumental)
are expressed without alloy of the material, we get many
interesting examples of fusion, even of symbolism. Mi di, e.g.,
“man this, the man” is an absolutive form which may be used
as the subject of an intransitive verb. When the verb is transitive
(really passive), the (logical) subject has to take the agentive
form. Mi di then becomes mi di “by the man,” the vowel
of the demonstrative pronoun (or article) being merely lengthened.
(There is probably also a change in the tone of the
syllable.) This, of course, is of the very essence of inflection. It
is an amusing commentary on the insufficiency of our current
linguistic classification, which considers “inflective” and “isolating”
as worlds asunder, that modern Tibetan may be not
inaptly described as an isolating language, aside from such
examples of fusion and symbolism as the foregoing.

11019 I am eliminating entirely the possibility of compounding
two or more radical elements into single words or word-like
phrases (see pages 64-67). To expressly consider compounding
in the present survey of types would be to complicate our problem
unduly. Most languages that possess no derivational affixes
of any sort may nevertheless freely compound radical elements
(independent words). Such compounds often have a fixity that
simulates the unity of single words.

11120 We may assume that in these languages and in those of
type D all or most of the relational concepts are expressed in
“mixed” form, that such a concept as that of subjectivity, for
instance, cannot be expressed without simultaneously involving
number or gender or that an active verb form must be pos
sessed of a definite tense. Hence group III will be understood
to include, or rather absorb, group IV. Theoretically, of course,
certain relational concepts may be expressed pure, others mixed,
but in practice it will not be found easy to make the distinction.

11221 The line between types C and D cannot be very sharply
drawn. It is a matter largely of degree. A language of markedly
mixed-relational type, but of little power of derivation pure
and simple, such as Bantu or French, may be conveniently put
into type C, even though it is not devoid of a number of derivational
affixes. Roughly speaking, languages of type C may be
considered as highly analytic (“purified”) forms of type D.

11322 In defining the type to which a language belongs one must
be careful not to be misled by structural features which are
mere survivals of an older stage, which have no productive life
and do not enter into the unconscious patterning of the language.
All languages are littered with such petrified bodies. The
English -ster of spinster and Webster is an old agentive suffix,
but, as far as the feeling of the present English-speaking generation
is concerned, it cannot be said to really exist at all;
spinster and Webster have been completely disconnected from
the etymological group of spin and of weave (web). Similarly,
there are hosts of related words in Chinese which differ in the
initial consonant, the vowel, the tone, or in the presence or
absence of a final consonant. Even where the Chinaman feels
the etymological relationship, as in certain cases he can hardly
help doing, he can assign no particular function to the phonetic
variation as such. Hence it forms no live feature of the language-mechanism
and must be ignored in defining the general
form of the language. The caution is all the more necessary,
as it is precisely the foreigner, who approaches a new language
with a certain prying inquisitiveness, that is most apt to see
life in vestigial features which the native is either completely
unaware of or feels merely as dead form.

11423 Not Greek specifically, of course, but as a typical representative
of Indo-European.

11524 Such, in other words, as can be shown by documentary or
comparative evidence to have been derived from a common
source. See Chapter VII.

11625 These are far-eastern and far-western representatives of the
“Soudan” group recently proposed by D. Westermann. The
genetic relationship between Ewe and Shilluk is exceedingly
remote at best.

11726 This case is doubtful at that. I have put French in C rather
than in D with considerable misgivings. Everything depends on
how one evaluates elements like -al in national, -té in bonté, or
re- in retourner. They are common enough, but are they as
alive, as little petrified or bookish, as our English -ness and -ful
and un-?

11827 In spite of its more isolating cast.

11928 In a book of this sort it is naturally impossible to give an
adequate idea of linguistic structure in its varying forms. Only
a few schematic indications are possible. A separate volume
would be needed to breathe life into the scheme. Such a volume
would point out the salient structural characteristics of a number
of languages, so selected as to give the reader an insight
into the formal economy of strikingly divergent types.

1201 In so far as they do not fall out of the normal speech group
by reason of a marked speech defect or because they are isolated
foreigners that have acquired the language late in life.

1212 Observe that we are speaking of an individual's speech as a
whole. It is not a question of isolating some particular peculiarity
of pronunciation or usage and noting its resemblance to
or identity with a feature in another dialect.

1223 It is doubtful if we have the right to speak of linguistic
uniformity even during the predominance of the Koine. It is
hardly conceivable that when the various groups of non-Attic
Greeks took on the Koine they did not at once tinge it with
dialectic peculiarities induced by their previous speech habits.

1234 The Zaconic dialect of Lacedaemon is the sole exception. It
is not derived from the Koine, but stems directly from the
Doric dialect of Sparta.

1245 Though indications are not lacking of what these remoter
kin of the Indo-European languages may be. This is disputed
ground, however, and hardly fit subject for a purely general
study of speech.

1256 “Dialect” in contrast to an accepted literary norm is a use of
the term that we are not considering.

1267 Spoken in France and Spain in the region of the Pyrenees.

1278 Or rather apprehended, for we do not. in sober fact, entirely
understand it as yet.

1289 Not ultimately random, of course, only relatively so.

12910 In relative clauses too we tend to avoid the objective form
of “who.” Instead of “The man whom I saw” we are likely to
say “The man that I saw” or “The man I saw.”

13011 “Its” was at one time as impertinent a departure as the
“who” of “Who did you see?” It forced itself into English because
the old cleavage between masculine, feminine, and neuter
was being slowly and powerfully supplemented by a new one
between thing-class and animate-class. The latter classification
proved too vital to allow usage to couple males and things
(“his”) as against females (“her”). The form “its” had to be
created on the analogy of words like “man's,” to satisfy the
growing form feeling. The drift was strong enough to sanction
a grammatical blunder.

13112 Psychoanalysts will recognize the mechanism. The mechanisms
of “repression of impulse” and of its symptomatic symbolization
can be illustrated in the most unexpected corners
of individual and group psychology. A more general psychology
than Freud's will eventually prove them to be as applicable to
the groping for abstract form, the logical or esthetic ordering
of experience, as to the life of the fundamental instincts.

13213 Note that it is different with whose. This has not the
support of analogous possessive forms in its own functional
group, but the analogical power of the great body of possessives
of nouns (man's, boy's) as well as of certain personal pronouns
(his, its; as predicated possessive also hers, yours, theirs) is sufficient
to give it vitality.

13314 Aside from certain idiomatic usages, as when You saw whom?
is equivalent to You saw so and so and that so and so is who?
In such sentences whom is pronounced high and lingeringly to
emphasize the fact that the person just referred to by the
listener is not known or recognized.

13415 Students of language cannot be entirely normal in their attitude
towards their own speech. Perhaps it would be better to
say “naïve” than “normal.”

13516 It is probably this variability of value in the significant
compounds of a general linguistic drift that is responsible for
the rise of dialectic variations. Each dialect continues the general
drift of the common parent, but has not been able to hold
fast to constant values for each component of the drift. Deviations
as to the drift itself, at first slight, later cumulative, are
therefore unavoidable.

13617 Most sentences beginning with interrogative whom are likely
to be followed by did or does, do. Yet not all.

13718 Better, indeed, than in our oldest Latin and Greek records.
The old lndo-Iranian languages alone (Sanskrit, Avestan) show
an equally or more archaic status of the Indo-European parent
tongue as regards case forms.

13819 Should its eventually drop out, it will have had a curious
history. It will have played the role of a stop-gap between his
in its non-personal use (see footnote n, page 156) and the later
analytic of it.

13920 Except in so far as that has absorbed other functions than
such as originally belonged to it. It was only a nominative-accusative
neuter to begin with.

14021 Aside from the interrogative: am I? is he? Emphasis counts
for something. There is a strong tendency for the old “objective”
forms to bear a stronger stress than the “subjective” forms.
This is why the stress in locutions like He didn't go, did he?
and isn't he? is thrown back on the verb; it is not a matter of
logical emphasis.

14122 They: them as an inanimate group may be looked upon as,
a kind of borrowing from the animate, to which, in feeling, it
more properly belongs.

14223 See page 146.

1431 I have changed the Old and Middle High German orthography
slightly in order to bring it into accord with modern
usage. These purely orthographical changes are immaterial. The
u of mus is a long vowel, very nearly like the oo of English

1442 The vowels of these four words are long; o as in rode, e like
a of fade, u like oo of brood, y like German ü.

1453 Or rather stage in a drift.

1464 Anglo-Saxon fet is “unrounded” from an older föt, which is
phonetically related to fot precisely as is mys (i.e., müs) to mus.
Middle High German üe (Modern German ü) did not develop
from an “umlauted” prototype of Old High German uo and
Anglo-Saxon o, but was based directly on the dialectic uo. The
unaffected prototype was long o. Had this been affected in the
earliest Germanic or West-Germanic period, we should have had
a pre-German alternation fot: föti; this older ö could not well
have resulted in üe. Fortunately we do not need inferential evidence
in this case, yet inferential comparative methods, if handled
with care, may be exceedingly useful. They are indeed
indispensable to the historian of language.

1475 See page 126.

1486 Primitive Germanic fot(s), fotiz, mus, musiz; Indo-European
pods, podes, mus, muses. The vowels of the first syllables are all

1497 Or in that unconscious sound patterning which is ever on
the point of becoming conscious. See page 55.

1508 As have most Dutch and German dialects.

1519 At least in America.

15210 It is possible that other than purely phonetic factors are
also at work in the history of these vowels.

15311 The orthography is roughly phonetic. Pronounce all accented
vowels long except where otherwise indicated, unaccented
vowels short; give continental values to vowels, not present
English ones.

15412 After I. the numbers are not meant to correspond chronologically
to those of the English table. The orthography is again
roughly phonetic.

15513 I use ss to indicate a peculiar long, voiceless s-sound that
was etymologically and phonetically distinct from the old Germanic
s. It always goes back to an old t. In the old sources it
is generally written as a variant of z, though it is not to be
confused with the modern German z (= ts). It was probably a
dental (lisped) s.

15614 Z is to be understood as French or English z, not in its
German use. Strictly speaking, this “z” (intervocalic -s-) was
not voiced but was a soft voiceless sound, a sibilant intermediate
between our s and z. In modern North German it has become
voiced to z. It is important not to confound this s — z with the
voiceless intervocalic s that soon arose from the older lisped
ss. In Modern German (aside from certain dialects), old s and
ss are not now differentiated when final (Maus and Fuss have
identical sibilants), but can still be distinguished as voiced and
voiceless s between vowels (Mäusse and Füsse).

15715 In practice phonetic laws have their exceptions, but more
intensive study almost invariably shows that these exceptions
are more apparent than real. They are generally due to the disturbing
influence of morphological groupings or to special psychological
reasons which inhibit the normal progress of the
phonetic drift. It is remarkable with how few exceptions one
need operate in linguistic history, aside from “analogical leveling”
(morphological replacement).

15816 These confusions are more theoretical than real, however.
A language has countless methods of avoiding practical ambiguities.

15917 A type of adjustment generally referred to as “analogical

16018 Isolated from other German dialects in the late fifteenth
and early sixteenth centuries. It is therefore a good test for
gauging the strength of the tendency to “umlaut,” particularly
as it has developed a strong drift towards analytic methods.

16119 Ch as in German Buch.

1621 The earlier students of English, however, grossly exaggerated
the general “disintegrating” effect of French on Middle English.
English was moving fast toward a more analytic structure long
before the French influence set in.

1632 For we still name our new scientific instruments and patent
medicines from Greek and Latin.

1643 One might all but say, “has borrowed at all.”

1654 See page 193.

1665 Ugro-Finnic and Turkish (Tartar).

1676 Probably, in Sweet's terminology, high-back (or, better, between
back and “mixed” positions)-narrow-unrounded. It generally
corresponds to an Indo-European long u.

1687 There seem to be analogous or partly analogous sounds in
certain languages of the Caucasus.

1698 This can actually be demonstrated for one of the Athabaskan
dialects of the Yukon.

1709 In the sphere of syntax one may point to certain French
and Latin influences, but it is doubtful if they ever reached
deeper than the written language. Much of this type of influence
belongs rather to literary style than to morphology proper.

17110 See page 153.

17211 A group of languages spoken in southeastern Asia, of which
Khmer (Cambodgian) is the best known representative.

17312 A group of languages spoken in northeastern India.

17413 I have in mind, e.g., the presence of postpositions in Upper
Chinook, a feature that is clearly due to the influence of neighboring
Sahaptin languages; or the use by Takelma of instrumental
prefixes, which are likely to have been suggested by neighboring
“Hokan” languages (Shasta, Karok).

1751 Itself an amalgam of North “French” and Scandinavian elements.

1762 The “Celtic” blood of what is now England and Wales is by
no means confined to the Celtic-speaking regions—Wales and,
until recently, Cornwall. There is every reason to believe that
the invading Germanic tribes (Angles, Saxons, Jutes) did not
exterminate the Brythonic Celts of England nor yet drive them
altogether into Wales and Cornwall (there has been far too
much “driving” of conquered peoples into mountain fastnesses
and land's ends in our histories), but simply intermingled with
them and imposed their rule and language upon them.

1773 In practice these three peoples can hardly be kept altogether
distinct. The terms have rather a local-sentimental than a
clearly racial value. Intermarriage has gone on steadily for
centuries and it is only in certain outlying regions that we get
relatively pure types, e.g., the Highland Scotch of the Hebrides.
In America, English, Scotch, and Irish strands have become
inextricably interwoven.

1784 The High German now spoken in northern Germany is not
of great age, but is due to the spread of standardized German,
based on Upper Saxon, a High German dialect, at the expense
of “Plattdeutsch.”

1795 “Dolichocephalic.”

1806 “Brachycephalic.”

1817 By working back from such data as we possess we can make
it probable that these languages were originally confined to a
comparatively small area in northern Germany and Scandinavia.
This area is clearly marginal to the total area of distribution of
the Indo-European-speaking peoples. Their center of gravity, say
1000 B.C., seems to have lain in southern Russia.

1828 While this is only a theory, the technical evidence for it is
stronger than one might suppose. There are a surprising number
of common and characteristic Germanic words which cannot
be connected with known Indo-European radical elements and
which may well be survivals of the hypothetical pre-Germanic
language; such are house, stone, sea, wife (German Haus, Stein,
See, Weib).

1839 Only the easternmost part of this island is occupied by Melanesian-speaking

18410 A “nationality” is a major, sentimentally unified, group. The
historical factors that lead to the feeling of national unity are
various—political, cultural, linguistic, geographic, sometimes
specifically religious. True racial factors also may enter in,
though the accent on “race” has generally a psychological rather
than a strictly biological value. In an area dominated by the
national sentiment there is a tendency for language and culture
to become uniform and specific, so that linguistic and cultural
boundaries at least tend to coincide. Even at best, however, the
linguistic unification is never absolute, while the cultural unity
is apt to be superficial, of a quasi-political nature, rather than
deep and far-reaching.

18511 The Semitic languages, idiosyncratic as they are, are no more
definitely earmarked

18612 See page 196.

18713 The Fijians, for instance, while of Papuan (negroid) race,
are Polynesian rather than Melanesian in their cultural and
linguistic affinities.

18814 Though even here there is some significant overlapping. The
southernmost Eskimo of Alaska were assimilated in culture to
their Tlingit neighbors. In northeastern Siberia, too, there is
no sharp cultural line between the Eskimo and the Chukchi.

18915 The supersession of one language by another is of course no.
truly a matter of linguistic assimilation.

19016 “Temperament” is a difficult term to work with. A great
deal of what is loosely charged to national “temperament” is
really nothing but customary behavior, the effect of traditional
ideals of conduct. In a culture, for instance, that does not look
kindly upon demonstrativeness, the natural tendency to the display
of emotion becomes more than normally inhibited. It would
be quite misleading to argue from the customary inhibition, a
cultural fact, to the native temperament. But ordinarily we can
get at human conduct only as it is culturally modified. Temperament
in the raw is a highly elusive thing.

19117 See pages 38, 39.

1921 I can hardly stop to define just what kind of expression is
“significant” enough to be called art or literature. Besides, I do
not exactly know. We shall have to take literature for granted.

1932 This “intuitive surrender” has nothing to do with subservience
to artistic convention. More than one revolt in modern art
has been dominated by the desire to get out of the material just
what it is really capable of. The impressionist wants light and
color because paint can give him just these; “literature” in
painting, the sentimental suggestion of a “story,” is offensive to
him because he does not want the virtue of his particular form
to be dimmed by shadows from another medium. Similarly, the
poet, as never before, insists that words mean just what they
really mean.

1943 See Benedetto Croce, Aesthetic.

1954 The question of the transferability of art productions seems
to me to be of genuine theoretic interest. For all that we speak
of the sacrosanct uniqueness of a given art work, we know very
well, though we do not always admit it, that not all productions
are equally intractable to transference. A Chopin etude is inviolate;
it moves altogether in the world of piano tone. A Bach
fugue is transferable into another set of musical timbres without
serious loss of esthetic significance. Chopin plays with the
language of the piano as though no other language existed (the
medium “disappears”); Bach speaks the language of the piano
as a handy means of giving outward expression to a conception
wrought in the generalized language of tone.

1965 Provided, of course, Chinese is careful to provide itself with
the necessary scientific vocabulary. Like any other language, it
can do so without serious difficulty if the need arises.

1976 Aside from individual peculiarities of diction, the selection
and evaluation of particular words as such.

1987 Not by any means a great poem, merely a bit of occasional
verse written by a young Chinese friend of mine when he left
Shanghai for Canada.

1998 The old name of the country about the mouth of the Yangtsze.

2009 A province of Manchuria.

20110 I.e., China.

20211 Poetry everywhere is inseparable in its origins from the
singing voice and the measure of the dance. Yet accentual and
syllabic types of verse, rather than quantitative verse, seem to be
the prevailing norms.

20312 Quantitative distinctions exist as an objective fact. They
have not the same inner, psychological value that they had in

20413 Verhaeren was no slave to the Alexandrine, yet he remarked
to Symons, à propos of the translation of Les Aubes,
that while he approved of the use of rhymeless verse in the
English version, he found it “meaningless” in French.