Language eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 278 pages of information about Language.

[Footnote 173:  See page 163.]

[Transcriber’s note:  Footnote 173 refers to the paragraph beginning on line 5037.]

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[174] and Munda,[175] 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.”

[Footnote 174:  A group of languages spoken in southeastern Asia, of which Khmer (Cambodgian) is the best known representative.]

[Footnote 175:  A group of languages spoken in northeastern India.]

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 certain languages have, in all probability, taken on structural features owing to the suggestive influence of neighboring languages.  An examination of such cases,[176] 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.

[Footnote 176:  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).]



Project Gutenberg
Language from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
Follow Us on Facebook