Language eBook

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

[Footnote 25:  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.]



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)[26]—­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 numeral 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

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Language from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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