Language eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 226 pages of information about Language.
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.[91]

[Footnote 91:  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.]

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 bounds 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.

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Language from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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