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Language by Edward Sapir

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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 frowned upon as a shortcoming or was at best an interesting
aberration.[93] 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 zooelogist 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"[94] and
accustom ourselves to look upon English and Hottentot with the same
cool, yet interested, detachment.

[Footnote 93: 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 people.]

[Footnote 94: 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 value.]

We come back to our first difficulty. What point of view shall we adopt
for our classification? After all that 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[95] 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,[96] 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
analytic language would have them expressed.[97] 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.

[Footnote 95: E.g., Malay, Polynesian.]

[Footnote 96: Where, as we have seen, the syntactic relations are by no
means free from an alloy of the concrete.]

[Footnote 97: Very much as an English _cod-liver oil_ dodges to some
extent the task of explicitly defining the relations of the three nouns.
Contrast French _huile de foie de morue_ "oil of liver of cod."]

More justifiable would be a classification according to the formal
processes[98] 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 element by internal changes (reduplication; vocalic and
consonantal change; changes in quantity, stress, and pitch). The latter
type might be not inaptly termed "symbolic" languages.[99] 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 the 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[100] 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

[Footnote 98: See Chapter IV.]

[Footnote 99: 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.]

[Footnote 100: Pure or "concrete relational." See Chapter V.]

[Footnote 101: 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 of 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.]

There is another very useful set of distinctions that can be made, but
these too must not be applied exclusively, or 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.[102] 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.[103]

[Footnote 102: English, however, is only analytic in tendency.
Relatively to French, it is still fairly synthetic, at least in certain

[Footnote 103: 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.]

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[104] 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.

[Footnote 104: This applies more particularly to the Romance group:
Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Roumanian. Modern Greek is not so
clearly analytic.]

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 unfailing 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_, _breadth_, _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

What is true of fusion is equally true of the "symbolic" processes.[105]
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 than to imagine that
symbolic changes of the radical element, even for the expression of such
abstract concepts as those of number and tense, is 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.

[Footnote 105: See pages 133, 134.]

[Transcriber's note: Footnote 105 refers to the paragraph beginning on
line 4081.]

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_ is 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 _book-s_ 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 juncture, 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

[Footnote 106: The following formulae 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 sorts.]

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 type 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 ideas.

Instructive forms may be cited from Nootka. We shall return to our "fire
in the house."[107] 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 weak 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 prefixing or suffixing, analytic,
synthetic, or polysynthetic.

[Footnote 107: See page 110.]

[Transcriber's note: Footnote 107 refers to the paragraph beginning on
line 3331.]

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),[108]
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).[109] 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."

[Footnote 108: See Chapter V.]

[Footnote 109: 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.]

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 types.

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 modify the significance of their radical elements by means
of affixes or internal changes.[110] 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 expression.

B. Such as express concepts of groups I, II, and IV; in other 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 languages_.

C. Such as express concepts of groups I and III;[111] 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.[112] These are the _Mixed-relational non-deriving
languages_ 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 languages_ 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 synthetic.

[Footnote 110: I am eliminating entirely the possibility of compounding
two or more radical elements into single words or word-like phrases (see
pages 67-70). 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.]

[Transcriber's note: Footnote 110 refers to the three paragraphs
beginning on line 2066.]

[Footnote 111: 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 possessed 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.]

[Footnote 112: 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.]

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:
I. Pure-relational _/ A. Simple
Languages \_ B. Complex
II. Mixed-relational _/ C. Simple
Languages \_ D. Complex

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 the
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 expressed 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

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 that 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 stage.

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

[Footnote 113: 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.]

Note.--Parentheses indicate a weak development of the process in

|Fundamental Type"II |III |IV |Technique "Synthesis "Examples |
| A " | | | " " |
|(Simple Pure- "-- |-- |a |Isolating "Analytic "Chinese; |
| relational) " | | | " "Annamite |
| " | | | " " |
| "(d)|-- |a,b|Isolating "Analytic "Ewe |
| " | | |(weakly " "(Guinea Coast)|
| " | | |agglutinative)" " |
| " | | | " " |
| "(b)|-- |a, |Agglutinative "Analytic "Modern Tibetan|
| " | |b,c|(mildly " " |
| " | | |agglutinative-" " |
| " | | |fusional) " " |
| " | | | " " |
| B " | | | " " |
|(Complex Pure- "b, |-- |a |Agglutinative-"Analytic "Polynesian |
| relational) "(d)| | |isolating " " |
| " | | | " " |
| "b |-- |a, |Agglutinative-"Polysyn- "Haida |
| " | |(b)|isolating "thetic " |
| " | | | " " |
| "c |-- |a |Fusional- "Analytic "Cambodgian |
| " | | |isolating " " |
| " | | | " " |
| "b |-- |b |Agglutinative "Synthetic "Turkish |
| " | | | " " |
| "b,d|(b) |b |Agglutinative "Polysyn- "Yana (N. |
| " | | |(symbolic "thetic "California) |
| " | | |tinge) " " |
| " | | | " " |
| "c, |-- |a,b|Fusional- "Synthetic "Classical |
| "d, | | |agglutinative "(mildly) "Tibetan |
| "(b)| | |(symbolic " " |
| " | | |tinge) " " |
| " | | | " " |
| "b |-- |c |Agglutinative-"Synthetic "Sioux |
| " | | |fusional "(mildly " |
| " | | | "polysyn- " |
| " | | | "thetic) " |
| " | | | " " |
| "c |-- |c |Fusional "Synthetic "Salinan (S.W. |
| " | | | " "California) |
| " | | | " " |
| "d,c|(d) |d, |Symbolic "Analytic "Shilluk |
| " | |c,a| " "(Upper Nile) |
| " | | | " " |
| C " | | | " " |
|(Simple Mixed- "(b)|b |-- |Agglutinative "Synthetic "Bantu |
| relational) " | | | " " |
| "(c)|c, |a |Fusional "Analytic "French[114] |
| " |(d) | | "(mildly " |
| " | | | "synthetic)" |
| " | | | " " |
| D " | | | " " |
|(Complex Mixed- "b, |b |b |Agglutinative "Polysyn- "Nootka |
| relational) "c,d| | | "thetic "(Vancouver |
| " | | | "(symbolic "Island)[115] |
| " | | | "tinge) " |
| " | | | " " |
| "c, |b |-- |Fusional- "Polysyn- "Chinook (lower|
| "(d)| | |agglutinative "thetic "Columbia R.) |
| " | | | "(mildly) " |
| " | | | " " |
| "c, |c, |-- |Fusional "Polysyn- "Algonkin |
| "(d)|(d),| | "thetic " |
| " |(b) | | " " |
| " | | | " " |
| "c |c,d |a |Fusional "Analytic "English |
| " | | | " " |
| "c,d|c,d |-- |Fusional "Synthetic "Latin, Greek, |
| " | | |(symbolic " "Sanskrit |
| " | | |tinge) " " |
| " | | | " " |
| "c, |c,d |(a)|Fusional "Synthetic "Takelma |
| "b,d| | |(strongly " "(S.W. Oregon) |
| " | | |symbolic) " " |
| " | | | " " |
| "d,c|c,d |(a)|Symbolic- "Synthetic "Semitic |
| " | | |fusional " "(Arabic, |
| " | | | " "Hebrew) |

[Footnote 114: Might nearly as well have come under D.]

[Footnote 115: Very nearly complex pure-relational.]

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,[116] 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
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

[Footnote 116: Not Greek specifically, of course, but as a typical
representative of Indo-European.]

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,[117] 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 why 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

[Footnote 117: Such, in other words, as can be shown by documentary or
comparative evidence to have been derived from a common source. See
Chapter VII.]

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;[118] Classical Tibetan as contrasted with Modern
Tibetan and Chinese) and of D to C (French as contrasted with
Latin[119]). 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

[Footnote 118: 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.]

[Footnote 119: 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_, _-te_ in _bonte_, 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

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 and 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
_gtang_, 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,[120] 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.[121]

[Footnote 120: In spite of its more isolating cast.]

[Footnote 121: 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.]



Every one 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 pronunciation 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[122] would be negligible for any but the most
microscopic linguistic research. The differences between the outer-most
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 series.

[Footnote 122: 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.]

If the speech of any member of the series could actually be made to fit
into another dialect series,[123] 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

[Footnote 123: 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.]

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
takes 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 individual 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 linguistic uniformity[124] 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.[125] 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.

[Footnote 124: 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.]

[Footnote 125: 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.]

In course of time each dialect itself splits up into sub-dialects, 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 other 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.[126]

[Footnote 126: 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.]

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.[127] 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 prospectively 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,[128] 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 romancer.

[Footnote 127: "Dialect" in contrast to an accepted literary norm is a
use of the term that we are not considering.]

[Footnote 128: Spoken in France and Spain in the region of 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 is
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[129] from an exhaustive
descriptive study of these variations alone. They themselves are random
phenomena,[130] 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 makes the eventual consistency of
their direction all the more impressive.

[Footnote 129: Or rather apprehended, for we do not, in sober fact,
entirely understand it as yet.]

[Footnote 130: Not ultimately random, of course, only relatively so.]

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.[131] 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."[132] 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

[Footnote 131: 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."]

[Footnote 132: "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.]

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 lifted finger
of the pedagogue, gave them _carte blanche_. 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."[133] 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 such 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.

[Footnote 133: 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.]

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 to 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.[134]

[Footnote 134: 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.]

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_, _him_, _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?_ that an
inflected objective before the verb is now used at all. On the other
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?_[135] 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 for.

[Footnote 135: 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.]

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 are 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 artistic 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.[136] 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.[137] But that they really exist, each in its own right, may
sometimes be tested by 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,[138] 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?_

[Footnote 136: Students of language cannot be entirely normal in their
attitude towards their own speech. Perhaps it would be better to say
"naive" than "normal."]

[Footnote 137: 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

[Footnote 138: Most sentences beginning with interrogative _whom_ are
likely to be followed by _did_ or _does_, _do_. Yet not all.]

We may set up a scale of "hesitation values" somewhat after this

Value 1: factors 1, 3. "The man whom I referred to."
Value 2: factors 1, 3, 4. "The man whom they referred to."
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 ignored 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,[139] 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 reduced 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

[Footnote 139: Better, indeed, than in our oldest Latin and Greek
records. The old Indo-Iranian languages alone (Sanskrit, Avestan) show
an equally or more archaic status of the Indo-European parent tongue as
regards case 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 than
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
phases_ 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
appearance_. 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.[140] 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.

[Footnote 140: 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 11, page 167) and the later
analytic of _it_.]

[Transcriber's note: Footnote 140 refers to Footnote 132, beginning on
line 5142.]

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[141]), and that _her_ as an objective is
a trifle weak because of its formal identity with the possessive _her_,
is there any reason to doubt the vitality of such alternations as _I see
the man_ and _the man sees me_? 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 word.

[Footnote 141: 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.]

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 _him_ 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[142] 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
see_? 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.

[Footnote 142: 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.]

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 of _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[143] 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.[144] 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.

[Footnote 143: _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.]

[Footnote 144: See page 155.]

[Transcriber's note: Footnote 144 refers to the paragraph beginning on
line 4795.]

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 its 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 nuancing 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.



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 move 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
the 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_: _Fuesse_, _Maus_: _Maeuse_. 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_;[145] singular _mus_,
plural _musi_. The corresponding Middle High German forms are _fuoss_,
_fueesse_; _mus_, _muese_. Modern German _Fuss_: _Fuesse_, _Maus_: _Maeuse_
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_.[146] 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[147]
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.[148] 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.

[Footnote 145: 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 _moose_.]

[Footnote 146: 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 _ue_.]

[Footnote 147: Or rather stage in a drift.]

[Footnote 148: Anglo-Saxon _fet_ is "unrounded" from an older _foet_,
which is phonetically related to _fot_ precisely as is _mys_ (i.e.,
_mues_) to _mus_. Middle High German _ue_ (Modern German _u_) 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_: _foeti_; this older _oe_ could not well have
resulted in _ue_. 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.]

How did such strikingly individual alternations as _fot_: _fet_,
_fuoss_: _fueesse_ 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 the
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[149] 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_[150] may be briefly summarized as follows:

[Footnote 149: See page 133.]

[Transcriber's note: Footnote 149 refers to the paragraph beginning on
line 4081.]

[Footnote 150: Primitive Germanic _fot(s)_, _fotiz_, _mus_, _musiz_;
Indo-European _pods_, _podes_, _mus_, _muses_. The vowels of the first
syllables are all long.]

1. In _foti_ "feet" the long _o_ was colored by the following _i_ to
long _oe_, that is, _o_ kept its lip-rounded quality and its middle
height of tongue position but anticipated the front tongue position of
the _i_; _oe_ 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 _oe_; hence _tothi_
"teeth" became _toethi_, _fodian_ "to feed" became _foedian_. At first
there is no doubt the alternation between _o_ and _oe_ 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 _ue_ 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 _oe_ vowel must
have departed widely enough from that of _o_ to enable _oe_ to rise in
consciousness[151] as a neatly distinct vowel. As soon as this happened,
the expression of plurality in _foeti_, _toethi_, and analogous words
became symbolic and fusional, not merely fusional.

[Footnote 151: Or in that unconscious sound patterning which is ever on
the point of becoming conscious. See page 57.]

[Transcriber's note: Footnote 151 refers to the paragraph beginning on
line 1797.]

2. In _musi_ "mice" the long _u_ was colored by the following _i_ to
long _ue_. This change also was regular; _lusi_ "lice" became _luesi_,
_kui_ "cows" became _kuei_ (later simplified to _kue_; still preserved as
_ki-_ in _kine_), _fulian_ "to make foul" became _fuelian_ (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_: _oe_). It had little power of resistance,
therefore, to the drift. It became dulled to a colorless _-e_; _foeti_
became _foete_.

4. The weak _-e_ finally disappeared. Probably the forms _foete_ and
_foet_ long coexisted as prosodic variants according to the rhythmic
requirements of the sentence, very much as _Fuesse_ and _Fuess'_ now
coexist in German.

5. The _oe_ of _foet_ became "unrounded" to long _e_ (our present _a_ of
_fade_). The alternation of _fot_: _foti_, transitionally _fot_: _foeti_,
_foete_, _foet_, now appears as _fot_: _fet_. Analogously, _toeth_ appears
as _teth_, _foedian_ 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_, _oe_, _e_, reappeared as _o_, _e_, except
that now the _e_ had greater "weight" than before.

6. _Fot_: _fet_, _mus_: _mues_ (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 _ue_, whether long or short, became
unrounded to _i_. _Mys_ 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 _ue_ (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_,[152] 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.

[Footnote 152: As have most Dutch and German dialects.]

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 _meis_, _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.[153] What we now call the "long _i_" (of words like
_ride, bite, mice_) is, of course, an _ai_-diphthong. _Mice_ is now
pronounced _mais_.

[Footnote 153: At least in America.]

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 _maus_.

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 that 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.[154] 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.

[Footnote 154: It is possible that other than purely phonetic factors
are also at work in the history of these vowels.]

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:[155]

[Footnote 155: 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.]

I. _fot_: _foti_; _mus_: _musi_ (West Germanic)
II. _fot_: _foeti_; _mus_: _muesi_
III. _fot_: _foete_; _mus_: _muese_
IV. _fot_: _foet_; _mus_: _mues_
V. _fot_: _fet_; _mus_: _mues_ (Anglo-Saxon)
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 1900)

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:[156]

[Footnote 156: After I. the numbers are not meant to correspond
chronologically to those of the English table. The orthography is again
roughly phonetic.]

I. _fot_: _foti_; _mus_: _musi_ (West Germanic)
II. _foss_:[157] _fossi_; _mus_: _musi_
III. _fuoss_: _fuossi_; _mus_: _musi_ (Old High German)
IV. _fuoss_: _fueessi_; _mus_: _muesi_
V. _fuoss_: _fueesse_; _mus_: _muese_ (Middle High German)
VI. _fuoss_: _fueesse_; _mus_: _mueze_[158]
VII. _fuos_: _fueese_; _mus_: _mueze_
VIII. _fuos_: _fueese_; _mous_: _moeueze_
IX. _fus_: _fuese_; _mous_: _moeueze_ (Luther)
X. _fus_: _fuese_; _maus_: _moize_ (German of 1900)

[Footnote 157: 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_.]

[Footnote 158: _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 (_Maeuse_ and _Fuesse_).]

We cannot even begin to ferret out and discuss all the psychological
problems that are concealed behind these 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_, _uee_ to
_ue_), the diphthongizing of the old high vowels (English _i_ to _ei_ to
_ai_; English and German _u_ to _ou_ to _au_; German _ue_ to _oeue_ to
_oi_). These dialectic parallels cannot be accidental. They are rooted
in a common, pre-dialectic drift.

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.[159] 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 _oe_, 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
former 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 _ue_-vowels, after they had become

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