Language by Edward SapirAn introduction to the study of speec

Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Ben Beasley and PG Distributed Proofreaders LANGUAGE AN INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF SPEECH BY EDWARD SAPIR 1939 1921 PREFACE This little book aims to give a certain perspective on the subject of language rather than to assemble facts about it. It has little to say of the ultimate psychological basis
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Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Ben Beasley and PG Distributed Proofreaders







This little book aims to give a certain perspective on the subject of language rather than to assemble facts about it. It has little to say of the ultimate psychological basis of speech and gives only enough of the actual descriptive or historical facts of particular languages to illustrate principles. Its main purpose is to show what I conceive language to be, what is its variability in place and time, and what are its relations to other fundamental human interests–the problem of thought, the nature of the historical process, race, culture, art.

The perspective thus gained will be useful, I hope, both to linguistic students and to the outside public that is half inclined to dismiss linguistic notions as the private pedantries of essentially idle minds. Knowledge of the wider relations of their science is essential to professional students of language if they are to be saved from a sterile and purely technical attitude. Among contemporary writers of influence on liberal thought Croce is one of the very few who have gained an understanding of the fundamental significance of language. He has pointed out its close relation to the problem of art. I am deeply indebted to him for this insight. Quite aside from their intrinsic interest, linguistic forms and historical processes have the greatest possible diagnostic value for the understanding of some of the more difficult and elusive problems in the psychology of thought and in the strange, cumulative drift in the life of the human spirit that we call history or progress or evolution. This value depends chiefly on the unconscious and unrationalized nature of linguistic structure.

I have avoided most of the technical terms and all of the technical symbols of the linguistic academy. There is not a single diacritical mark in the book. Where possible, the discussion is based on English material. It was necessary, however, for the scheme of the book, which includes a consideration of the protean forms in which human thought has found expression, to quote some exotic instances. For these no apology seems necessary. Owing to limitations of space I have had to leave out many ideas or principles that I should have liked to touch upon. Other points have had to be barely hinted at in a sentence or flying phrase. Nevertheless, I trust that enough has here been brought together to serve as a stimulus for the more fundamental study of a neglected field.

I desire to express my cordial appreciation of the friendly advice and helpful suggestions of a number of friends who have read the work in manuscript, notably Profs. A.L. Kroeber and R.H. Lowie of the University of California, Prof. W.D. Wallis of Reed College, and Prof. J. Zeitlin of the University of Illinois.


April 8, 1921.





Language a cultural, not a biologically inherited, function. Futility of interjectional and sound-imitative theories of the origin of speech. Definition of language. The psycho-physical basis of speech. Concepts and language. Is thought possible without language? Abbreviations and transfers of the speech process. The universality of language.


Sounds not properly elements of speech. Words and significant parts of words (radical elements, grammatical elements). Types of words. The word a formal, not a functional unit. The word has a real psychological existence. The sentence. The cognitive, volitional, and emotional aspects of speech. Feeling-tones of words.


The vast number of possible sounds. The articulating organs and their share in the production of speech sounds: lungs, glottal cords, nose, mouth and its parts. Vowel articulations. How and where consonants are articulated. The phonetic habits of a language. The “values” of sounds. Phonetic patterns.


Formal processes as distinct from grammatical functions. Intercrossing of the two points of view. Six main types of grammatical process. Word sequence as a method. Compounding of radical elements. Affixing: prefixes and suffixes; infixes. Internal vocalic change; consonantal change. Reduplication. Functional variations of stress; of pitch.


Analysis of a typical English sentence. Types of concepts illustrated by it. Inconsistent expression of analogous concepts. How the same sentence may be expressed in other languages with striking differences in the selection and grouping of concepts. Essential and non-essential concepts. The mixing of essential relational concepts with secondary ones of more concrete order. Form for form’s sake. Classification of linguistic concepts: basic or concrete, derivational, concrete relational, pure relational. Tendency for these types of concepts to flow into each other. Categories expressed in various grammatical systems. Order and stress as relating principles in the sentence. Concord. Parts of speech: no absolute classification possible; noun and verb.


The possibility of classifying languages. Difficulties. Classification into form-languages and formless languages not valid. Classification according to formal processes used not practicable. Classification according to degree of synthesis. “Inflective” and “agglutinative.” Fusion and symbolism as linguistic techniques. Agglutination. “Inflective” a confused term. Threefold classification suggested: what types of concepts are expressed? what is the prevailing technique? what is the degree of synthesis? Four fundamental conceptual types. Examples tabulated. Historical test of the validity of the suggested conceptual classification.


Variability of language. Individual and dialectic variations. Time variation or “drift.” How dialects arise. Linguistic stocks. Direction or “slope” of linguistic drift. Tendencies illustrated in an English sentence. Hesitations of usage as symptomatic of the direction of drift. Leveling tendencies in English. Weakening of case elements. Tendency to fixed position in the sentence. Drift toward the invariable word.


Parallels in drift in related languages. Phonetic law as illustrated in the history of certain English and German vowels and consonants. Regularity of phonetic law. Shifting of sounds without destruction of phonetic pattern. Difficulty of explaining the nature of phonetic drifts. Vowel mutation in English and German. Morphological influence on phonetic change. Analogical levelings to offset irregularities produced by phonetic laws. New morphological features due to phonetic change.


Linguistic influences due to cultural contact. Borrowing of words. Resistances to borrowing. Phonetic modification of borrowed words. Phonetic interinfluencings of neighboring languages. Morphological borrowings. Morphological resemblances as vestiges of genetic relationship.


Naive tendency to consider linguistic, racial, and cultural groupings as congruent. Race and language need not correspond. Cultural and linguistic boundaries not identical. Coincidences between linguistic cleavages and those of language and culture due to historical, not intrinsic psychological, causes. Language does not in any deep sense “reflect” culture.


Language as the material or medium of literature. Literature may move on the generalized linguistic plane or may be inseparable from specific linguistic conditions. Language as a collective art. Necessary esthetic advantages or limitations in any language. Style as conditioned by inherent features of the language. Prosody as conditioned by the phonetic dynamics of a language.




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is true that physiological psychologists speak of the localization of speech in the brain. This can only mean that the sounds of speech are localized in the auditory tract of the brain, or in some circumscribed portion of it, precisely as other classes of sounds are localized; and that the motor processes involved in speech (such as the movements of the glottal cords in the larynx, the movements of the tongue required to pronounce the vowels, lip movements required to articulate certain consonants, and numerous others) are localized in the motor tract precisely as are all other impulses to special motor activities. In the same way control is lodged in the visual tract of the brain over all those processes of visual recognition involved in reading. Naturally the particular points or clusters of points of localization in the several tracts that refer to any element of language are connected in the brain by paths of association, so that the outward, or psycho-physical, aspect of language, is of a vast network of associated localizations in the brain and lower nervous tracts, the auditory localizations being without doubt the most fundamental of all for speech. However, a speechsound localized in the brain, even when associated with the particular movements of the “speech organs” that are required to produce it, is very far from being an element of language. It must be further associated with some element or group of elements of experience, say a visual image or a class of visual images or a feeling of relation, before it has even rudimentary linguistic significance. This “element” of experience is the content or “meaning” of the linguistic unit; the associated auditory, motor, and other cerebral processes that lie immediately back of the act of speaking and the act of hearing speech are merely a complicated symbol of or signal for these “meanings,” of which more anon. We see therefore at once that language as such is not and cannot be definitely localized, for it consists of a peculiar symbolic relation–physiologically an arbitrary one–between all possible elements of consciousness on the one hand and certain selected elements localized in the auditory, motor, and other cerebral and nervous tracts on the other. If language can be said to be definitely “localized” in the brain, it is only in that general and rather useless sense in which all aspects of consciousness, all human interest and activity, may be said to be “in the brain.” Hence, we have no recourse but to accept language as a fully formed functional system within man’s psychic or “spiritual” constitution. We cannot define it as an entity in psycho-physical terms alone, however much the psycho-physical basis is essential to its functioning in the individual.

From the physiologist’s or psychologist’s point of view we may seem to be making an unwarrantable abstraction in desiring to handle the subject of speech without constant and explicit reference to that basis. However, such an abstraction is justifiable. We can profitably discuss the intention, the form, and the history of speech, precisely as we discuss the nature of any other phase of human culture–say art or religion–as an institutional or cultural entity, leaving the organic and psychological mechanisms back of it as something to be taken for granted. Accordingly, it must be clearly understood that this introduction to the study of speech is not concerned with those aspects of physiology and of physiological psychology that underlie speech. Our study of language is not to be one of the genesis and operation of a concrete mechanism; it is, rather, to be an inquiry into the function and form of the arbitrary systems of symbolism that we term languages.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

If we symbolize such a term as _sing_ by the algebraic formula A, we shall have to symbolize such terms as _sings_ and _singer_ by the formula A + b.[1] The element A may be either a complete and independent word (_sing_) or the fundamental substance, the so-called root or stem[2] or “radical element” (_sing-_) of a word. The element b (_-s_, _-ing_, _-er_) is the indicator of a subsidiary and, as a rule, a more abstract concept; in the widest sense of the word “form,” it puts upon the fundamental concept a formal limitation. We may term it a “grammatical element” or affix. As we shall see later on, the grammatical element or the grammatical increment, as we had better put it, need not be suffixed to the radical element. It may be a prefixed element (like the _un-_ of _unsingable_), it may be inserted into the very body of the stem (like the _n_ of the Latin _vinco_ “I conquer” as contrasted with its absence in _vici_ “I have conquered”), it may be the complete or partial repetition of the stem, or it may consist of some modification of the inner form of the stem (change of vowel, as in _sung_ and _song_; change of consonant as in _dead_ and _death_; change of accent; actual abbreviation). Each and every one of these types of grammatical element or modification has this peculiarity, that it may not, in the vast majority of cases, be used independently but needs to be somehow attached to or welded with a radical element in order to convey an intelligible notion. We had better, therefore, modify our formula, A + b, to A + (b), the round brackets symbolizing the incapacity of an element to stand alone. The grammatical element, moreover, is not only non-existent except as associated with a radical one, it does not even, as a rule, obtain its measure of significance unless it is associated with a particular class of radical elements. Thus, the _-s_ of English _he hits_ symbolizes an utterly different notion from the _-s_ of _books_, merely because _hit_ and _book_ are differently classified as to function. We must hasten to observe, however, that while the radical element may, on occasion, be identical with the word, it does not follow that it may always, or even customarily, be used as a word. Thus, the _hort-_ “garden” of such Latin forms as _hortus_, _horti_, and _horto_ is as much of an abstraction, though one yielding a more easily apprehended significance, than the _-ing_ of _singing_. Neither exists as an independently intelligible and satisfying element of speech. Both the radical element, as such, and the grammatical element, therefore, are reached only by a process of abstraction. It seemed proper to symbolize _sing-er_ as A + (b); _hort-us_ must be symbolized as (A) + (b).

[Footnote 1: We shall reserve capitals for radical elements.]

[Footnote 2: These words are not here used in a narrowly technical sense.]

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

The truth of the matter is that _sing_ is a kind of twilight word, trembling between the status of a true radical element and that of a modified word of the type of _singing_. Though it has no outward sign to indicate that it conveys more than a generalized idea, we do feel that there hangs about it a variable mist of added value. The formula A does not seem to represent it so well as A + (0). We might suspect _sing_ of belonging to the A + (b) type, with the reservation that the (b) had vanished. This report of the “feel” of the word is far from fanciful, for historical evidence does, in all earnest, show that _sing_ is in origin a number of quite distinct words, of type A + (b), that have pooled their separate values. The (b) of each of these has gone as a tangible phonetic element; its force, however, lingers on in weakened measure. The _sing_ of _I sing_ is the correspondent of the Anglo-Saxon _singe_; the infinitive _sing_, of _singan_; the imperative _sing_ of _sing_. Ever since the breakdown of English forms that set in about the time of the Norman Conquest, our language has been straining towards the creation of simple concept-words, unalloyed by formal connotations, but it has not yet succeeded in this, apart, possibly, from isolated adverbs and other elements of that sort. Were the typical unanalyzable word of the language truly a pure concept-word (type A) instead of being of a strangely transitional type (type A + [0]), our _sing_ and _work_ and _house_ and thousands of others would compare with the genuine radical-words of numerous other languages.[3] Such a radical-word, to take a random example, is the Nootka[4] word _hamot_ “bone.” Our English correspondent is only superficially comparable. _Hamot_ means “bone” in a quite indefinite sense; to our English word clings the notion of singularity. The Nootka Indian can convey the idea of plurality, in one of several ways, if he so desires, but he does not need to; _hamot_ may do for either singular or plural, should no interest happen to attach to the distinction. As soon as we say “bone” (aside from its secondary usage to indicate material), we not merely specify the nature of the object but we imply, whether we will or no, that there is but one of these objects to be considered. And this increment of value makes all the difference.

[Footnote 3: It is not a question of the general isolating character of such languages as Chinese (see Chapter VI). Radical-words may and do occur in languages of all varieties, many of them of a high degree of complexity.]

[Footnote 4: Spoken by a group of Indian tribes in Vancouver Island.]

We now know of four distinct formal types of word: A (Nootka _hamot_); A + (0) (_sing_, _bone_); A + (b) (_singing_); (A) + (b) (Latin _hortus_). There is but one other type that is fundamentally possible: A + B, the union of two (or more) independently occurring radical elements into a single term. Such a word is the compound _fire-engine_ or a Sioux form equivalent to _eat-stand_ (i.e., “to eat while standing”). It frequently happens, however, that one of the radical elements becomes functionally so subordinated to the other that it takes on the character of a grammatical element. We may symbolize this by A + b, a type that may gradually, by loss of external connection between the subordinated element b and its independent counterpart B merge with the commoner type A + (b). A word like _beautiful_ is an example of A + b, the _-ful_ barely preserving the impress of its lineage. A word like _homely_, on the other hand, is clearly of the type A + (b), for no one but a linguistic student is aware of the connection between the _-ly_ and the independent word _like_.

In actual use, of course, these five (or six) fundamental types may be indefinitely complicated in a number of ways. The (0) may have a multiple value; in other words, the inherent formal modification of the basic notion of the word may affect more than one category. In such a Latin word as _cor_ “heart,” for instance, not only is a concrete concept conveyed, but there cling to the form, which is actually shorter than its own radical element (_cord-_), the three distinct, yet intertwined, formal concepts of singularity, gender classification (neuter), and case (subjective-objective). The complete grammatical formula for _cor_ is, then, A + (0) + (0) + (0), though the merely external, phonetic formula would be (A)–, (A) indicating the abstracted “stem” _cord-_, the minus sign a loss of material. The significant thing about such a word as _cor_ is that the three conceptual limitations are not merely expressed by implication as the word sinks into place in a sentence; they are tied up, for good and all, within the very vitals of the word and cannot be eliminated by any possibility of usage.

Other complications result from a manifolding of parts. In a given word there may be several elements of the order A (we have already symbolized this by the type A + B), of the order (A), of the order b, and of the order (b). Finally, the various types may be combined among themselves in endless ways. A comparatively simple language like English, or even Latin, illustrates but a modest proportion of these theoretical possibilities. But if we take our examples freely from the vast storehouse of language, from languages exotic as well as from those that we are more familiar with, we shall find that there is hardly a possibility that is not realized in actual usage. One example will do for thousands, one complex type for hundreds of possible types. I select it from Paiute, the language of the Indians of the arid plateaus of southwestern Utah. The word
_wii-to-kuchum-punku-ruegani-yugwi-va-ntue-m(ue)_[5] is of unusual length even for its own language, but it is no psychological monster for all that. It means “they who are going to sit and cut up with a knife a black cow (_or_ bull),” or, in the order of the Indian elements, “knife-black-buffalo-pet-cut up-sit(plur.)-future-participle-animate plur.” The formula for this word, in accordance with our symbolism, would be (F) + (E) + C + d + A + B + (g) + (h) + (i) + (0). It is the plural of the future participle of a compound verb “to sit and cut up”–A + B. The elements (g)–which denotes futurity–, (h)–a participial suffix–, and (i)–indicating the animate plural–are grammatical elements which convey nothing when detached. The formula (0) is intended to imply that the finished word conveys, in addition to what is definitely expressed, a further relational idea, that of subjectivity; in other words, the form can only be used as the subject of a sentence, not in an objective or other syntactic relation. The radical element A (“to cut up”), before entering into combination with the cooerdinate element B (“to sit”), is itself compounded with two nominal elements or element-groups–an instrumentally used stem (F) (“knife”), which may be freely used as the radical element of noun forms but cannot be employed as an absolute noun in its given form, and an objectively used group–(E) + C + d (“black cow _or_ bull”). This group in turn consists of an adjectival radical element (E) (“black”), which cannot be independently employed (the absolute notion of “black” can be rendered only as the participle of a verb: “black-be-ing”), and the compound noun C + d (“buffalo-pet”). The radical element C properly means “buffalo,” but the element d, properly an independently occurring noun meaning “horse” (originally “dog” or “domesticated animal” in general), is regularly used as a quasi-subordinate element indicating that the animal denoted by the stem to which it is affixed is owned by a human being. It will be observed that the whole complex (F) + (E) + C + d + A + B is functionally no more than a verbal base, corresponding to the _sing-_ of an English form like _singing_; that this complex remains verbal in force on the addition of the temporal element (g)–this (g), by the way, must not be understood as appended to B alone, but to the whole basic complex as a unit–; and that the elements (h) + (i) + (0) transform the verbal expression into a formally well-defined noun.

[Footnote 5: In this and other examples taken from exotic languages I am forced by practical considerations to simplify the actual phonetic forms. This should not matter perceptibly, as we are concerned with form as such, not with phonetic content.]

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

But is not the word, one may object, as much of an abstraction as the radical element? Is it not as arbitrarily lifted out of the living sentence as is the minimum conceptual element out of the word? Some students of language have, indeed, looked upon the word as such an abstraction, though with very doubtful warrant, it seems to me. It is true that in particular cases, especially in some of the highly synthetic languages of aboriginal America, it is not always easy to say whether a particular element of language is to be interpreted as an independent word or as part of a larger word. These transitional cases, puzzling as they may be on occasion, do not, however, materially weaken the case for the psychological validity of the word. Linguistic experience, both as expressed in standardized, written form and as tested in daily usage, indicates overwhelmingly that there is not, as a rule, the slightest difficulty in bringing the word to consciousness as a psychological reality. No more convincing test could be desired than this, that the naive Indian, quite unaccustomed to the concept of the written word, has nevertheless no serious difficulty in dictating a text to a linguistic student word by word; he tends, of course, to run his words together as in actual speech, but if he is called to a halt and is made to understand what is desired, he can readily isolate the words as such, repeating them as units. He regularly refuses, on the other hand, to isolate the radical or grammatical element, on the ground that it “makes no sense.”[6] What, then, is the objective criterion of the word? The speaker and hearer feel the word, let us grant, but how shall we justify their feeling? If function is not the ultimate criterion of the word, what is?

[Footnote 6: These oral experiences, which I have had time and again as a field student of American Indian languages, are very neatly confirmed by personal experiences of another sort. Twice I have taught intelligent young Indians to write their own languages according to the phonetic system which I employ. They were taught merely how to render accurately the sounds as such. Both had some difficulty in learning to break up a word into its constituent sounds, but none whatever in determining the words. This they both did with spontaneous and complete accuracy. In the hundreds of pages of manuscript Nootka text that I have obtained from one of these young Indians the words, whether abstract relational entities like English _that_ and _but_ or complex sentence-words like the Nootka example quoted above, are, practically without exception, isolated precisely as I or any other student would have isolated them. Such experiences with naive speakers and recorders do more to convince one of the definitely plastic unity of the word than any amount of purely theoretical argument.]

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

We have already seen that the major functional unit of speech, the sentence, has, like the word, a psychological as well as a merely logical or abstracted existence. Its definition is not difficult. It is the linguistic expression of a proposition. It combines a subject of discourse with a statement in regard to this subject. Subject and “predicate” may be combined in a single word, as in Latin _dico_; each may be expressed independently, as in the English equivalent, _I say_; each or either may be so qualified as to lead to complex propositions of many sorts. No matter how many of these qualifying elements (words or functional parts of words) are introduced, the sentence does not lose its feeling of unity so long as each and every one of them falls in place as contributory to the definition of either the subject of discourse or the core of the predicate[7]. Such a sentence as _The mayor of New York is going to deliver a speech of welcome in French_ is readily felt as a unified statement, incapable of reduction by the transfer of certain of its elements, in their given form, to the preceding or following sentences. The contributory ideas of _of New York_, _of welcome_, and _in French_ may be eliminated without hurting the idiomatic flow of the sentence. _The mayor is going to deliver a speech_ is a perfectly intelligible proposition. But further than this we cannot go in the process of reduction. We cannot say, for instance, _Mayor is going to deliver_.[8] The reduced sentence resolves itself into the subject of discourse–_the mayor_–and the predicate–_is going to deliver a speech_. It is customary to say that the true subject of such a sentence is _mayor_, the true predicate _is going_ or even _is_, the other elements being strictly subordinate. Such an analysis, however, is purely schematic and is without psychological value. It is much better frankly to recognize the fact that either or both of the two terms of the sentence-proposition may be incapable of expression in the form of single words. There are languages that can convey all that is conveyed by _The-mayor is-going-to-deliver-a-speech_ in two words, a subject word and a predicate word, but English is not so highly synthetic. The point that we are really making here is that underlying the finished sentence is a living sentence type, of fixed formal characteristics. These fixed types or actual sentence-groundworks may be freely overlaid by such additional matter as the speaker or writer cares to put on, but they are themselves as rigidly “given” by tradition as are the radical and grammatical elements abstracted from the finished word. New words may be consciously created from these fundamental elements on the analogy of old ones, but hardly new types of words. In the same way new sentences are being constantly created, but always on strictly traditional lines. The enlarged sentence, however, allows as a rule of considerable freedom in the handling of what may be called “unessential” parts. It is this margin of freedom which gives us the opportunity of individual style.

[Footnote 7: “Coordinate sentences” like _I shall remain but you may go_ may only doubtfully be considered as truly unified predications, as true sentences. They are sentences in a stylistic sense rather than from the strictly formal linguistic standpoint. The orthography _I shall remain. But you may go_ is as intrinsically justified as _I shall remain. Now you may go_. The closer connection in sentiment between the first two propositions has led to a conventional visual representation that must not deceive the analytic spirit.]

[Footnote 8: Except, possibly, in a newspaper headline. Such headlines, however, are language only in a derived sense.]

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

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

There are, it is true, certain writers on the psychology of language[9] who deny its prevailingly cognitive character but attempt, on the contrary, to demonstrate the origin of most linguistic elements within the domain of feeling. I confess that I am utterly unable to follow them. What there is of truth in their contentions may be summed up, it seems to me, by saying that most words, like practically all elements of consciousness, have an associated feeling-tone, a mild, yet none the less real and at times insidiously powerful, derivative of pleasure or pain. This feeling-tone, however, is not as a rule an inherent value in the word itself; it is rather a sentimental growth on the word’s true body, on its conceptual kernel. Not only may the feeling-tone change from one age to another (this, of course, is true of the conceptual content as well), but it varies remarkably from individual to individual according to the personal associations of each, varies, indeed, from time to time in a single individual’s consciousness as his experiences mold him and his moods change. To be sure, there are socially accepted feeling-tones, or ranges of feeling-tone, for many words over and above the force of individual association, but they are exceedingly variable and elusive things at best. They rarely have the rigidity of the central, primary fact. We all grant, for instance, that _storm_, _tempest_, and _hurricane_, quite aside from their slight differences of actual meaning, have distinct feeling-tones, tones that are felt by all sensitive speakers and readers of English in a roughly equivalent fashion. _Storm_, we feel, is a more general and a decidedly less “magnificent” word than the other two; _tempest_ is not only associated with the sea but is likely, in the minds of many, to have obtained a softened glamour from a specific association with Shakespeare’s great play; _hurricane_ has a greater forthrightness, a directer ruthlessness than its synonyms. Yet the individual’s feeling-tones for these words are likely to vary enormously. To some _tempest_ and _hurricane_ may seem “soft,” literary words, the simpler _storm_ having a fresh, rugged value which the others do not possess (think of _storm and stress_). If we have browsed much in our childhood days in books of the Spanish Main, _hurricane_ is likely to have a pleasurably bracing tone; if we have had the misfortune to be caught in one, we are not unlikely to feel the word as cold, cheerless, sinister.

[Footnote 9: E.g., the brilliant Dutch writer, Jac van Ginneken.]

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



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

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

I have gone into these illustrative details, which are of little or no specific interest for us, merely in order to provide something of an experimental basis to convince ourselves of the tremendous variability of speech sounds. Yet a complete inventory of the acoustic resources of all the European languages, the languages nearer home, while unexpectedly large, would still fall far short of conveying a just idea of the true range of human articulation. In many of the languages of Asia, Africa, and aboriginal America there are whole classes of sounds that most of us have no knowledge of. They are not necessarily more difficult of enunciation than sounds more familiar to our ears; they merely involve such muscular adjustments of the organs of speech as we have never habituated ourselves to. It may be safely said that the total number of possible sounds is greatly in excess of those actually in use. Indeed, an experienced phonetician should have no difficulty in inventing sounds that are unknown to objective investigation. One reason why we find it difficult to believe that the range of possible speech sounds is indefinitely large is our habit of conceiving the sound as a simple, unanalyzable impression instead of as the resultant of a number of distinct muscular adjustments that take place simultaneously. A slight change in any one of these adjustments gives us a new sound which is akin to the old one, because of the continuance of the other adjustments, but which is acoustically distinct from it, so sensitive has the human ear become to the nuanced play of the vocal mechanism. Another reason for our lack of phonetic imagination is the fact that, while our ear is delicately responsive to the sounds of speech, the muscles of our speech organs have early in life become exclusively accustomed to the particular adjustments and systems of adjustment that are required to produce the traditional sounds of the language. All or nearly all other adjustments have become permanently inhibited, whether through inexperience or through gradual elimination. Of course the power to produce these inhibited adjustments is not entirely lost, but the extreme difficulty we experience in learning the new sounds of foreign languages is sufficient evidence of the strange rigidity that has set in for most people in the voluntary control of the speech organs. The point may be brought home by contrasting the comparative lack of freedom of voluntary speech movements with the all but perfect freedom of voluntary gesture.[10] Our rigidity in articulation is the price we have had to pay for easy mastery of a highly necessary symbolism. One cannot be both splendidly free in the random choice of movements and selective with deadly certainty.[11]

[Footnote 10: Observe the “voluntary.” When we shout or grunt or otherwise allow our voices to take care of themselves, as we are likely to do when alone in the country on a fine spring day, we are no longer fixing vocal adjustments by voluntary control. Under these circumstances we are almost certain to hit on speech sounds that we could never learn to control in actual speech.]

[Footnote 11: If speech, in its acoustic and articulatory aspect, is indeed a rigid system, how comes it, one may plausibly object, that no two people speak alike? The answer is simple. All that part of speech which falls out of the rigid articulatory framework is not speech in idea, but is merely a superadded, more or less instinctively determined vocal complication inseparable from speech in practice. All the individual color of speech–personal emphasis, speed, personal cadence, personal pitch–is a non-linguistic fact, just as the incidental expression of desire and emotion are, for the most part, alien to linguistic expression. Speech, like all elements of culture, demands conceptual selection, inhibition of the randomness of instinctive behavior. That its “idea” is never realized as such in practice, its carriers being instinctively animated organisms, is of course true of each and every aspect of culture.]

There are, then, an indefinitely large number of articulated sounds available for the mechanics of speech; any given language makes use of an explicit, rigidly economical selection of these rich resources; and each of the many possible sounds of speech is conditioned by a number of independent muscular adjustments that work together simultaneously towards its production. A full account of the activity of each of the organs of speech–in so far as its activity has a bearing on language–is impossible here, nor can we concern ourselves in a systematic way with the classification of sounds on the basis of their mechanics.[12] A few bold outlines are all that we can attempt. The organs of speech are the lungs and bronchial tubes; the throat, particularly that part of it which is known as the larynx or, in popular parlance, the “Adam’s apple”; the nose; the uvula, which is the soft, pointed, and easily movable organ that depends from the rear of the palate; the palate, which is divided into a posterior, movable “soft palate” or velum and a “hard palate”; the tongue; the teeth; and the lips. The palate, lower palate, tongue, teeth, and lips may be looked upon as a combined resonance chamber, whose constantly varying shape, chiefly due to the extreme mobility of the tongue, is the main factor in giving the outgoing breath its precise quality[13] of sound.

[Footnote 12: Purely acoustic classifications, such as more easily suggest themselves to a first attempt at analysis, are now in less favor among students of phonetics than organic classifications. The latter have the advantage of being more objective. Moreover, the acoustic quality of a sound is dependent on the articulation, even though in linguistic consciousness this quality is the primary, not the secondary, fact.]

[Footnote 13: By “quality” is here meant the inherent nature and resonance of the sound as such. The general “quality” of the individual’s voice is another matter altogether. This is chiefly determined by the individual anatomical characteristics of the larynx and is of no linguistic interest whatever.]

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

The cords, which are attached to the cartilages, are to the human speech organs what the two vibrating reeds are to a clarinet or the strings to a violin. They are capable of at least three distinct types of movement, each of which is of the greatest importance for speech. They may be drawn towards or away from each other, they may vibrate like reeds or strings, and they may become lax or tense in the direction of their length. The last class of these movements allows the cords to vibrate at different “lengths” or degrees of tenseness and is responsible for the variations in pitch which are present not only in song but in the more elusive modulations of ordinary speech. The two other types of glottal action determine the nature of the voice, “voice” being a convenient term for breath as utilized in speech. If the cords are well apart, allowing the breath to escape in unmodified form, we have the condition technically known as “voicelessness.” All sounds produced under these circumstances are “voiceless” sounds. Such are the simple, unmodified breath as it passes into the mouth, which is, at least approximately, the same as the sound that we write _h_, also a large number of special articulations in the mouth chamber, like _p_ and _s_. On the other hand, the glottal cords may be brought tight together, without vibrating. When this happens, the current of breath is checked for the time being. The slight choke or “arrested cough” that is thus made audible is not recognized in English as a definite sound but occurs nevertheless not infrequently.[14] This momentary check, technically known as a “glottal stop,” is an integral element of speech in many languages, as Danish, Lettish, certain Chinese dialects, and nearly all American Indian languages. Between the two extremes of voicelessness, that of completely open breath and that of checked breath, lies the position of true voice. In this position the cords are close together, but not so tightly as to prevent the air from streaming through; the cords are set vibrating and a musical tone of varying pitch results. A tone so produced is known as a “voiced sound.” It may have an indefinite number of qualities according to the precise position of the upper organs of speech. Our vowels, nasals (such as _m_ and _n_), and such sounds as _b_, _z_, and _l_ are all voiced sounds. The most convenient test of a voiced sound is the possibility of pronouncing it on any given pitch, in other words, of singing on it.[15] The voiced sounds are the most clearly audible elements of speech. As such they are the carriers of practically all significant differences in stress, pitch, and syllabification. The voiceless sounds are articulated noises that break up the stream of voice with fleeting moments of silence. Acoustically intermediate between the freely unvoiced and the voiced sounds are a number of other characteristic types of voicing, such as murmuring and whisper.[16] These and still other types of voice are relatively unimportant in English and most other European languages, but there are languages in which they rise to some prominence in the normal flow of speech.

[Footnote 14: As at the end of the snappily pronounced _no!_ (sometimes written _nope!_) or in the over-carefully pronounced _at all_, where one may hear a slight check between the _t_ and the _a_.]

[Footnote 15: “Singing” is here used in a wide sense. One cannot sing continuously on such a sound as _b_ or _d_, but one may easily outline a tune on a series of _b_’s or _d_’s in the manner of the plucked “pizzicato” on stringed instruments. A series of tones executed on continuant consonants, like _m_, _z_, or _l_, gives the effect of humming, droning, or buzzing. The sound of “humming,” indeed, is nothing but a continuous voiced nasal, held on one pitch or varying in pitch, as desired.]

[Footnote 16: The whisper of ordinary speech is a combination of unvoiced sounds and “whispered” sounds, as the term is understood in phonetics.]

The nose is not an active organ of speech, but it is highly important as a resonance chamber. It may be disconnected from the mouth, which is the other great resonance chamber, by the lifting of the movable part of the soft palate so as to shut off the passage of the breath into the nasal cavity; or, if the soft palate is allowed to hang down freely and unobstructively, so that the breath passes into both the nose and the mouth, these make a combined resonance chamber. Such sounds as _b_ and _a_ (as in _father_) are voiced “oral” sounds, that is, the voiced breath does not receive a nasal resonance. As soon as the soft palate is lowered, however, and the nose added as a participating resonance chamber, the sounds _b_ and _a_ take on a peculiar “nasal” quality and become, respectively, _m_ and the nasalized vowel written _an_ in French (e.g., _sang_, _tant_). The only English sounds[17] that normally receive a nasal resonance are _m_, _n_, and the _ng_ sound of _sing_. Practically all sounds, however, may be nasalized, not only the vowels–nasalized vowels are common in all parts of the world–but such sounds as _l_ or _z_. Voiceless nasals are perfectly possible. They occur, for instance, in Welsh and in quite a number of American Indian languages.

[Footnote 17: Aside from the involuntary nasalizing of all voiced sounds in the speech of those that talk with a “nasal twang.”]

The organs that make up the oral resonance chamber may articulate in two ways. The breath, voiced or unvoiced, nasalized or unnasalized, may be allowed to pass through the mouth without being checked or impeded at any point; or it may be either momentarily checked or allowed to stream through a greatly narrowed passage with resulting air friction. There are also transitions between the two latter types of articulation. The unimpeded breath takes on a particular color or quality in accordance with the varying shape of the oral resonance chamber. This shape is chiefly determined by the position of the movable parts–the tongue and the lips. As the tongue is raised or lowered, retracted or brought forward, held tense or lax, and as the lips are pursed (“rounded”) in varying degree or allowed to keep their position of rest, a large number of distinct qualities result. These oral qualities are the vowels. In theory their number is infinite, in practice the ear can differentiate only a limited, yet a surprisingly large, number of resonance positions. Vowels, whether nasalized or not, are normally voiced sounds; in not a few languages, however, “voiceless vowels”[18] also occur.

[Footnote 18: These may be also defined as free unvoiced breath with varying vocalic timbres. In the long Paiute word quoted on page 31 the first _u_ and the final _ue_ are pronounced without voice.]

[Transcriber’s note: Footnote 18 refers to line 1014.]

The remaining oral sounds are generally grouped together as “consonants.” In them the stream of breath is interfered with in some way, so that a lesser resonance results, and a sharper, more incisive quality of tone. There are four main types of articulation generally recognized within the consonantal group of sounds. The breath may be completely stopped for a moment at some definite point in the oral cavity. Sounds so produced, like _t_ or _d_ or _p_, are known as “stops” or “explosives.”[19] Or the breath may be continuously obstructed through a narrow passage, not entirely checked. Examples of such “spirants” or “fricatives,” as they are called, are _s_ and _z_ and _y_. The third class of consonants, the “laterals,” are semi-stopped. There is a true stoppage at the central point of articulation, but the breath is allowed to escape through the two side passages or through one of them. Our English _d_, for instance, may be readily transformed into _l_, which has the voicing and the position of _d_, merely by depressing the sides of the tongue on either side of the point of contact sufficiently to allow the breath to come through. Laterals are possible in many distinct positions. They may be unvoiced (the Welsh _ll_ is an example) as well as voiced. Finally, the stoppage of the breath may be rapidly intermittent; in other words, the active organ of contact–generally the point of the tongue, less often the uvula[20]–may be made to vibrate against or near the point of contact. These sounds are the “trills” or “rolled consonants,” of which the normal English _r_ is a none too typical example. They are well developed in many languages, however, generally in voiced form, sometimes, as in Welsh and Paiute, in unvoiced form as well.

[Footnote 19: Nasalized stops, say _m_ or _n_, can naturally not be truly “stopped,” as there is no way of checking the stream of breath in the nose by a definite articulation.]

[Footnote 20: The lips also may theoretically so articulate. “Labial trills,” however, are certainly rare in natural speech.]

The oral manner of articulation is naturally not sufficient to define a consonant. The place of articulation must also be considered. Contacts may be formed at a large number of points, from the root of the tongue to the lips. It is not necessary here to go at length into this somewhat complicated matter. The contact is either between the root of the tongue and the throat,[21] some part of the tongue and a point on the palate (as in _k_ or _ch_ or _l_), some part of the tongue and the teeth (as in the English _th_ of _thick_ and _then_), the teeth and one of the lips (practically always the upper teeth and lower lip, as in _f_), or the two lips (as in _p_ or English _w_). The tongue articulations are the most complicated of all, as the mobility of the tongue allows various points on its surface, say the tip, to articulate against a number of opposed points of contact. Hence arise many positions of articulation that we are not familiar with, such as the typical “dental” position of Russian or Italian _t_ and _d_; or the “cerebral” position of Sanskrit and other languages of India, in which the tip of the tongue articulates against the hard palate. As there is no break at any point between the rims of the teeth back to the uvula nor from the tip of the tongue back to its root, it is evident that all the articulations that involve the tongue form a continuous organic (and acoustic) series. The positions grade into each other, but each language selects a limited number of clearly defined positions as characteristic of its consonantal system, ignoring transitional or extreme positions. Frequently a language allows a certain latitude in the fixing of the required position. This is true, for instance, of the English _k_ sound, which is articulated much further to the front in a word like _kin_ than in _cool_. We ignore this difference, psychologically, as a non-essential, mechanical one. Another language might well recognize the difference, or only a slightly greater one, as significant, as paralleling the distinction in position between the _k_ of _kin_ and the _t_ of _tin_.

[Footnote 21: This position, known as “faucal,” is not common.]

The organic classification of speech sounds is a simple matter after what we have learned of their production. Any such sound may be put into its proper place by the appropriate answer to four main questions:–What is the position of the glottal cords during its articulation? Does the breath pass into the mouth alone or is it also allowed to stream into the nose? Does the breath pass freely through the mouth or is it impeded at some point and, if so, in what manner? What are the precise points of articulation in the mouth?[22] This fourfold classification of sounds, worked out in all its detailed ramifications,[23] is sufficient to account for all, or practically all, the sounds of language.[24]

[Footnote 22: “Points of articulation” must be understood to include tongue and lip positions of the vowels.]

[Footnote 23: Including, under the fourth category, a number of special resonance adjustments that we have not been able to take up specifically.]

[Footnote 24: In so far, it should be added, as these sounds are expiratory, i.e., pronounced with the outgoing breath. Certain languages, like the South African Hottentot and Bushman, have also a number of inspiratory sounds, pronounced by sucking in the breath at various points of oral contact. These are the so-called “clicks.”]

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

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

These considerations as to phonetic value lead to an important conception. Back of the purely objective system of sounds that is peculiar to a language and which can be arrived at only by a painstaking phonetic analysis, there is a more restricted “inner” or “ideal” system which, while perhaps equally unconscious as a system to the naive speaker, can far more readily than the other be brought to his consciousness as a finished pattern, a psychological mechanism. The inner sound-system, overlaid though it may be by the mechanical or the irrelevant, is a real and an immensely important principle in the life of a language. It may persist as a pattern, involving number, relation, and functioning of phonetic elements, long after its phonetic content is changed. Two historically related languages or dialects may not have a sound in common, but their ideal sound-systems may be identical patterns. I would not for a moment wish to imply that this pattern may not change. It may shrink or expand or change its functional complexion, but its rate of change is infinitely less rapid than that of the sounds as such. Every language, then, is characterized as much by its ideal system of sounds and by the underlying phonetic pattern (system, one might term it, of symbolic atoms) as by a definite grammatical structure. Both the phonetic and conceptual structures show the instinctive feeling of language for form.[25]

[Footnote 25: The conception of the ideal phonetic system, the phonetic pattern, of a language is not as well understood by linguistic students as it should be. In this respect the unschooled recorder of language, provided he has a good ear and a genuine instinct for language, is often at a great advantage as compared with the minute phonetician, who is apt to be swamped by his mass of observations. I have already employed my experience in teaching Indians to write their own language for its testing value in another connection. It yields equally valuable evidence here. I found that it was difficult or impossible to teach an Indian to make phonetic distinctions that did not correspond to “points in the pattern of his language,” however these differences might strike our objective ear, but that subtle, barely audible, phonetic differences, if only they hit the “points in the pattern,” were easily and voluntarily expressed in writing. In watching my Nootka interpreter write his language, I often had the curious feeling that he was transcribing an ideal flow of phonetic elements which he heard, inadequately from a purely objective standpoint, as the intention of the actual rumble of speech.]



The question of form in language presents itself under two aspects. We may either consider the formal methods employed by a language, its “grammatical processes,” or we may ascertain the distribution of concepts with reference to formal expression. What are the formal patterns of the language? And what types of concepts make up the content of these formal patterns? The two points of view are quite distinct. The English word _unthinkingly_ is, broadly speaking, formally parallel to the word _reformers_, each being built up on a radical element which may occur as an independent verb (_think_, _form_), this radical element being preceded by an element (_un-_, _re-_) that conveys a definite and fairly concrete significance but that cannot be used independently, and followed by two elements (_-ing_, _-ly_; _-er_, _-s_) that limit the application of the radical concept in a relational sense. This formal pattern–(b) + A + (c) + (d)[26]–is a characteristic feature of the language. A countless number of functions may be expressed by it; in other words, all the possible ideas conveyed by such prefixed and suffixed elements, while tending to fall into minor groups, do not necessarily form natural, functional systems. There is no logical reason, for instance, why the numeral function of _-s_ should be formally expressed in a manner that is analogous to the expression of the idea conveyed by _-ly_. It is perfectly conceivable that in another language the concept of manner (_-ly_) may be treated according to an entirely different pattern from that of plurality. The former might have to be expressed by an independent word (say, _thus unthinking_), the latter by a prefixed element (say, _plural[27]-reform-er_). There are, of course, an unlimited number of other possibilities. Even within the confines of English alone the relative independence of form and function can be made obvious. Thus, the negative idea conveyed by _un-_ can be just as adequately expressed by a suffixed element (_-less_) in such a word as _thoughtlessly_. Such a twofold formal expression of the negative function would be inconceivable in certain languages, say Eskimo, where a suffixed element would alone be possible. Again, the plural notion conveyed by the _-s_ of _reformers_ is just as definitely expressed in the word _geese_, where an utterly distinct method is employed. Furthermore, the principle of vocalic change (_goose_–_geese_) is by no means confined to the expression of the idea of plurality; it may also function as an indicator of difference of time (e.g., _sing_–_sang_, _throw_–_threw_). But the expression in English of past time is not by any means always bound up with a change of vowel. In the great majority of cases the same idea is expressed by means of a distinct suffix (_die-d_, _work-ed_). Functionally, _died_ and _sang_ are analogous; so are _reformers_ and _geese_. Formally, we must arrange these words quite otherwise. Both _die-d_ and _re-form-er-s_ employ the method of suffixing grammatical elements; both _sang_ and _geese_ have grammatical form by virtue of the fact that their vowels differ from the vowels of other words with which they are closely related in form and meaning (_goose_; _sing_, _sung_).

[Footnote 26: For the symbolism, see chapter II.]

[Footnote 27: “_Plural_” is here a symbol for any prefix indicating plurality.]

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

In Hebrew, as in other Semitic languages, the verbal idea as such is expressed by three, less often by two or four, characteristic consonants. Thus, the group _sh-m-r_ expresses the idea of “guarding,” the group _g-n-b_ that of “stealing,” _n-t-n_ that of “giving.” Naturally these consonantal sequences are merely abstracted from the actual forms. The consonants are held together in different forms by characteristic vowels that vary according to the idea that it is desired to express. Prefixed and suffixed elements are also frequently used. The method of internal vocalic change is exemplified in _shamar_ “he has guarded,” _shomer_ “guarding,” _shamur_ “being guarded,” _shmor_ “(to) guard.” Analogously, _ganab_ “he has stolen,” _goneb_ “stealing,” _ganub_ “being stolen,” _gnob_ “(to) steal.” But not all infinitives are formed according to the type of _shmor_ and _gnob_ or of other types of internal vowel change. Certain verbs suffix a _t_-element for the infinitive, e.g., _ten-eth_ “to give,” _heyo-th_ “to be.” Again, the pronominal ideas may be expressed by independent words (e.g., _anoki_ “I”), by prefixed elements (e.g., _e-shmor_ “I shall guard”), or by suffixed elements (e.g., _shamar-ti_ “I have guarded”). In Nass, an Indian language of British Columbia, plurals are formed by four distinct methods. Most nouns (and verbs) are reduplicated in the plural, that is, part of the radical element is repeated, e.g., _gyat_ “person,” _gyigyat_ “people.” A second method is the use of certain characteristic prefixes, e.g., _an’on_ “hand,” _ka-an’on_ “hands”; _wai_ “one paddles,” _lu-wai_ “several paddle.” Still other plurals are formed by means of internal vowel change, e.g., _gwula_ “cloak,” _gwila_ “cloaks.” Finally, a fourth class of plurals is constituted by such nouns as suffix a grammatical element, e.g., _waky_ “brother,” _wakykw_ “brothers.”

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

Let us now take up a little more systematically, however briefly, the various grammatical processes that linguistic research has established. They may be grouped into six main types: word order; composition; affixation, including the use of prefixes, suffixes, and infixes; internal modification of the radical or grammatical element, whether this affects a vowel or a consonant; reduplication; and accentual differences, whether dynamic (stress) or tonal (pitch). There are also special quantitative processes, like vocalic lengthening or shortening and consonantal doubling, but these may be looked upon as particular