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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

Accidence—The Table Manners of Language   107
or less extent because of the difficulties of pronouncing them distinctly
in a new context This would explain why languages rich in such
derivatives generally have several types of tense formation The irregu-
larities of the English strong verb, which has few surviving flexions,
sufficiently illustrate the difficulties to which such irregularities give
rise when a foreigner tries to learn a language The forms of the English
verb (including the -ing derivative) are typically four in number (e.g.
say, says, saying, said)} or at most five, in strong verbs which have
internal flexion (e g give, gives, giving, gave and given) The Latin verb
root has over a hundred flexional derivatives
In English there are many verb families such as love-shove-prove,
dnnk-nng-swim, thmk-catch-teach, of which the first includes moie than
ninety-five per cent Grammarians put Latin verbs in one or other of f oui
different families called conjugations, of which the third is a miscellany
of irregularities There are also many exceptional ones that do not
follow the rules of any conjugation. So it is not surprising that the
flexional system of Latin began to wilt when Roman soldiers med to
converse with natives of Gaul, or that it withered after Germanic tabes
invaded Italy, France, and the Iberian Peninsula. Personal endings were
blurred, and roundabout ways of expressing the same thing replaced
tense derivatives.
Our last table shows that we can express the meaning of six Latin
tenses by combining our helpers be, have, shall, with the -ed (loved)
or -en (given) form (past participle), with the combination to and the
dictionary verb, or with the -ing form Since there can be no difference
of opinion about whether an analytical language, which expresses time,
aspect, and personal relations in this way is more easy to learn than a
synthetic (i e. flexional) language, it is important to ask whether Europe
lost anything in the process of simplification.
Clearly there is no tragedy in the removal of an overgrowth of mis-
pronunciation that led to flexion of person Similar remarks apply with
equal force to the loss of tense flexion The fine distinctions of time or
aspect which old-fashioned grammarians detect in the tense flexions of a
language such as Latin or Greek have very little relation to the way in
which a scientific worker records the correspondence of events when he
is concerned with the order in which they occur; and few tense distinc-
tions of meaning are clear-cut. It is sheer nonsense to pretend that pre-
vision of modern scientific ideas about process and reality guided the
evolution of the seven hundred or more disguises of a single Sanskrit
verb root Tenses took shape in the letterless beginnings of language