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io8                The Loom of Language
among clockless people into whose nomadic experience the sun-dials
and clepsydras of the ancient Mediterranean priesthoods had not yet
Again and again history has pronounced its judgment upon the merits
of such flexions in culture contacts through trade, conquest, or the
migrations of peoples International intercourse compels those who
speak an inflected language to introduce the words which make the
flexions useless If the flexions persist as mummies in the mausoleum of
a nation's literature, a large part of its intellectual energy is devoted to
the pursuit of grammatical studies which are merely obstructive, while
the gap between popular speech and that of highly educated people
prevents the spread of technical knowledge essential to intelligent
In nearly (see p. 419) all languages of the Indo-European family
personal flexion is confined to the class of words called verbs y and tense
flexion is exclusively characteristic of them We can still recognize as
verbs some English words which have no tense flexion by the personal
ending;, ~$3 as in cuts, or ~mg> as m hurting, but some helpers (may* can>
shall) have neither -s nor -ing forms The outlines of the verb as a class
of English words have now become famt In written Swedish, the verb
has one ending common to the first, second, and third person singular
and another ending common to the first, second, and third person plural
This process of levelling is still going on in Swedish Only the singular
ending is customarily used m speech or correspondence There is no
trace of personal flexion m Danish and Norwegian,
Owing to accidental uniformities which have accompanied the
levelling down of the personal flexion, grammar books sometimes refer
to the number flexion of the verb. What is more properly called number
flexion is characteristic of the class of words called nouns. In most
modern European languages, number flexion, illustrated by the dis-
tinction between ghost and ghosts,> or man and men9 simply tells us
whether we are talking of one or more than one creature, thing, quality,
or group. The terms singular and plural stand for the two forms* The
singular form is the dictionary word: Some of the older Indo-European
languages, e.g, Sanskrit and early Greek, had dual forms, as if we were
to write catwo for two catst in contradistinction to one cat or several cats,
In the English spoken at the time of Alfred the Great, the personal
pronoun still had dual, as well as singular and plural forms. The dual
form persists in Icelandic, which is a surviving fossil language, as the
duck-bill platypus of Tasmania is a surviving fossil animal. At one twuc