Skip to main content

Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

See other formats

Accidence—The Table Manners of Language   121

therefore got their passive flexion independently by the method which
Bopp (p 188) believed to be the origin of the Greek and Latin

The Scandinavian model is instructive for another reason It is already
falling into disuse Perhaps this is because it is not easy to recognize
when speaking quickly Whatever reason we do give for it, the simple
truth is that passive flexion is a device of doubtful advantage in the
written as well as in the spoken language The passive flexion, which is
quite regular in modern Scandinavian languages, is not an essential tool
of lucid expression We can always translate the passive form of a Latin
or of a Scandinavian verb in two ways We can build up the sentence
in the more direct or active way3 or we can use the type of roundabout
expression given above. Thus we can either say / called him or he was
called by we The first is the way of the Frenchman or Spaniard It is
what an Englishman prefers if legal education has not encouraged the
habit of such preposterous alien circumlocutions as it will be seen from an
examination of Table X Table X shows would be more snappy, and would
not devitalize the essentially social relation between author and reader
by an affectation of impersonality

Our account of the decay of the flexions in English may lead a reader
who has not yet attempted to learn another European language to take
a discouraging view of the prospect. Let us therefore be clear about
two things before we go further. One is that though Anglo-American
has shed more of the characteristic flexions of the older Indo-European
languages than their contemporary descendants, all of the latter have
travelled along the same road. The other is that many of the flexions
which still survive m them have no use in the written, and even less in
the spoken, language.
In two ways French has gone further than English. It has more com-
pletely thrown oveiboaid noim-case and adjecnve-cowpamon in favour
of roundabout or, as we shall henceforth say, analytical or isolating ex-
pressions equivalent to our optional "o//5 and "more . . than" or "the
most" Though French has an elaborate tense system on paper, some of
its verb flexions never intrude into conversation, and we can short-
circuit others by analytical constructions such as our "/ am going
to , . ." The Danish, Norwegian, and the conversational Swedish verb
has lost personal flexion altogether; and the time flexion of German,
like that of die Scandinavian languages, is closely parallel to our own.
The personal flexion of French is sixty per cent a convention of writing,