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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

Syntax—The Traffic Rules of Language   133
valent for them when used in this way. In Semitic, as in many other
languages, e g. Malay, the connexion of a name with its attribute is
indicated by position, as when we say- fine paragraph, this. Headline
idiom also shuns the verb be as copula linking topic and attribute or as
mark of identity, e g. FIVE CRUISERS IN ACTION, PRESIDENT IN BALTI-
MORE TO-NIGHT, NEW TENNIS CHAMPION LEFT-HANDED, OHIO PRO-
FESSOR NOBEL PRIZEMAN.
In a simple statement which calls attention to some characteristic of
a thing or person, the function of the verb to be> when so used, has
nothing to do with real existence, and it has nothing to do with the
usual role of a verb in a sentence. We recognize it by purely formal
criteria inasmuch as it takes different forms in accordance with the
pronoun that precedes it, and with the time to which the statement
refers Its real function, which is merely to indicate tune, could be
equally well expressed, as in Chinese, by the use of a particle such as
once or formerly (past), now or still (present), henceforth or eventually
(future)
From what has been said it is now clear that there is no universal
syntax, i.e rules of grammar which deal with how to choose words and
arrange them to make a statement with a definite meaning, in all
languages. In this chapter we shall confine ourselves mainly to a more
modest theme. Our aim will be to get a bird's-eye view of essential
rules which help us to learn those languages spoken by our nearest
European neighbours, i.e languages belonging to the Romance and
Teutonic divisions of the Indo-European family. To speak, to write, or
to read a language, we need to know many derivative words not com-
monly listed in dictionaries We have now seen what they are, and
which ones are most important in so far as they contribute to the mean-
ing of a statement or question, an instruction or a request When we
can recognize them, and can use those which are essential, without
offence to a native, we still need to know in what circumstances a word
in one language is equivalent to a word in another, how the meaning of
a sequence of words is affected by the way in which we arrange them,
and what derivatives to use in a particular context Of these three, the
last is the least important, if we merely wish to read fluently or to make
ourselves intelligible The second is the most important both for read-
ing or for self-expression The third is specially important only if we
aim at writing correctly
Humanitarian sentiment compels the writer to issue a warning at
this stage WHAT FOLLOWS is NOT BEDSIDE READING The reader who