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428                The Loom of Language
the words that most of us use., most of the time The ones we have most
on our lips are just these small words By the time you get as far as the
next full stop you will have met more than six score of them with no break,
and it would be quite a soft job to go on a long time in the same strain as
the old rhyme Jack and JilL
This is not the only way in which Anglo-American approaches
Chinese. The reader of The Loom of Language no longer needs to be
told that English has discarded most of the flexions with which it was
equipped a thousand years ago or how much we now rely on the use
of unchangeable words True the process did not complete itself, but
there are now few ways in which we have to modify word-forms Our
stock of essential words includes a small and sterile class with internal
changes such as those of sing-sang or foot-feet Otherwise the terminal
-5 of the plural noun, the endings -s, -ed and -ing of the verb togethei
with the optional affixes -er and -est which we tack on to adjectives
circumscribe the flexions which usage demands. It is a short step to
Chinese vernaculars of which all words are invariant With very few
exceptions the Chinese word is an unalterable block of material It
tolerates neither flexions, noi derivatives affixes such as the -er in
baker In general, its form tells us nothing to suggest that it denotes
an act, a state, a quality, a thing, or a person
One and the same word may thus slip from one grammatical niche
to another, and what we call the parts of speech have little to do with
how Chinese words behave The word SHANG may mean the above
one, i e. ruler, and then corresponds to an Aryan noun In SHANG
PIEN (above side) it does the job of an Aryan adjective In SHANG
MA (to above a horse, i e to mount one) it is a verb-equivalent. In
MA SHANG (horse above, is on the horse) it does service as post-
posited directive corresponding to one of our prepositions Here again
we are on familiar ground We down a man, take the down train and
walk down the road We house our goods, sell a house and do as little
house work as possible This is not to say that all Chinese names for
things may also denote actions The word NU (woman) is never
equivalent to an Aryan veib, though JJaN (man) may mean performing
the act of a man, a one-sided way of expressing the act of coitus. Anglo-
American provides a parallel We man a boat but we do not woman a
cookery class. We buy salt and salt our soup, bottle wine and drink
from the bottle, but we do not as yet mustard our bacon or cupboard
our pants.
Whether a particular Chinese sound signifies thing, attribute, direc-