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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

Language Planning for a New Order     489
Absent in modern Romance languages, it is already vestigial in English,
and still more so in Dutch and in many German dialects Number and
tense are the only flexions which no Aryan language has completely
discarded.
Unlike gender or the object-case category,, flexion of number has a
clear-cut meaning Still it is not an indispensable device We can
always use a separate word to forestall doubt about whether the topic
is one sheep or more than one sheep Indeed it is wasteful to tack on a
plural mark when the statement as a whole, or the presence of a qualifier
such as al^ many,, several, five, make it clear that the word stands for
more than one of a kind. To some extent-, Turkish recognizes such
uneconomical behaviour The Turkish noun drops the plural affix (-lar
or -ler) when accompanied by a numeral, eg ev = house, evler
 houses, dort ev = four houses The same usage occurs in German,
but remains in a very rudimentary stage, e g dret Mann
Similar remarks apply to tense We express plurality once and com-
pleted action once, and both explicitly, when we say two deer cut
through the thicket yesterday We express plurality twice and completed
action twice when we say two rabbits escaped yesterday The flexion ~s
does nothing which the numeral two has not already done The flexion
-ed does only what the particle yesterday does more explicitly We can
use the singular form of the noun in a collective or generic sense with-
out the slightest danger of misunderstanding, for instance, when we
say in French le lapin esf bon marche (rabbit is cheap) Context is often
sufficient to safeguard the distinction between singular and plural,
past or present. When it is not, we can fall back on an appropriate
numeral, pointer-word, or particle of time
One serious objection to flexion as a functional device is that fami-
liarity breeds contempt. By too often using a flexional form in a context
which makes it redundant we become careless about its meaning This
process of semantic erosion has not gone far enough to make the plural
flexion a positive nuisance., but clear functional outlines of tense dis-
tinction have been blurred in many languages, including English
(P i3)-
Thus there is no formidable argument for retaining any flexional
frills in a constructed language, designed with due regard to the needs
of the Chinese, Japanese, and other non-Aryan speech communities to
which our own flexional system is alien and confusing In any case, a
plural form of the noun and a past form of the verb are the only two
likely to find any large body of supporters among interlinguists other
Q*