Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech
Quite aside from their intrinsic interest, linguistic forms and historical processes have the greatest possible diagnostic value for the understanding of some of the more difficult and elusive problems in the psychology of thought and in the strange, cumulative drift in the life of the human spirit that we call history or progress or evolution.—

Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech

Edward Sapir

The noted linguist and anthropologist Edward Sapir wrote this work to show language in “relation to other fundamental interests—the problem of thought, the nature of the historical process, race, culture, art.” Language is not only a study of language and culture, but ultimately on the world of relations and influence.

Bibliographic Record


 Preface    Subject Index

  1. Introductory: Language Defined
    Language a cultural, not a biologically inherited, function.
    Futility of interjectional and sound-imitative theories of the
    origin of speech. Definition of language. The psycho-physical
    basis of speech. Concepts and language. Is thought possible
    without language? Abbreviations and transfers of the speech
    process. The universality of language.

  2. The Elements of Speech
    Sounds not properly elements of speech. Words and significant
    parts of words (radical elements, grammatical elements). Types
    of words. The word a formal, not a functional unit. The word has
    a real psychological existence. The sentence. The cognitive,
    volitional, and emotional aspects of speech. Feeling-tones of

  3. The Sounds of Language
    The vast number of possible sounds. The articulating organs and
    their share in the production of speech sounds: lungs, glottal
    cords, nose, mouth and its parts. Vowel articulations. How and
    where consonants are articulated. The phonetic habits of a
    language. The “values” of sounds. Phonetic patterns.

  4. Form in Language: Grammatical Processes
    Formal processes as distinct from grammatical functions.
    Intercrossing of the two points of view. Six main types of
    grammatical process. Word sequence as a method. Compounding of
    radical elements. Affixing: prefixes and suffixes; infixes.
    Internal vocalic change; consonantal change. Reduplication.
    Functional variations of stress; of pitch.

  5. Form in Language: Grammatical Concepts
    Analysis of a typical English sentence. Types of concepts
    illustrated by it. Inconsistent expression of analogous
    concepts. How the same sentence may be expressed in other
    languages with striking differences in the selection and
    grouping of concepts. Essential and non-essential concepts. The
    mixing of essential relational concepts with secondary ones of
    more concrete order. Form for form’s sake. Classification of
    linguistic concepts: basic or concrete, derivational, concrete
    relational, pure relational. Tendency for these types of
    concepts to flow into each other. Categories expressed in
    various grammatical systems. Order and stress as relating
    principles in the sentence. Concord. Parts of speech: no
    absolute classification possible; noun and verb.

  6. Types of Linguistic Structure
    The possibility of classifying languages. Difficulties.
    Classification into form-languages and formless languages not
    valid. Classification according to formal processes used not
    practicable. Classification according to degree of synthesis.
    “Inflective” and “agglutinative.” Fusion and symbolism as
    linguistic techniques. Agglutination. “Inflective” a confused
    term. Threefold classification suggested: what types of concepts
    are expressed? what is the prevailing technique? what is the
    degree of synthesis? Four fundamental conceptual types. Examples
    tabulated. Historical test of the validity of the suggested
    conceptual classification.

  7. Language as a Historical Product: Drift
    Variability of language. Individual and dialectic variations.
    Time variation or “drift.” How dialects arise. Linguistic
    stocks. Direction or “slope” of linguistic drift. Tendencies
    illustrated in an English sentence. Hesitations of usage as
    symptomatic of the direction of drift. Leveling tendencies in
    English. Weakening of case elements. Tendency to fixed position
    in the sentence. Drift toward the invariable word.

  8. Language as a Historical Product: Phonetic Law
    Parallels in drift in related languages. Phonetic law as
    illustrated in the history of certain English and German vowels
    and consonants. Regularity of phonetic law. Shifting of sounds
    without destruction of phonetic pattern. Difficulty of
    explaining the nature of phonetic drifts. Vowel mutation in
    English and German. Morphological influence on phonetic change.
    Analogical levelings to offset irregularities produced by
    phonetic laws. New morphological features due to phonetic

  9. How Languages Influence Each Other
    Linguistic influences due to cultural contact. Borrowing of
    words. Resistances to borrowing. Phonetic modification of
    borrowed words. Phonetic interinfluencings of neighboring
    languages. Morphological borrowings. Morphological resemblances
    as vestiges of genetic relationship.

  10. Language, Race and Culture
    Naïve tendency to consider linguistic, racial, and cultural
    groupings as congruent. Race and language need not correspond.
    Cultural and linguistic boundaries not identical. Coincidences
    between linguistic cleavages and those of language and culture
    due to historical, not intrinsic psychological, causes. Language
    does not in any deep sense “reflect” culture.

  11. Language and Literature
    Language as the material or medium of literature. Literature may
    move on the generalized linguistic plane or may be inseparable from
    specific linguistic conditions. Language as a collective art.
    Necessary esthetic advantages or limitations in any language. Style
    as conditioned by inherent features of the language. Prosody as
    conditioned by the phonetic dynamics of a language.