Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech

Sapir, Edward 1921. Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.

The process of acquiring speech is, in sober fact, an utterly different sort of thing from the process of learning to walk. In the case of the latter function, culture, in other words, the traditional body of social usage, is not seriously brought into play. (Sapir 1921: 1)

The comparison between learning to walk and acquiring speech is familiar enough from de Laguna (1927) but this must be the source. The definition of culture here is serviceable: the traditional body of social usage amounts to the Peircean "Third", i.e. how the community uses a sign.

Eliminate society and there is every reason to believe that he will learn to walk, if, indeed, he survives at all. But it is just as certain that he will never learn to talk, that is, to communicate ideas according to the traditional system of a particular society. (Sapir 1921: 2)

This "communication of ideas" is commonly held as a problematic definition of the primary function of communication because the social function of casual talk seems more "primitive" (as opposed to "primary") than the communication of ideas. I believe Malinowski referred to Franz Boas but he might as well have referred to this instance of the same ethos (and I think I recall others referring to this instance in a similar vain).

Walking is an organic, an instinctive, function (not, of course, itself an instinct); speech is a non-instinctive, acquired, "cultural" function. (Sapir 1921: 2)

When reiterating the universalist and relativist tendencies (between Malinowski and Spencer, for example) it may go down better when this usage of functions is employed.

Moreover, such instinctive cries hardly constitute communication in any strict sense. They are not addressed to any one, they are merely overheard, if heard at all, as the bark of a dog, the sound of approaching footsteps, or the rustling of the wind is heard. If they convey certain ideas to the hearer, it is only in the very general sense in which any and every sound or even any phenomenon in our environment may be said to convey an idea to the perceiving mind. (Sapir 1921: 3)

The "mind's embrace of an object" per se is not an act of communication and the justification hangs of course upon addresivity: animal cries are not addressed to any one. In the younger Uexküll's taxonomy these amount perhaps to information and signification but not to communication. It is astounding how much in line this passage is with general semiotics: the perceiving mind could be replaced with the "semiotic subject" without losing anything in the outcome.

A definition of language, however, that is so [|] extended as to cover every type of inference becomes utterly meaningless. (Sapir 1921: 3-4)

Replace "inference" with "pragmatic implication" and you have a concise statement about the study of hypophatic phenomena (subsymbolic signs carrying a phatic function, such as, for example, the phatic finger, the social media "like" or "fav", and other phenomena having nearly nothing to do with speech) being meaningless: when nonverbal systems of communication are interpreted according to the scheme of linguistic speech functions the outcome is a confusion between information, signification and communication.

Interjections are among the least important of speech elements. Their discussion is valuable mainly because it can be shown that even they, avowedly the nearest of all language sounds to instinctive utterance, are only superficially of an instinctive nature. (Sapir 1921: 5)

Tell this to the horde of linguists studying interjections! It is almost offensive that the phatic function is tied with interjections so frequently. Not only does this confuse the phatic and conative speech functions but it adds to the trivialization of phaticity: reducing it to the most meaningless and least important elements of speech. This is why it's somewhat annoying to see speech element taxonomies where "phatic" and "social" talk are two different categories, for example. Ideally, these would stand for the same thing!

Language is a purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions, and desires by means of a system of voluntarily produced symbols. (Sapir 1921: 7)

The order is messed up: (1) emotions; (2) desires; and (3) ideas. It is curious that instead of actions (or any other synonym in this set) there are desires, which do lead towards actions - like plans - but have an odd source (don't desires spring from the unconscious?).

However, as speech-sound localized in the brain, even when associated with the particular movements of the "speech organs" that are required to produce it, is very far from being an element of language. It must be further associated with some element or group of elements of experience, say a visual image or a class of visual images or a feeling of relation, before it has even rudimentary linguistic significance. This "element" of experience is the content or "meaning" of the linguistic unit; the associated auditory, motor, and other cerebral processes that lie immediately back of the act of speaking and the act of hearing speech are merely a complicated symbol of or signal for these "meanings," of which more anon. (Sapir 1921: 9)

The semiotic portion of the theory (e.g. association of ideas) is rather odd; particularly "a feeling of relation", which I knew as his definition of intuition and appears to have an abductive nature. (Perhaps the full element of experience should read as "a feeling of relation between classes of visual images"?)

We see therefore at once that language as such is not and cannot be definitely localized, for it consists of a peculiar symbolic relation - physiologically an arbitrary one - between all possible elements of consciousness on the one hand and certain selected elements localized in the auditory, motor, and other cerebral and nervous tracts on the other. If language can be said to be definitely "localized" in the brain, it is only in that general and rather useless sense in which all aspects of consciousness, all human interest and activity, may be said to be "in the brain." (Sapir 1921: 9)

What is the neurophysiology of the semeion? All possible elements of consciousness amounts for the totality of the contents of mind or, alternatively, the phaneron (the totality of phenomenal objects). Localization itself is still a troublesome question because "nervous tracks" no longer flies and the localization of semantic associations in the brain appears still up for debate (how far are we on that?).

However, such an abstraction is justifiable. We can profitably discuss the intention, the form, and the history of speech, precisely as we discuss the nature of any other phase of human culture - say art or religion - as an institutional or cultural entity, leaving the organic and psychological mechanisms back of it as something to be taken for granted. (Sapir 1921: 9-10)

I imagine these mechanisms are left unexplained because dealing with them even on the basis of literature alone in such a hassle and disentangling them even within single monographs (Durkheim's Religious Ideas or Malinowski's Aborigine Family) is difficult.

One may go so far as to suspect that the symbolic expression of thought may in some cases run along outside the fringe of the conscious mind, so that the feeling of a tree, non-linguistic stream of thought is for minds of a certain type a relatively, but not only a relatively, justified one. Psycho-physically, this would mean that the auditory or equivalent visual or motor centers in the brain, together with the appropriate paths of association, that are the cerebral equivalent of speech, are touched off so lightly during the process of thought as not to rise into consciousness at all. This would be a limiting case - though riding lightlly on sthe submerged crests of speech, [|] instead of jogging along with it, hand in hand. The modern psychology has shown us how powerfully symbolism is at work in the unconscious mind. It is therefore easier to understand at the present time than it would have been twenty years ago that the most rarefied thought may be but the conscious counterpart of an unconscious linguistic symbolism. (Sapir 1921: 15-16)

I recall reading about this stuff in Jakobson's treatments of Sapir but only now realized how I could put this into use. It's a relatively recent idea but has to do with viewing phatic communion as an intersubjective form of unconscious streams of thought; that is, implicate the default-mode network in the shallowness of small talk.

Communication, which is the very object of speech, is successfully effected onl ywhen the hearer's auditory perceptions are translated into the appropriate and intended flow of imagery or thought or both combined. (Sapir 1921: 17)

By this "Saussurean" ("the cycle of speech") definition of communication even phatic communion qualifies as communication. The thing to do here is to investigate into the role of the flow of imagery or thought because the critical core of the term seems to point to imagery being mundane and thus uninteresting and thought being unimportant and thus without significant impact.

The most important of these modifications is the abbreviation of the speech process involved in thinking. This has doubtless many forms, according to the structural [|] or functional peculiarities of the individual mind. The least modified form is that known as "talking to one's self" or "thinking aloud." Here the speaker and the hearer are identified in a single person, who may be said to communicate with himself. (Sapir 1921: 17-18)

Autocommunication, self-communication or intrapersonal communication! This is one of the earliest (in the 20th century) instances I have now gathered and obviously the most immediate influence for Jakobson.

Many primitive languages have a formal richness, a latent luxuriance of expression, that eclipses anything known to the languages of modern civilization. Even in the mere matter of the inventory of speech the layman must be prepared for strange surprises. Popular statements as to the extreme poverty of expression to which primitive languages are doomed are simply myths. (Sapir 1921: 22)

Contra Malinowski whose popular statement about the language of savage tribesmen is that it is primitive in the sense of fulfilling only the social function of ritual, politeness, and gossip.

The true, significant elements of language are generally sequences of sounds that are either words, significant parts of words, or word groupings. What distinguishes each of these elements is that it is the outward sign of a specific idea, whether of a single concept or image or of a number of such concepts or images definitely connected into a whole. The single word may or may not be the simplest significant element we have to deal with. (Sapir 1921: 25)

This passage sent me to the meta-level. What I could possibly do with my phatic project is divide the terminological issue into categories based on these elements of language: (1) significant parts of words, like the prefix sym in sympathy and symmetry, the affirmative (of pathos) connotation of Greek phatos; (2) words, as in the various synonyms for phaticity (communization, consummation) and perhaps the worthwhile distinctions between linguistic communion, communication, and function; and (3) word groupings, which takes me to the modern multi-word terminological modification (phatic media culture, phatic social media, phatic infrastructure, phatic violence, phatic fountains, etc.).

Next, I could return to the "meta-phatic" keywords and analyze the specific idea with a representative anecdote (include new stories from the likes of Lemon, Nozawa, Zuckerman, and Porter). Perhaps I could even systematize the significant elements of the Phatic Communion portion of Malinowski's original essay and emphasize their significance by pointing out or practically enlisting the repeated tropes in varied terminologies like I've noticed in recent phatic studies readings. The curious thing will be to find their real-life significance in the modern world.

In actual use, of course, these five (or six) fundamental types may be indefinitely complicated in a number of ways. (Sapir 1921: 30)

Phraseological finding for discussing the overlapping linguistic functions in Jakobson's scheme.

I select it from Paiute, the language of the Indians of the arid plateaus of southwestern Utah. The word wii-to-kuchum-punku-rügani-yugwy-va-ntü-m(ü) is of unusual length even for its own language, but it is no psychological monster for all that. It means "they who are going to sit and cut up with a knife a black cow (or bull)," or, in the order of the Indian elements, "knife-black-buffalo-pet-cut up-sit(plur.)-future-participle-animate plur." (Sapir 1921: 31)

Lexical finding: the psychological monster in phatic communion is the stranger: "The ultimate root of the Stranger's threat is therefore somewhat shifted; it is now his penchant for bizarre questions which would not occur to a 'normal' person, for contesting the very distinction which for 'ordinary' people are attributes of the universe itself rather than their views of the world." (Bauman 1973: 130) - although obviously focused on ideology here the stranger appears to be a common trope - and perhaps easily searchable keyword - in cultural anthropology.

In truth it is impossible to define the word from a functional standpoint at all, for the word may be anything from the expression of a single concept - concrete or abstract or purely relational (as in of or by or and) - to the expression of a complete thought [...] (Sapir 1921: 32)

Another metaterminological idea: the phatic function (of) something (family pictures, talk radio); the phatic function performed (by) something (communal voice, international relations); and phatic communication (and) something (else, like digital revolutions, mental health).

As the necessity of defining thought solely and exclusively for its own sake becomes more urgent, the word becomes increasingly irrelevant as a means. We can therefore easily understand why the mathematician and the symbolic logician are driven to discard the word and to build up their thought with the help of symbols which have, each of them, a rigid unitary value. (Sapir 1921: 34)

Perhaps there is a way to compare Malinowski's treatment of the higher arts with Sapir's ideas about the relationship between thought and language. The phraseology here could be used for discussing the increasing role of imagery (memes, memberberries) as compared to discursive thought; and secondly the "exactness" or rigidity of language (lapsing references?).

Linguistic experience, both as expressed in standardized, written form and as tested in daily usage, indicates overwhelmingly that there is not, as a rule, the slightest difficulty in bringing the word to consciousness as a psychological reality. (Sapir 1921: 34)

Phraseological finding for discussing the intuitive nature of phatic communion, and how it is nearly a universal phenomenon. No-one has difficulty identifying such types of social interactions and finding some lack (some point of criticism that allows the interaction to be classified phatic, i.e. meaningless, trivial, annoying, small, futile, polite, etc.).

The best that we can do is to say that the word is one of the smallest, completely satisfying bits of isolated "meaning" into which the sentence resolves itself. It cannot be cut into without a disturbance of meaning, one or the other or both of the severed parts remaining as a helpless waif on our hands. (Sapir 1921: 35)

A phraseological finding reminiscent of Morris's one about the putty of meaning. I could argue, for example, that Malinowski's Phatic Communion is a whole illegitimately severed into parts by theorizing which selects the elements favourable to the case at hand and ignores the more difficult or even outwardly incomprehensible aspects of phatic communion. Phatic theory is a helpless waif (a hompless, nelected, or abandoned person, especially a child) without a comprehensible evaluation.

Such features as accent, cadence, and the treatment of consonants and vowels within the body of a word are often useful as aids in the external demarcation of the word, but they must by no means be interpreted, as is sometimes done, as themselves responsible for its psychological existence. They at best but strengthen a feeling of unity that is already present on other grounds. (Sapir 1921: 36)

The contoural features: cadence (and semicadence) are already familiar. External demarcation and feeling of unity!

The habitual association of radical elements, grammatical elements, words, and sentences with concepts or groups of concepts related into wholes is the fact itself of language. It is important to note that there is in all languages a certain randomness of association. (Sapir 1921: 38)

Phraseological finding having to do with the accidental nature of conventional or communal associations.

It is obvious that a language cannot go beyond a certain point in this randomness. Many languages [|] go incredibly far in this respect, it is true, but linguistic history shows conclusively that sooner or later the less frequent occurring associations are ironed out at the expense of the more vital ones. In other words, all languages have an inherent tendency to economy of expression. (Sapir 1921: 38-39)

Vital associations vs non-vital associations. The "economy" here sounds like Spencer in Principles of Style but I realized that there may be a more Theory, Culture & Society way to go about it: economy can be interpreted in the market sense and take us to the market-place of ideas, language, and culture. There precedents for the randomness of culture in Lotman as well as in "The Consequences of Literacy".

Up to the present we have been assuming that the material of language reflects merely the world of concepts and, on what I have ventured to call the "pre-rational" plane, of images, which are the raw material of concepts. We have, in other words, been assuming that language moves entirely in the ideational or cognitive sphere. It is time that we amplified the picture. (Sapir 1921: 39)

Relevant talking points for discussing the relation between representative anecdotes (subsymbolic raw images), and phatic tropes (concepts).

Emotion, indeed, is proverbially inclined to speechlessness. Most, if not all, the interjections are to be put to the credit of emotional expression, also, it may be, a number of linguistic elements expressing certain modalities, such as dubitative or potential forms, which may be interpreted as reflecting the emotional [|] states of hesitation or doubt - attenuated fear. On the whole, it must be admitted that ideation reigns supreme in language, that volition and emotion come in as distinctly secondary factors. (Sapir 1921: 39-40)

Point for elaborate treatment of emotions that emphasizes the inarticulate nature of emotional expressions goes to Weston La Barre.

Dubitative and potential modalities of emotional expression are new to me and the first occasion where these could be put to good use is the connection debteen doubt and belief: "XXIV. Doubt - Doubt is privation of certitude as regards a thesis that makes some pretension to belief, - one supported by some incentive to belief. When the mind is suspended between opposite incentives to belief of equal force, pure doubt (doubt inattended by any leaning to belief) obtains. Doubt is essential, but not proper, to opinion. It is either conscious or unconscious." (Clay 1881: 42) - He also has something about potentialities and percents but I won't dig for that now.

Desire, purpose, emotion are the personal color of the objective world; they are applied privately by the individual soul and are of relatively little importance to the neighboring one. All this does not mean that volition and emotion are not expressed. They are, strictly speaking, never absent from normal speech, but their expression is not of a truly linguistic nature. The nuances of emphasis, tone, and phrasing, the varying speed and continuity of utterance, the accompanying bodily movements, all these express something of the inner life of impulse and feeling, but as these means of expression are, at last analysis, but modified forms of the instinctive utterance that man shares with the lower animals, they cannot be considered as forming part of the essential cultural conception of language, however much they may be inseparable fromits actual life. And this instinctive expression of volition and emotion is, for the most part, sufficient, often more than sufficient, for the purposes of communication. (Sapir 1921: 40)

Desire, purpose, and emotion are - if informing others of some knowledge, or ideational or cognitive content, is excluded - the exact stuff of phatic communion. That is to say, these may serve as roadsigns to expanding the set which in Malinowski consists of personal life-views and histories, and may hook up with Clay's incommunicative questions (purpose → agenda → vice-judicial).

The personal color of the objective world can be read in terms of La Barre's private emotional connotations, which tint and tone all human interactions but particularly closer and stronger ties with shared life-history. That they "are of relatively little importance to the neighboring" soul is a pretty good alternative phrasing for the hearer's slightly vailed impatience in PC.

The inner life of impulse and feeling amounts to Clay's "life and consciousness". The list of elements can be compared to La Barre (emphasis, tone) and Jakobson (phrasing, speed, and continuity). Where Sapir appears to mess up is throwing shade on the cultural relativity of nonverbal communication; the phrasing here thankfully focuses on the conception of language, and not, presumably, culture.

There are, it is true, certain writers on the psychology of language [E.g., the brilliant Dutch writer, Jac van Ginneken.] who deny its prevailingly cognitive character but attempt, on the contrary, to demonstrate the origin of most linguistic elements within the domain of feeling. I confess that I am utterly unable to follow [|] them. What there is of truth in their contentions may be summed up, it seems to me, by saying that most words, like practically all elements of consciousness, have an associated feeling-tone, a mild, yet none the less real and at times insidiously powerful, derivative of pleasure or pain. This feeling-tone, however, is not as a rule an inherent value in the word itself; it is rather a sentimental growth on the word's true body, on its conceptual kernel. Not only may the feeling-tone change from one age to another (this, of course, is true of the conceptual content as well), but it varies remarkably from individual to individual according to the personal associations of each, varies, indeed, from time to time in a single individual's consciousness as his experiences mold him and his moods change. To be sure, there are socially accepted feeling-tones, or ranges of feeling-tone, for many words over and above the force of individual association, but they are exceedingly variable and elusive things at best. (Sapir 1921: 40-41)

REFERENCE: Jac. van Ginneken 1907. Principes de linguistique psychologique, essai de synthèse. [Used by the Bakhtin Circle. Does not appear to have an English translation.]

It certainly sounds like something I'd like, particularly due to the concept of sentiments (which is appropriate for 1907). Moreover, feeling-tone sounds like a term in the older Uexküll's biosemiotics (e.g. Ego-Ton). Mining for sentiments in big data is what they do today (e.g. Gaspar et al. 2016) so I wonder how well these strands - a century removed - would mesh. I'll note that Sapir's own illustration of feeling-tones on the basis of one synonymous set (storm, tempest, and hurricane) follows the same logic as Spencer's distinction between Latin and Saxon English words in Style.

A word whose customary feeling-tone is too unquestionably accepted becomes a plushy bit of furniture, a cliché. Every now and then the artist has to fight the feeling-tone, to get the word to mean what it nakkedly and conceptually should mean, depending for the effect of feeling on the creative power of an individual juxtaposition of concepts or images. (Sapir 1921: 42)

Hugh Rank would (or perhaps even did) appreciate this. The latter part about artist having to fight the (common) feeling-tone sounds like Russian Formalist deautomatization, an artistic derivative of Spencer's economy of effort (see my letter to Mr. Shklovsky).

All the individual color of speech - personal emphasis, speed, personal cadence, personal pitch - is a non-linguistic fact, just as the incidental expression of desire and emotion are, for the most part, alien to linguistic expression. Speech, like all elements of culture, demands conceptual selection, inhibition of the randomness of instinctive behavior. That its "idea" is never realized as such in practice, its carriers being instinctively animated organisms, is of course true of each and every aspect of culture. (Sapir 1921: 47; footnote 2)

This is eerily reminiscent of Spencer on the specialties of emotional nature. Doesn't social union enact conceptual selection and inhibition of randomness of instinctive behaviour? Culture enacts checks upon impulsiveness.

We ignore this difference, psychologically, as a non-essential, mechanical one. (Sapir 1921: 54)

Lexical addition to the pejorative association (Jakobson) of speech mechanization (Gardiner).

In other words, an objective difference that is irrelevant in English is of functional value in Haida; [.|.] It may shring or expand or change its functional complexion, but its rate of change is infinitely less rapid than that of the sounds as such. (Sapir 1921: 57-58)

Intercultural functionalism. The complexion of linguistic function.

In watching my Nootka interpreter write his language, I often had the curious feeling that he was transcribing an ideal flow of phonetic elements which he heard, inadequately from a purely objective standpoint, as the intention of the actual rumble of speech. (Sapir 1921: 58; footnote 16)

A phraseological gem reminiscent of Hayder Al-Mohammad's "the "Rough Ground" of the Everyday" (2015).

Failing the precedent set by such already existing types of vocalic alternation as sing-sang-sung, it is highly doubtful if the detailed conditions that brought about the evolution of forms like teeth and geese from tooth and goose would hae been potent enough to allow the native linguistic feeling to win through to an acceptance of these new types of plural formation as psychologically possible. (Sapir 1921: 63)

"Lingual instinct" not unique to Clay! Cf. also: "In this respect the unschooled recorder of language, provided he has a good ear and a genuine instinct for language, is often at a great advantage as compared with the minute phonetician, who is apt to be swamped by his mass of observations." (infra, 58; footnote 16)

The word farmer has an "agentive" suffix -er that performs the function of indicating the one that carries out a given activity, in this case that of farming. (Sapir 1921: 87)

Compare the addresser and addressee (active and passive agentives of Jakobson) to the rather neutral communicant (of Morris).

The concreteness of experience is infinite, the resources of the richest language are strictly limited. It must perforce throw countless concepts under the rubric of certain basic ones, using other concrete or semi-concrete ideas as functional mediators. The ideas expressed by these mediating elements - they may be independent words, affixes, or modifications of the radical element - may be called "derivational" or "qualifying." (Sapir 1921: 88)

These remarks are again useful for dissecting the polysemanticity of "phatic" (as a functional mediator between a variety of concepts related to the term). The adjective "phatic" definitely performs a qualifying function in linguistic-anthropological discourse (it qualifies speech as a specific mode of action).

Definiteness or indefiniteness of reference, number, personality as an inherent aspect of the verb, tense, not to speak of gender - all these are given no expression in the Chinese sentence, which, for all that, is a perfectly adequate communication - provided, of course, there is that context, that background of mutual understanding that is essential to the complete intelligibility of all speech. (Sapir 1921: 97)

In praise of context, which here comes across as ground in Peircean semiotics. Context, presumably, is a background to the communication situation, including not only objects in the vicinity one can point to but also "mutual understanding" about the definition of the situation and perhaps shared knowledge (not only of the linguistic code but of the surrounding cultural milieux).

In other words, to paraphrase awkwardly certain latent "demonstrative" ideas, does this farmer (invisible to us but standing behind a door not far away from me, you being seated yonder well out of reach) kill that duckling (which belongs to you)? or does that farmer (who lives in your neighborhood and [|] whom we see over there) kill that duckling (that belongs to him)? This type of demonstrative elaboration is foreign to our way of thinking, but it would seem very natural, indeed unavoidable, to a Kwakiutl Indian. (Sapir 1921: 97-98)

In other wors, "demonstrative elaboration" is something like Burke's representative anecdote.

So far, in dealing with linguistic form, we have been concerned only with single words and with the relations of words in sentences. We have not envisaged whole languages as conforming to this or that general type. Incidentally we have observed that one language runs to tight-knit synthesis where another contents itself with a more analytic, piece-meal handling of its elements, or that in one language syntactic relations appear pure which in another are combined with certain other notions that have something concrete about them, however abstract they may be felt to be in practice. In this way we may have obtained some inkling of what is meant when we speak of the general form of a language. (Sapir 1921: 127)

The beginnings of Jakobson's linguistic typologies and Lotman's cultural typologies. Between them (or rather alongside Jakobson) stands Mukařovský with his typologies concerning the aesthetics of poetry. Although the relevant categories here are analytical and synthetic, in the aforementioned bunch it is primarily an interplay of semantics and syntactics, though it could be argued that one involves "piece-meal handling" (of semantic information, e.g. selection) and the other "relations appear pure" (e.g. combination).

Strictly speaking, we know in advance that it is impossible to set up a limited number of types that would do full justice to the peculiarities of the thousands of languages and dialects spoken on the surface of the earth. Like all human institutions, speech is too variable and too elusive to be quite safely ticketed. (Sapir 1921: 128)

This is on the subject of grouping all languages into morphological types. The phraseology works for the critique of simplifications of functional linguistics (e.g. one utterance carries one function), which sort of "tickets" utterance with functions without contextual consideration of other simultaneously performed "subsumed" or "subordinated" functions or the interplay between them.

Even if we operate with a minutely subdivided scale of types, we may be quite certain that many of our languages will need trimming before they fit. To get them into the scheme at all it will be necessary to over-estimate the significance of this or that feature or to ignore, for the time being, certain contradictions in their mechanism. (Sapir 1921: 128)

Golden phraseology. See above commentary on the type of "theorizing which selects the elements favourable to the case at hand and ignores the more difficult or even outwardly incomprehensible aspects". In particular, for example, Zuckerman overestimates the significance of attention in Jakobson and ignores the significance of pleasant and polite social atmosphere. Not to mention the overarching theme of incompatibility between functional classifications where the contradictions in Malinowski's original "apophatic" definition (negating the other functions) poses certain paradoxes (such as the subject of emotions and sentiments).

[...] we are merely affirming that back of the face of history are powerful drifts that move language, like other social products, to balanced patterns, in other words, to types. (Sapir 1921: 129)

This is one of those classical Sapirian idioms, like "feeling for relations" (instinct) and "pullulation of patterns" (intuition). Types are indeed, in some sense, balanced patterns. This could be useful for going into the token-type distinction, which appears to be impossible to avoid in this era.

Thirdly, the strong craving for a simple formula has been the undoing of linguistics. (Sapir 1921: 130)

Amusing, considering what a single paragraph containing a simple formula can do. It can, to borrow the poetic phrase on p. 129, "court disaster."

Now any classification that starts with preconceived values or that works up to sentimental satisfaction is self-condemned as unscientific. (Sapir 1921: 131)

The preconceived values in PC are the lapse of reference, the incapability of exact meaning, and the need to talk. Sentimental satisfaction is what one gets from inventing a new speech function as the primary mode of linguistic action performed by "primitive" peoples.

One celebrated American writer on culture and language delivered himself of the dictum that, estimable as the speakers of agglutinative languages might be, it was nevertheless a crime for an inflecting woman to marry an agglutinating man. Tremendous spiritual values were evidently at stake. Champions of the "inflective" languages are wont to glary in the very irrationalities of Latin and Greek, except when it suits them to emphasize their profoundly "logical" character. Yet the sober logic of Turkish or Chinese leaves them cold. The glorious irrationalities and formal complexities of many "savage" languages they have no stomach for. Sentimentalists are difficult people. (Sapir 1921: 131; footnote 2)

Nice blockquote for delving into the conceptual problems with "sentiment", and whether it can be read as attitude (or even prejudice) today.

I do not know whether the suggested classification into four conceptual groups is likely to drive deeper or not. My own feeling is that it does, but classifications, neat constructions of the speculative mind, are slippery things. They have to be tested at every possible opportunity before they have the right to cry for acceptance. (Sapir 1921: 153)

Lapse of reference is indeed a slippery thing. But the phatic function appears to be an example of a classification that is indeed a neat construct of the speculative mind, that has been widely accepted before being "tested" in any way (not to mention even proposing hypotheses).

Every one knows that language is variable. Two individuals of the same generation and locality, speaking precisely the same dialect and moving in the same social circles, are never absolutely at one in their speech habits. (Sapir 1921: 157)

Permanent dynamic synchrony: language is not a singular whole but a complex system of systems, and individual personality, psychology, and even mood create differenc circumstances of language use.

This direction may be inferred, in the main, from the past history of the language. In the long run any new feature of the drift becomes a part and parcel of the common, accepted speech, but for a long time it may exist as a mere tendency in the speech of a few, perhaps of a despised few. (Sapir 1921: 166)

See Juri Lotman's semiospheric model of culture, particularly the ordeal about center and periphery.

In any event the poet's rhythms can only be a more sensitive and stylicized application of rhythmic tendencies that are characteristic of the daily speech of his people. (Sapir 1921: 172)

On this matter Jakobson is actually rather contradictory. On the one hand he writes about "the poetic device of paronomasia" in the political slogan "I like Ike" and adds that "the linguistic study of the poetic function must overstep the limits of poetry" ("Linguistics and Poetics", 1960: 357) and yet also that "Measure of sequences is a device which, outside of poetic function, finds no application in language. Only in poetry with its regular reiteration of equivalent units is the time of the speech flow experienced" (ibid, 358).

Languages, like cultures, are rarely sufficient unto themselves. The necessities of intercourse bring the speakers of one language into direct or indirect contact with those of neighboring or culturally dominant languages. The intercourse may be friendly or hostile. (Sapir 1921: 205)

Getting dangerously close to "The stranger who cannot speak the language is to all savage tribesmen a natural enemy." (PC 4.2)

It is a little disappointing to learn that the general cultural influence of English has so far been all but negligible. The English language itself is spreading because the English have colonized immense territories. But there is nothing to show that it is anywhere entering into the lexical heart of other languages as French has colored the English complexion or as Arabic has permeated Persian and Turkish. (Sapir 1921: 207)

A century later someone on another continent reads these words and writes his comments in English. If anything, we're now feeling too much burden from the encroaching lingua franca and complain about young people sprinkling English into dialogue in their native language.

Langugae has a setting. The people that speak it belong to a race (or a number of races), that is, to a group which is set off by physical characteristics from other groups. Again, language does not exist apart from culture, that is, from the socially inherited assemblage of practices and beliefs that determines the texture of our lives. (Sapir 1921: 221)

Isn't this the very same definition of culture employed by Kroeber? Lotman's version is most familiar to me but it, I have found, may have originated from a random source mediated by Jakobson.

Again, to the east of the Scandinavians are non-Germanic members of our race - the Finns and related peoples, speaking languages that are not definitely known to be related to Indo-European at all. (Sapir 1921: 226)

To the east of the Scandinavians is Estonia. This must be the third or fourth instance where he avoids naming us (and yet does name Lithuania!).

It is difficult to say what elements in their combined culture belong in origin to this tribe or that, so much at one are they in communal action, feeling, and thought. (Sapir 1921: 228)

Here the triad is intact. By "communal" he appears to mean shared or common.

We cannot deny that the possession of a common language is still and will long continue to be a smoother of the way to a mutual cultural understanding between England and America, but it is very clear that other factors, some of them rapidly cumulative, are working powerfully to counteract this leveling influence. (Sapir 1921: 229)

I'm assuming these cryptic "factors" have something to do with the isolationist politics American society was engaged in at the time. By now, after the advent of television and the internet, U.S. and U.K. have probably become more homogeneous.

Nor can I believe that culture and language are in any true sense causally related. Culture may be defined as what a society does and thinks. Language is a particular how of thought. It is difficult to see what particular causal relations may be expected to subsist between a selected inventory of experience (culture, a significant selection made by society) and the particular manner in which the society expresses all experience. (Sapir 1921: 233)

That's an interesting way of looking at it; language as means and culture as ends.

Everything that we have so far seen to be true of language points to the fact that it is the most significant and colossal work that the human spirit has evolved - nothing short of a finished form of expression for all communicable experience. This form may be endlessly varied by the individual without thereby losing its distinctive contours; and it is constantly reshaping itself as is all art. Language is the most massive and inclusive art we know, a mountainous and anonymous work of unconscious generations. (Sapir 1921: 235)

Poetic and grand. Art is technique (form of expression). It parallels the metaphor of culture as humanity's collective message to itself (Ruesch & Lotman).

Langugaes are more to us than systems of thought-transference. They are invisible garments that drape themselves about our spirit and give a predetermined form to all its symbolic expression. When the expression is of unusual significance, we call it literature. (Sapir 1921: 236)

A possible paraphrase for "communicating ideas" (transferring thoughts?).

Literary expression is personal and concrete, but this does not mean that its significance is altogether bound up with the accidental qualities of the medium. A truly deep symbolism, for instance, does not depend on the verbal associations of a particular language but rests securely on an intuitive basis that underlies all linguistic expression. The artist's "intuition," to use Croce's term, is immediately fashioned out of a generalized human experience - thought and feeling - of which his own individual experience is a highly personalized selection. (Sapir 1921: 239)

More fodder for discussing the accidental (previously "ambiguous") verbiage in Malinowski's essay and how it has become popular because it does rely on "an intuitive basis", an everyday experience common to most all people who have ever opened their mouths to speak or pointed their ears to listen.


Post a Comment