XI
LANGUAGES

THEORETICALLY any class or description of language might be encountered anywhere, but in practice it is not so. Individual features recur at great distances, but not only do types occupy vast areas, they shade into each other in a continuous shifting pattern. Monosyllabic Sino-Tibetan in its most westerly form (Tibetan) possesses a considerable number of agglutinative suffixes, which make for easy transition to agglutinative Turkish, which has predominantly monosyllabic basic-stems. Though there is no single American family of languages, American features abound in all parts of the two continents. Australian tongues are assigned to branches of a single family, and those of Africa were, according to some theorists, originally one.1 The consequences of the Indo-European alternation e/o/- are found all the way from the Atlantic to the Deccan, and the Semitic permutations of triconsonantal stems extend from Mesopotamia to Morocco. These great language-families share the peculiarity of flexion, and are cushioned against the agglutinative block by semi-inflected, semiagglutinative tongues.

It is true that there are exceptions. Basque is entirely surrounded by Romance speech and cannot be affiliated with any other tongue beyond peradventure. The associations of ancient Etruscan are uncertain, and even its nature is but slowly yielding to analysis. Sumerian remains an enigma, as do Burushaski and Lati farther east. Among the polysynthetic American tongues it is surprising to encounter the monosyllables of Hia-Hiu or, Otomí. But these exceptions would not cause surprise if they did not stand out in high relief against a prevailing conformity. Were languages developed at random, disconformity should be normal. The exceptions stimulate investigators to find some place for them in a wider pattern. Intercourse requires a considerable 'degree of mutual intelligibility between neighbours and builds linguistic bridges (mixed dialects or bilingualism) over frontiers. If our efforts towards accommodation prove unrewarding, we must remember the

____________________
1
'Having lived to see the unity of Negro-African languages that was proclaimed by us in 1932 become a recognized fact', Mile L. Homburger, The Negro-African Languages, 1949, p. 221.

-305-

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Aspects of Language
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Editor''s Preface v
  • Prefatory Letter vii
  • Contents xi
  • I- Language 1
  • II- Change 34
  • III- Techniques 71
  • IV- Sounds 97
  • V- Grammar- Form and Function 145
  • VI- Grammar- The Sentence 167
  • VII- Grammar- Parts of Speech 187
  • VIII- Words 226
  • IX- Values 265
  • X- Classification, Description, Affiliation 286
  • XI- Languages 305
  • Index 363
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