Edward Sapir > Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech > Subject Index > Page 135
Edward Sapir (1884–1939).  Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech.  1921.

Page 135
which the affixed elements are united with the core of the word. 10
  There is another very useful set of distinctions that can be made, but these too must not be applied exclusively, or our classification will again be superficial. I refer to the notions of “analytic,” “synthetic,” and “polysynthetic.” The terms explain themselves. An analytic language is one that either does not combine concepts into single words at all (Chinese) or does so economically (English, French). In an analytic language the sentence is always of prime importance, the word is of minor interest. In a synthetic language (Latin, Arabic, Finnish) the concepts cluster more thickly, the words are more richly chambered, but there is a tendency, on the whole, to keep the range of concrete significance in the single word down to a moderate compass. A polysynthetic language, as its name implies, is more than ordinarily synthetic. The elaboration of the word is extreme. Concepts which we should never dream of treating in a subordinate fashion are
Note 10.  In spite of my reluctance to emphasize the difference between a prefixing and a suffixing language, I feel that there is more involved in this difference than linguists have generally recognized. It seems to me that there is a rather important psychological distinction between a language that settles the formal status of a radical element before announcing it—and this, in effect, is what such languages as Tlingit and Chinook and Bantu are in the habit of doing—and one that begins with the concrete nucleus of a word and defines the status of this nucleus by successive limitations, each curtailing in some degree the generality of all that precedes. The spirit of the former method has something diagrammatic or architectural about it, the latter is a method of pruning afterthoughts. In the more highly wrought prefixing languages the word is apt to affect us as a crystallization of floating elements, the words of the typical suffixing languages (Turkish, Eskimo, Nootka) are “determinative” formations, each added element determining the form of the whole anew. It is so difficult in practice to apply these elusive, yet important, distinctions that an elementary study has no recourse but to ignore them. [back]

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