Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
we set it up, we merely say, in effect, that thus far we can go and no farther. At any point in the progress of our researches an unexpected ray of light may reveal the stock as but a dialect of a larger group. The terms dialect, language, branch, stockit goes without sayingare purely relative terms. They are convertible as our perspective widens or contracts.6 It would be vain to speculate as to whether or not we shall ever be able to demonstrate that all languages stem from a common source. Of late years linguists have been able to make larger historical syntheses than were at one time deemed feasible, just as students of culture have been able to show historical connections between culture areas or institutions that were at one time believed to be totally isolated from each other. The human world is contracting not only prospectively but to the backward-probing eye of culture-history. Nevertheless we are as yet far from able to reduce the riot of spoken languages to a small number of stocks. We must still operate with a quite considerable number of these stocks. Some of them, like Indo-European or Indo-Chinese, are spoken over tremendous reaches; others, like Basque,7 have a curiously restricted range and are in all likelihood but dwindling remnants of groups that were at one time more widely distributed. As for the single or multiple origin of speech, it is likely enough that language as a human institution (or, if one prefers, as a human faculty) developed but once in the history of the race, that all the complex history of language is a unique cultural event. Such a theory constructed on general principles is of no real interest, however,
Note 6. Dialect in contrast to an accepted literary norm is a use of the term that we are not considering. [back]
Note 7. Spoken in France and Spain in the region of the Pyrenees. [back]