Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/55

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51
HUMAN SPEECH

certain contradicting statements notwithstanding, that languages are to be found in which this phonetic definiteness is lacking and in which individual variation of pronunciation takes place practically without limit. It is of course freely granted that a certain amount of sound variation exists in every language, but it is important to note that such variation is always very limited in range and always takes place about a well-defined center. All known forms of speech, then, operate with a definite apparatus of sounds; statements to the contrary will in most cases be found to rest either on a faulty perception on the part of the recorder of sounds unfamiliar to his ear or on his ignorance of regular sound processes peculiar to the language. Naturally the actual phonetic systems found in various languages, however much they may resemble each other in this fundamental trait of definiteness, differ greatly in content, that is in the sounds actually employed or neglected. This is inevitable, for the vast number of possible and indeed existing speech sounds makes an unconscious selection necessary. Even so, however, it is at least noteworthy with what persistency such simple vowel sounds as a and i and such consonants as n and s occur in all parts of the world.

Even more than in their phonetic systems languages are found to differ in their morphologies or grammatical structures. Yet also in this matter of grammatical structure a survey from a broad point of view discloses the fact that there are certain deep-lying similarities, very general and even vague in character, yet significant. To begin with, we find that each language is characterized by a definite and, however complex, yet strictly delimited grammatical system. Some languages exhibit a specific type of morphology with greater clearness or consistency than others, while some teem with irregularities; yet in every case the structure tends to be of a definite and consistently carried out type, the grammatical processes employed are quite limited in number and nearly always clearly developed, and the logical categories that are selected for grammatical treatment are of a definite sort and number and expressed in a limited, however large, number of grammatical elements. In regard to the actual content of the various morphologies, we find, as already indicated, vast differences, yet here again it is important to note with what persistence certain fundamental logical categories are reflected in the grammatical systems of practically all languages. Chief among these may be considered the clear-cut distinction everywhere made between denominating and predicating terms, that is between subject and predicate, or, roughly speaking, between substantive and verb. This does not necessarily imply that we have in all cases to deal with an actual difference in phonetic form between noun and verb, though as a matter of fact such differences are generally found, but simply that the structure of the sentence is such as to show