Show Summary

We are accustomed to verbal forms in which the tense is always expressed with perfect definiteness. In the sentence The man is sick we really express the idea, The single definite man is sick at the present time. . . . The Eskimo, for instance, in expressing the same idea, will simply say, single man sick, leaving the question entirely open whether the man was sick at a previous time, is sick at the present time, or is going to be sick in the future. The Eskimo can, of course, express whether the man is sick at the present time, was sick, or is going to be sick, but the grammatical form of his sentences does not require the expression of the tense relation. . . .

In Kwakiutl this sentence would have to be rendered by an expression which would mean, in the vaguest possible form that could be given to it, definite man near him invisible sick near him invisible. Visibility and nearness to the first or second person might, of course, have been selected in our example in place of invisibility and nearness to the third person. An idiomatic expression of the sentence in this language would, however, be much more definite, and would require an expression somewhat like the following, That invisible man lies sick on his back on the floor of the absent house. . . .

In Ponca, one of the Siouan dialects, the same idea would require a decision of the question whether the man is at rest or moving, and we might have a form like the moving single man sick.

If we take into consideration further traits of idiomatic expression, this example might be further expanded by adding modalities of the verb; thus, the Kwakiutl . . . would require a form indicating whether this is a new subject introduced in conversation or not; and, in case the speaker had not seen the sick person himself, he would have to express whether he knows by hearsay or by evidence that the person is sick, or whether he has dreamed it.1

Perhaps [says Boas] the most exuberant development of the demonstrative idea is found among the Eskimo, where not only the ideas corresponding to the three personal pronouns occur, but also those of position in space in relation to the speaker, which are specified in seven directions; as, center, above, below, in front, behind, right, left, and expressing points of the compass in relation to the position of the speaker.

1Boas, n/an/an/an/an/an/a, . . . , 1: 42–43.


Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: Handbook

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Handbook

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: "Handbook," Handbook in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed December 9, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=V2HYXT3BFMVG49Z.

MLA: . "Handbook." Handbook, Vol. 1, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 9 Dec. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=V2HYXT3BFMVG49Z.

Harvard: , 'Handbook' in Handbook. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 9 December 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=V2HYXT3BFMVG49Z.