Synthetic language

A synthetic language uses inflection or agglutination to express syntactic relationships within a sentence. Inflection is the addition of morphemes to a root word that assigns grammatical property to that word, while agglutination is the combination of two or more morphemes into one word. The information added by morphemes can include indications of a word's grammatical category, such as whether a word is the subject or object in the sentence.[1] Morphology can be either relational or derivational.[2]

While a derivational morpheme changes the lexical categories of words, an inflectional morpheme does not. In the first example below, the adjective fast followed by the suffix -er yields faster, which is still an adjective. However, the verb teach followed by the suffix -er yields teacher, which is a noun. The first case is an example of inflection and the latter derivation.

  • fast (adjective, positive) vs. faster (adjective, comparative)
  • teach (verb) vs. teacher (noun)

In synthetic languages, there is a higher morpheme-to-word ratio than in analytic languages. Analytic languages have a lower morpheme-to-word ratio, higher use of auxiliary verbs, and greater reliance on word order to convey grammatical information. The two subtypes of synthetic languages are agglutinating languages and fusional languages. These can be further divided into polysynthetic languages (most polysynthetic languages are agglutinative, although Navajo and other Athabaskan languages are often classified as fusional) and oligosynthetic languages.

Forms of synthesisEdit

Language exhibits synthesis in two ways: derivational and relational morphology. These methods of synthesis refer to the ways in which morphemes, the smallest grammatical units in a language, are bound together. Derivational and relational morphology represent opposite ends of a spectrum; that is, a single word in a given language may exhibit varying degrees of both of them simultaneously. Similarly, some words may have derivational morphology while others have relational morphology. Some linguists, however, consider relational morphology to be a type of derivational morphology, which may complicate the classification.[3]

Derivational synthesisEdit

In derivational synthesis, morphemes of different types (nouns, verbs, affixes, etc.) are joined to create new words. That is, in general, the morphemes being combined are more concrete units of meaning.[3] The morphemes being synthesized in the following examples either belong to a particular grammatical class – such as adjectives, nouns, or prepositions – or are affixes that usually have a single form and meaning:

Aufsichtsratsmitgliederversammlung

Aufsicht

supervision

-s-

 

Rat

council

-s-

 

Mitglieder

members

Versammlung

assembly

Aufsicht -s- Rat -s- Mitglieder Versammlung

supervision {} council {} members assembly

"Meeting of members of the supervisory board"

  • This word demonstrates the hierarchical construction of synthetically derived words:
  1. Aufsichtsratsmitglieder "members of [the] supervisory board" + Versammlung "meeting"
    1. Aufsichtsrat "supervisory board" + s (Fugen-s) + Mitglieder "members"
      1. Aufsicht "supervision" + s + Rat "council, board"
        1. auf- "on, up" + Sicht "sight"
      2. Mitglied "member" + -er plural
        1. mit- "co-" + Glied "element, constituent part"
    2. ver- (a verb prefix of variable meaning) + sammeln "to gather" + -ung present participle
προπαροξυτόνησις (proparoxutónesis)

προ

pro

pre

παρ-

par

next to

οξύ

oxý

sharp

τόν

tón

pitch/tone

-ησις

-esis

tendency

προ παρ- οξύ τόν -ησις

pro par oxý tón -esis

pre {next to} sharp pitch/tone tendency

"Tendency to accent on the proparoxytone [third-to-last] position"

przystań

harbor

-ek

DIM

przystań -ek

harbor DIM

"Public transportation stop [without facilities]" (i.e. bus stop, tram stop, or rail halt)—compare to dworzec.

anti-

against

dis-

ending

establish

to institute

-arian

advocate

-ism

ideology

anti- dis- establish -ment -arian -ism

against ending {to institute} NS advocate ideology

"the movement to prevent revoking the Church of England's status as the official church [of England, Ireland, and Wales]."

  • English word chains such as child labour law may count as well, because it is merely an orthographic convention to write them as isolated words. Grammatically and phonetically they behave like one word (stress on the first syllable, plural morpheme at the end).
достопримечательность (dostoprimečátelʹnostʹ)

досто

dosto

deserving

примечательн

primečátelʹn

notable

-ость

-ostʹ

NS

досто примечательн -ость

dosto primečátelʹn -ostʹ

deserving notable NS

"Place of interest"

  • Malayalam
    • അങ്ങനെയല്ലാതായിരിക്കുമ്പോളൊക്കെത്തന്നെ (aṅṅaneyallātāyirikkumpōḷokkettanne)
      • "such/so + not + has + been + when + occasions + all + exclusively"
      • "on all such occasions when it has been not so"
  • Persian
نوازندگی (navâzandegi)

نواز

navâz

play music

ــ‌نده

-ande

-ing

نواز ــ‌نده ــ‌گی

navâz -ande -gi

{play music} -ing NS

"musicianship" or "playing a musical instrument"

навздогін (navzdohin)

нав

nav

in pursuit

здогін

zdohin

leaving

нав здогін

nav zdohin

{in pursuit} leaving

"after one who is leaving"

hypercholesterolemia (υπερχοληστερολαιμία)

hyper-

high

cholesterol

cholesterol

-emia

blood

hyper- cholesterol -emia

high cholesterol blood

the presence of high levels of cholesterol in the blood.

  • alternately, cholesterol can be read as chole- + στερεός(stereós) + -ol, as in "bile + solid + [alcohol suffix]", or "the solid alcohol present in bile".

Relational synthesisEdit

In relational synthesis, root words are joined to bound morphemes to show grammatical function. In other words, it involves the combination of more abstract units of meaning than derivational synthesis.[3] In the following examples note that many of the morphemes are related to voice (e.g. passive voice), whether a word is in the subject or object of the sentence, possession, plurality, or other abstract distinctions in a language:

comunicandovele

comunic

communicate

ve

you.PL

le

those.FEM.PL

comunic -ando ve le

communicate GER you.PL those.FEM.PL

"Communicating those[feminine plural] to you[plural]"

escribiéndomelo

escrib

write

me

me

lo

it

escrib iéndo me lo

write GER me it

"Writing it to me"

ōcāltizquiya

ō

PAST

c

3SG-OBJ

ā

water

lti

CAUS

zquiya

IRR

ō c ā lti zquiya

PAST 3SG-OBJ water CAUS IRR

"She would have bathed him"

com

together

prim

crush

unt

they

ur

PASS

com prim unt ur

together crush they PASS

"They are crushed together"

見させられがたい (misaseraregatai)

mi

see

させ

sase

CAUS

られ

rare

PASS

がたい

gatai

difficult

させ られ がたい

mi sase rare gatai

see CAUS PASS difficult

"It's difficult to be shown [this]"

juoksentelisinkohan

-ella

FREQ

-isin

I.COND

-han

CAS

juosta -ella -isin -ko -han

run FREQ I.COND Q CAS

"I wonder if I should run around [aimlessly]"

házaitokban

ház

house

-a

POSS

-i

PL

-tok

your.PL

ház -a -i -tok -ban

house POSS PL your.PL in

"In your houses"

szeretlek

szeret

love

-lek

I REFL you

szeret -lek

love {I REFL you}

"I love you"

Afyonkarahisarlılaştıramayabileceklerimizden misiniz?

Afyonkarahisar

Afyonkarahisar

-lı

citizen of

-laş

transform

-tır

PASS

-ama

notbe

(y)

(thematic)

-abil

able

-den

among

misiniz?

you-PL-FUT-Q

Afyonkarahisar -lı -laş -tır -ama (y) -abil -ecek -ler -imiz -den misiniz?

Afyonkarahisar {citizen of} transform PASS notbe (thematic) able FUT PL we among you-PL-FUT-Q

"Are you[plural] amongst the ones whom we might not be able to make citizens of Afyonkarahisar?"

გადმოგვახტუნებინებდნენო (gadmogvaxṭunebinebdneno)

გვ

gv

a

ინ

in

d

ნენ

nen

გად მო- გვ ა ხტუნ -ებ- ინ -ებ- დ ნენ -ო

gad mo gv a xtun eb in eb d nen o

"They said that they would be forced by them [the others] to make someone to jump over in this direction"

    • The word describes the whole sentence that incorporates tense, subject, object, relation between them, direction of the action, conditional and causative markers etc.

Types of synthetic languagesEdit

Agglutinating languagesEdit

Agglutinating languages have a high rate of agglutination in their words and sentences, meaning that the morphological construction of words consists of distinct morphemes that usually carry a single unique meaning.[4] These morphemes tend to look the same no matter what word they are in, so it is easy to separate a word into its individual morphemes.[1] Note that morphemes may be bound (that is, they must be attached to a word to have meaning, like affixes) or free (they can stand alone and still have meaning).

  • Swahili is an agglutinating language.[1] For example, distinct morphemes are used in the conjugation of verbs:
    • Ni-na-soma: I-present-read or I am reading
    • U-na-soma: you-present-read or you are reading
    • A-na-soma: s/he-present-read or s/he is reading

Fusional languagesEdit

Fusional languages are similar to agglutinating languages in that they involve the combination of many distinct morphemes. However, morphemes in fusional languages are often assigned several different lexical meanings, and they tend to be fused together so that it is difficult to separate individual morphemes from one another.[1][5]

PolysyntheticEdit

Polysynthetic languages are considered the most synthetic of the three types because they combine multiple stems as well as other morphemes into a single continuous word. These languages often turn nouns into verbs.[1] Many Native Alaskan and other Native American languages are polysynthetic.

  • Mohawk: Washakotya'tawitsherahetkvhta'se means "He ruined her dress" (strictly, 'He made the-thing-that-one-puts-on-one's body ugly for her'). This one inflected verb in a polysynthetic language expresses an idea that can only be conveyed using multiple words in a more analytic language such as English.

OligosyntheticEdit

Oligosynthetic languages are a theoretical notion created by Benjamin Whorf. Such languages would be functionally synthetic, but make use of a very limited array of morphemes (perhaps just a few hundred). The concept of an oligosynthetic language type was proposed by Whorf to describe the Native American language Nahuatl, although he did not further pursue this idea.[6] Though no natural language uses this process, it has found its use in the world of constructed languages, in auxlangs such as aUI.

Synthetic and analytic languagesEdit

Synthetic languages combine (synthesize) multiple concepts into each word. Analytic languages break up (analyze) concepts into separate words. These classifications comprise two ends of a spectrum along which different languages can be classified. The present-day English is seen as analytic, but it used to be fusional. Certain synthetic qualities (as in the inflection of verbs to show tense) were retained.

The distinction is, therefore, a matter of degree. The most analytic languages consistently have one morpheme per word, while at the other extreme, in polysynthetic languages such as some Native American languages[7] a single inflected verb may contain as much information as an entire English sentence.

In order to demonstrate the nature of the analytic–synthetic–polysynthetic classification as a "continuum", some examples are shown below.

More analyticEdit

Chinese text 明天 朋友 生日 蛋糕
Transliteration míngtiān de péngyou huì wèi zuò shēngrì dàngāo
Literal translation tomorrow day I of friend friend will for I make birth day egg cake
Meaning tomorrow I (genitive particle(='s)) friend will for I make birthday cake
"Tomorrow my friend(s) will make a birthday cake for me."

However, with rare exceptions, each syllable in Mandarin (corresponding to a single written character) represents a morpheme with an identifiable meaning, even if many of such morphemes are bound. This gives rise to the common misconception that Chinese consists exclusively of "words of one syllable". As the sentence above illustrates, however, even simple Chinese words such as míngtiān 'tomorrow' (míng "next" + tīan "day") and péngyou 'friend' (a compound of péng and yǒu, both of which mean 'friend') are synthetic compound words.

The Chinese language of the Classic works, and of Confucius for example, is more strictly monosyllabic (and southern dialects to a certain extent): each character represents one word. The evolution of modern Mandarin Chinese was accompanied by a reduction in the total number of phonemes. Words which previously were phonetically distinct became homophones. Many disyllabic words in modern Mandarin are the result of joining two related words (such as péngyou, literally "friend-friend") in order to resolve the phonetic ambiguity. A similar process is observed in some English dialects. For instance, in the Southern dialects of American English, it is not unusual for the short vowel sounds [ɪ] and [ɛ] to be indistinguishable before nasal consonants: thus the words "pen" and "pin" are homophones (see pin-pen merger). In these dialects, the ambiguity is often resolved by using the compounds "ink-pen" and "stick-pin", in order to clarify which "p*n" is being discussed.

Rather analyticEdit

  • English:
    • "He travelled by hovercraft on the sea" is largely isolating, but travelled (although it is possible to say "did travel" instead) and hovercraft each have two morphemes per word, the former being an example of relational synthesis (inflection), and the latter of compounding synthesis (a special case of derivation with another free morpheme instead of a bound one).

Rather syntheticEdit

  • Japanese:
    • 私たちにとって、この泣く子供の写真は見せられがたいものです。 Watashitachi ni totte, kono naku kodomo no shashin wa miseraregatai mono desu means strictly literally, "To us, these photos of a child crying are things that are difficult to be shown", meaning 'We cannot bear being shown these photos of a child crying' in more idiomatic English. In the example, most words have more than one morpheme and some have up to five.
  • Hebrew:
    • אתמול סיפרתי לחברים שלי על הרעיון, שעליו חשבתיEtmol siparti l'khaverim sheli al hara'ayon, she'alav khashavti. this sentence means "Yesterday I told my friends about the idea I was thinking about". From this example we can see that Hebrew verbs are conjugated by tense/mood and person (including gender and number). In addition, there are prepositions that are also conjugated, but by person, like שלshel and עלal. More at: Modern Hebrew grammar.
Comparison between English and Hebrew (this table should be read right-to-left)
חשב/תי ש/על/יו ה/רעיון על של/י ל/חבר/ים סיפר/תי אתמול
I thought that about it the idea about my to friends I told Yesterday

Very syntheticEdit

  • Finnish:
    • Käyttäytyessään tottelemattomasti oppilas saa jälki-istuntoa
    • "Should they behave in an insubordinate manner, the student will get detention."
    • Structurally: behaviour (present/future tense) (of their) obey (without) (in the manner/style) studying (they who (should be)) gets detention (some). Practically every word is derived and/or inflected. However, this is quite formal language, and (especially in speech) would have various words replaced by more analytic structures: Kun oppilas käyttäytyy tottelemattomasti, hän saa jälki-istuntoa meaning 'When the student behaves in an insubordinate manner, they will get detention'.
  • Georgian:
    • გადმოგვახტუნებინებდნენო gadmogvakht'unebinebdneno (gad-mo-gv-a-kht'un-eb-in-eb-d-nen-o)
    • 'They said that they would be forced by them (the others) to make someone to jump over in this direction'.
    • The word describes the whole sentence that incorporates tense, subject, direct and indirect objects, their plurality, relation between them, direction of the action, conditional and causative markers, etc.
  • Classical Arabic:
    • وأعطيناكموه عبثًا؟ waʼāʻṭaynākumūhu ʻabathan (wa-aʻṭay-nā-ku-mū-hu ʻabath-an)
    • "And did we give it (masc.) to you futilely?" in Arabic, each word consists of one root that has a basic meaning (aʻṭā  'give' and ʻabath  'futile'). Prefixes and suffixes are added to make the word incorporate subject, direct and indirect objects, number, gender, definiteness, etc.

Increase in analyticityEdit

Haspelmath and Michaelis[8] observed that analyticity is increasing in a number of European languages. In the German example, the first phrase makes use of inflection, but the second phrase uses a preposition. The development of preposition suggests the moving from synthetic to analytic.

des

the.GEN.SG

Hauses

house.GEN.SG

des Hauses

the.GEN.SG house.GEN.SG

‘the house's’

von

of

dem

the.DAT.SG

Haus

house.DAT.SG

von dem Haus

of the.DAT.SG house.DAT.SG

‘of the house’

It has been argued that analytic grammatical structures are easier for adults learning a foreign language. Consequently, a larger proportion of non-native speakers learning a language over the course of its historical development may lead to a simpler morphology, as the preferences of adult learners get passed on to second generation native speakers. This is especially noticeable in the grammar of creole languages. A 2010 paper in PLOS ONE suggests that evidence for this hypothesis can be seen in correlations between morphological complexity and factors such as the number of speakers of a language, geographic spread, and the degree of inter-linguistic contact.[9]

According to Ghil'ad Zuckermann, Modern Hebrew (which he calls "Israeli") "is much more analytic, both with nouns and verbs", compared with Classical Hebrew (which he calls "Hebrew").[10]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e Dawson, Hope C.; Phelan, Michael, eds. (2016). Language Files (12 ed.). Ohio State University. pp. 172–175.
  2. ^ Dawson, Hope C.; Phelan, Michael, eds. (2016). Language Files (12 ed.). Ohio State University. p. 156.
  3. ^ a b c Sapir, Edward. "Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech". Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  4. ^ "Agglutinating language". Glottopedia. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  5. ^ "Fusional Language". Glossary of Linguistic Terms. 2015-12-04. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  6. ^ Ellos, William J (1982). "Benjamin Lee Whorf and Ultimate Reality and Meaning". Ultimate Reality and Meaning. 5 (2): 140–150. doi:10.3138/uram.5.2.140.
  7. ^ "synthetic language". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  8. ^ Haspelmath, M, & Michaelis, S. M. (2017). Analytic and synthetic. In Language Variation-European Perspectives VI: Selected papers from the Eighth International Conference on Language Variation in Europe (ICLaVE 8), Leipzig 2015. John Benjamins Publishing Company.
  9. ^ Lupyan, Gary; Dale, Rick; O'Rourke, Dennis (20 January 2010). "Language Structure Is Partly Determined by Social Structure". PLOS ONE. 5 (1): e8559. Bibcode:2010PLoSO...5.8559L. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008559. PMC 2798932. PMID 20098492.
  10. ^ See pp. 65-67 in Zuckermann, Ghil‘ad (2020), Revivalistics: From the Genesis of Israeli to Language Reclamation in Australia and Beyond, Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199812790 / ISBN 9780199812776

External linksEdit