Synthetic language

Synthetic language

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Synthetic language'
Start a new discussion about 'Synthetic language'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia


In linguistic typology
Linguistic typology
Linguistic typology is a subfield of linguistics that studies and classifies languages according to their structural features. Its aim is to describe and explain the common properties and the structural diversity of the world's languages...

, a synthetic language is a language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

 with a high morpheme
Morpheme
In linguistics, a morpheme is the smallest semantically meaningful unit in a language. The field of study dedicated to morphemes is called morphology. A morpheme is not identical to a word, and the principal difference between the two is that a morpheme may or may not stand alone, whereas a word,...

-per-word ratio, as opposed to a low morpheme-per-word ratio in what is described as an isolating language
Isolating language
An isolating language is a type of language with a low morpheme-per-word ratio — in the extreme case of an isolating language words are composed of a single morpheme...

. This linguistic classification is largely independent of morpheme-usage classifications (such as fusional
Fusional language
A fusional language is a type of synthetic language, distinguished from agglutinative languages by its tendency to overlay many morphemes in a way that can be difficult to segment....

, agglutinative
Agglutinative language
An agglutinative language is a language that uses agglutination extensively: most words are formed by joining morphemes together. This term was introduced by Wilhelm von Humboldt in 1836 to classify languages from a morphological point of view...

, etc.), although there is a common tendency for agglutinative languages to exhibit synthetic properties.

Synthetic and isolating languages


Synthetic languages are frequently contrasted with isolating languages. It is more accurate to conceive of languages as existing on a continuum, with strictly isolating (consistently one morpheme per word) at one end and highly polysynthetic (in which a single word may contain as much information as an entire English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 sentence) at the other extreme. Synthetic languages tend to lie around the middle of this scale.

Examples


Synthetic languages are numerous and well-attested, the most commonly cited being Indo-European languages
Indo-European languages
The Indo-European languages are a family of several hundred related languages and dialects, including most major current languages of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and South Asia and also historically predominant in Anatolia...

 such as Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

, Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

, Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

, Armenian, Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

, Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, Lithuanian
Lithuanian language
Lithuanian is the official state language of Lithuania and is recognized as one of the official languages of the European Union. There are about 2.96 million native Lithuanian speakers in Lithuania and about 170,000 abroad. Lithuanian is a Baltic language, closely related to Latvian, although they...

, German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

, Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

, French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

, Romanian
Romanian language
Romanian Romanian Romanian (or Daco-Romanian; obsolete spellings Rumanian, Roumanian; self-designation: română, limba română ("the Romanian language") or românește (lit. "in Romanian") is a Romance language spoken by around 24 to 28 million people, primarily in Romania and Moldova...

, Russian
Russian language
Russian is a Slavic language used primarily in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Turkmenistan and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics...

, Ukrainian
Ukrainian language
Ukrainian is a language of the East Slavic subgroup of the Slavic languages. It is the official state language of Ukraine. Written Ukrainian uses a variant of the Cyrillic alphabet....

, Polish
Polish language
Polish is a language of the Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages, used throughout Poland and by Polish minorities in other countries...

 and Czech
Czech language
Czech is a West Slavic language with about 12 million native speakers; it is the majority language in the Czech Republic and spoken by Czechs worldwide. The language was known as Bohemian in English until the late 19th century...

, as well as many languages of the Americas, including Navajo
Navajo language
Navajo or Navaho is an Athabaskan language spoken in the southwestern United States. It is geographically and linguistically one of the Southern Athabaskan languages .Navajo has more speakers than any other Native American language north of the...

, Nahuatl
Nahuatl
Nahuatl is thought to mean "a good, clear sound" This language name has several spellings, among them náhuatl , Naoatl, Nauatl, Nahuatl, Nawatl. In a back formation from the name of the language, the ethnic group of Nahuatl speakers are called Nahua...

, Mohawk
Mohawk language
Mohawk is an Iroquoian language spoken by around 2,000 people of the Mohawk nation in the United States and Canada . Mohawk has the largest number of speakers of the Northern Iroquoian languages; today it is the only one with greater than a thousand remaining...

 and Quechua. Synthetic languages are identified also in Kartvelian languages, for example the Georgian language
Georgian language
Georgian is the native language of the Georgians and the official language of Georgia, a country in the Caucasus.Georgian is the primary language of about 4 million people in Georgia itself, and of another 500,000 abroad...

.

Forms of synthesis


There are several ways in which a language can exhibit synthetic characteristics:

Derivational synthesis


In derivational synthesis, morphemes of different types (noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s, verb
Verb
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

s, affix
Affix
An affix is a morpheme that is attached to a word stem to form a new word. Affixes may be derivational, like English -ness and pre-, or inflectional, like English plural -s and past tense -ed. They are bound morphemes by definition; prefixes and suffixes may be separable affixes...

es, etc.) are joined to create new words. For example:
German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

: Aufsichtsratsmitgliederversammlung => "On-view-council-with-link-plural-completion-collect-noun" meaning "meeting of members of the supervisory board" ("with" and "link" (as in link of a chain) form a derivation that is the German word for "member"; similarly, "completion", "collect" and "noun" form a derivation that means "meeting", with both "ver-" and "-ung" being bound morpheme
Bound morpheme
In morphology, a bound morpheme is a morpheme that only appears as part of a larger word; a free morpheme is one that can stand alone.Affixes are always bound. English language affixes are either prefixes or suffixes. E.g., -ment in "shipment" and pre- in "prefix"...

s)
Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

: υπερχοληστερολαιμία => "overmuch/high-cholesterol-blood+-ia(suffix)" meaning "hypercholesterolemia
Hypercholesterolemia
Hypercholesterolemia is the presence of high levels of cholesterol in the blood. It is not a disease but a metabolic derangement that can be caused by many diseases, notably cardiovascular disease...

", i.e. the presence of high levels of cholesterol in the blood.
Polish
Polish language
Polish is a language of the Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages, used throughout Poland and by Polish minorities in other countries...

: przystanek => "beside-stand-little" meaning "bus stop
Bus stop
A bus stop is a designated place where buses stop for passengers to board or leave a bus. These are normally positioned on the highway and are distinct from off-highway facilities such as bus stations. The construction of bus stops tends to reflect the level of usage...

"
English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

: antidisestablishmentarianism
Antidisestablishmentarianism
Antidisestablishmentarianism is a political position that originated in 19th-century Britain in opposition to proposals for the disestablishment of the Church of England, that is, to remove the Anglican Church's status as the state church of England, Ireland, and Wales.The establishment was...

=> "against-ending-institutionalize-condition-advocate-ideology" meaning "the movement to prevent revoking the Church of England's status as the official church" (of England, Ireland, and Wales).
Russian
Russian language
Russian is a Slavic language used primarily in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Turkmenistan and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics...

: достопримечательность (dostoprimechatel'nost') => "Deserving (intensifying prefix)-notable-(noun suffix)" meaning "place of interest"

Relational synthesis


In relational synthesis, root words
Root (linguistics)
The root word is the primary lexical unit of a word, and of a word family , which carries the most significant aspects of semantic content and cannot be reduced into smaller constituents....

 are joined to bound morpheme
Bound morpheme
In morphology, a bound morpheme is a morpheme that only appears as part of a larger word; a free morpheme is one that can stand alone.Affixes are always bound. English language affixes are either prefixes or suffixes. E.g., -ment in "shipment" and pre- in "prefix"...

s to show grammatical function:
Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

: comunicandovele => "communicating-you(plural)-those(feminine, plural)" meaning "(while or by) communicating those(feminine, plural) to you(plural)"
Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

: escribiéndomelo => "writing-me-it(masculine/neuter)" meaning "writing it to me"
Nahuatl
Nahuatl
Nahuatl is thought to mean "a good, clear sound" This language name has several spellings, among them náhuatl , Naoatl, Nauatl, Nahuatl, Nawatl. In a back formation from the name of the language, the ethnic group of Nahuatl speakers are called Nahua...

: ōcāltizquiya => "already-(she)-him-bathe-would" meaning "she would have bathed him"
Japanese
Japanese language
is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

: 見せられがたい (miseraregatai) => "see-causative-passive-difficult" meaning "it's difficult to be shown (this)"
Finnish
Finnish language
Finnish is the language spoken by the majority of the population in Finland Primarily for use by restaurant menus and by ethnic Finns outside Finland. It is one of the two official languages of Finland and an official minority language in Sweden. In Sweden, both standard Finnish and Meänkieli, a...

: juoksentelisinkohan => "run-erratic motion
Frequentative
In grammar, a frequentative form of a word is one which indicates repeated action. The frequentative form can be considered a separate, but not completely independent word, called a frequentative...

-conditional
Conditional mood
In linguistics, the conditional mood is the inflectional form of the verb used in the independent clause of a conditional sentence to refer to a hypothetical state of affairs, or an uncertain event, that is contingent on another set of circumstances...

-I-question-casual" meaning "I wonder if I should run around (aimlessly)"
Turkish
Turkish language
Turkish is a language spoken as a native language by over 83 million people worldwide, making it the most commonly spoken of the Turkic languages. Its speakers are located predominantly in Turkey and Northern Cyprus with smaller groups in Iraq, Greece, Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo,...

: Afyonkarahisarlılaştıramayabileceklerimizden misiniz? => "Afyonkarahisar-from/citizen of-transform-transformed into (makes the previous suffix passive)-not-be able-(future tense)-(plural)-we-among-(question)-are you?" meaning "Are you (all) amongst the ones whom we will not be able to make citizens of Afyonkarahisar?"

Degrees of synthesis


In order to demonstrate the "continuum" nature of the isolating-synthetic-polysynthetic classification, some examples are shown below:

Very isolating



Chinese
Chinese language
The Chinese language is a language or language family consisting of varieties which are mutually intelligible to varying degrees. Originally the indigenous languages spoken by the Han Chinese in China, it forms one of the branches of Sino-Tibetan family of languages...

 (Mandarin):
明天 朋友 生日 蛋糕
明天 朋友 生日 蛋糕
míngtīan péngyou huì wèi zuò shēngri dàn'gāo
tomorrow me (genitive particle
Grammatical particle
In grammar, a particle is a function word that does not belong to any of the inflected grammatical word classes . It is a catch-all term for a heterogeneous set of words and terms that lack a precise lexical definition...

(='s
Saxon genitive
In English language teaching, the term "Saxon genitive" is used to associate the possessive use of the apostrophe with the historical origin in Anglo Saxon of the morpheme that it represents...

) omitted)
friend will for me make birthday cake
"Tomorrow my friends will make a birthday cake for me."


With rare exceptions, each syllable in Mandarin (corresponding to a single written character) represents an independent morpheme, giving rise to the common misconception that Chinese consists exclusively of "words of one syllable". As the sentence above illustrates, however, Chinese words expressing all but the simplest concepts - such as míngtīan, "tomorrow" (míng "bright" + tīan "day") and shēngri (shēng "to be born" + ri "sun; day") - are typically synthetic.

Rather isolating


English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

: "He travelled by hovercraft on the sea." Largely isolating, but travelled (although also 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 derivational synthesis (derivation).

Rather synthetic


Japanese
Japanese language
is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

: 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, "In our case, these pictures of children crying are things that are difficult to be shown," approximately We cannot bear being shown these pictures of children crying in more idiomatic English. In the example, virtually every word has more than one morpheme and some have up to five (the particles ni, no, wa are enclitic case markers, i.e., they are phonologically part of the previous word).

Very synthetic


Finnish
Finnish language
Finnish is the language spoken by the majority of the population in Finland Primarily for use by restaurant menus and by ethnic Finns outside Finland. It is one of the two official languages of Finland and an official minority language in Sweden. In Sweden, both standard Finnish and Meänkieli, a...

: Käyttäytyessään tottelemattomasti oppilas saa jälki-istuntoa means, "Should he/she behave in an insubordinate manner, the student will get detention." Structurally: behaviour (present/future tense) (of his/hers) obey (without) (in the manner/style) studying (he/she who (should be)) gets detention (some). Practically every word is derived and/or inflected, and one word can be considered polysynthetic. This is, however, very formal language — almost like judicial text — and usually replaced by more analytic structure: Kun oppilas käyttäytyy tottelemattomasti, hän saa jälki-istuntoa (which means, "When the student behaves in an insubordinate manner, he/she will get detention").

Polysynthetic


Mohawk
Mohawk language
Mohawk is an Iroquoian language spoken by around 2,000 people of the Mohawk nation in the United States and Canada . Mohawk has the largest number of speakers of the Northern Iroquoian languages; today it is the only one with greater than a thousand remaining...

: Washakotya'tawitsherahetkvhta'se means "He ruined her dress" (strictly, "He made the thing that one puts on one's body ugly for her"). One word expresses the idea that would be conveyed in an entire sentence in a non-polysynthetic language.

Oligosynthesis


Oligosynthetic language
Oligosynthetic language
An oligosynthetic language is any language using very few morphemes, perhaps only a few hundred, which combine synthetically to form statements. It is contrasted to polysynthetic languages...

s are a theoretical notion created by Benjamin Whorf
Benjamin Whorf
In studying the cause of a fire which had started under the conditions just described, Whorf concluded that it was thinking of the "empty" gasoline drums as "empty" in the meaning described in the first definition above, that is as "inert," which led to a fire he investigated...

 with no known examples existing in natural languages. Such languages would be functionally synthetic, but make use of a very limited array of morphemes (perhaps just a few hundred). Whorf proposed that Nahuatl was oligosynthetic, but this has since been discounted by most linguists.

See also

  • Analytic language
  • Isolating language
    Isolating language
    An isolating language is a type of language with a low morpheme-per-word ratio — in the extreme case of an isolating language words are composed of a single morpheme...

  • Inflection
    Inflection
    In grammar, inflection or inflexion is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, grammatical mood, grammatical voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case...

  • Morphology (linguistics)
    Morphology (linguistics)
    In linguistics, morphology is the identification, analysis and description, in a language, of the structure of morphemes and other linguistic units, such as words, affixes, parts of speech, intonation/stress, or implied context...

  • Linguistic typology
    Linguistic typology
    Linguistic typology is a subfield of linguistics that studies and classifies languages according to their structural features. Its aim is to describe and explain the common properties and the structural diversity of the world's languages...

  • Bound morpheme
    Bound morpheme
    In morphology, a bound morpheme is a morpheme that only appears as part of a larger word; a free morpheme is one that can stand alone.Affixes are always bound. English language affixes are either prefixes or suffixes. E.g., -ment in "shipment" and pre- in "prefix"...


External links