- Synthetic language
A synthetic language, in
linguistic typology, is a languagewith a high morpheme-per-word ratio. This linguistic classification is largely independent of morpheme-usage classifications (such as fusional, agglutinative, etc.), although there is a common tendency for agglutinative languages to exhibit synthetic properties.
ynthetic 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 sentence) at the other extreme. Synthetic languages tend to lie around the middle of this scale.
Synthetic languages are numerous and well-attested, the most commonly cited being
Indo-European languagessuch as Greek, Latin, German, Italian, Russian, Polish and Czech, as well as many languages of the Americas, including Navajo, Nahuatl, Mohawk and Quechua.
Forms of synthesis
There are several ways in which a language can exhibit synthetic characteristics:
In derivational synthesis, morphemes of different types (
nouns, verbs, affixes, etc.) are joined to create new words. For example:
:German: "Aufsichtsratsmitgliederversammlung" => "On-view-council-with-limbs-gathering" meaning "meeting of members of the supervisory board" ("with" and "limb" forming a derivation that is the German word for "member"):Greek: "υπερχοληστερολαίμια" => "overmuch/high-cholesterol-blood+-ia(suffix)" meaning "
hypercholesterolemia":Polish: "przystanek" => "beside-stand-little" meaning " bus stop":English: " antidisestablishmentarianism" => "against-ending-institutionalize-condition-advocate-ideology"
:Russian: "спасибо" => "god-save-you" (thank you)
In relational synthesis, root words are joined to
bound morphemes to show grammatical function:
:Italian: "comunicandovele" => "communicating-you(plural)-those(feminine, plural)" meaning "(while or by) communicating those(feminine, plural) to you(plural)":Spanish: "escribiéndomelo" => "writing-me-it(masculine/neuter)" meaning "(while or by) writing it to me":
Nahuatl: "ocaltizquiya" => "already-(she)-him-bathe-would" meaning "she would have bathed him":Japanese: 見せられがたい ("miseraregatai") => "see-causative-passive-difficult" meaning "it's difficult to be shown (this)":Finnish: "juoksentelisinkohan" => "run-erratic motion-conditional-I-question-casual" meaning "I wonder if I should run around (aimlessly)":Finnish: "hiutaleannos" => "flake-ration"; "hiuta+le" has the components "hiutua" meaning "to thin" and "-le" meaning "a small thing produced by the action", and "ann+os" is derived from "antaa" meaning "to give" and "-os" meaning "a mass transferred or made by the action".:Turkish: "Afyonkarahisarlılaştıramayabileceklerimizdenmisiniz" => meaning "Are you (all) amongst the ones whom we may 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:
Each morpheme is represented by a unique word in the Chinese language.
English: "He travelled by hovercraft on the sea." Largely isolating, but "travelled" and "hovercraft" each have two morphemes per word, the former being an example of relational synthesis (inflection), and the latter of derivational synthesis (derivation).
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, "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
encliticcase markers, i.e., they are phonologically part of the previous word).
Finnish: "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."
Mohawk: "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.
Oligosynthetic languages are a theoretical notion created by Benjamin Whorfwith 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.
* SIL: [http://www.sil.org/linguistics/GlossaryOfLinguisticTerms/WhatIsAMorphologicalProcess.htm What is a "morphological process"?]
* SIL: [http://www.sil.org/linguistics/GlossaryOfLinguisticTerms/WhatIsDerivation.htm What is "derivation"?]
* SIL: [http://www.sil.org/linguistics/GlossaryOfLinguisticTerms/ComparisonOfInflectionAndDeriv.htm Comparison of inflection and derivation]
* Lexicon of Linguistics: [http://www2.let.uu.nl/UiL-OTS/Lexicon/zoek.pl?lemma=Inflection Inflection] , [http://www2.let.uu.nl/UiL-OTS/Lexicon/zoek.pl?lemma=Derivation Derivation]
* Lexicon of Linguistics: [http://www2.let.uu.nl/UiL-OTS/Lexicon/zoek.pl?lemma=Base Base] , [http://www2.let.uu.nl/UiL-OTS/Lexicon/zoek.pl?lemma=Stem Stem] , [http://www2.let.uu.nl/UiL-OTS/Lexicon/zoek.pl?lemma=Root Root]
* , chapter 9 of [http://www.uio.no/studier/emner/hf/ikos/EXFAC03-AAS/h05/larestoff/linguistics/ Halvor Eifring & Rolf Theil: "Linguistics for Students of Asian and African Languages"]
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