Part Four: Morphological Typology

Oh boy, I’m excited to write this one! Morphological typology is one of the most important aspects of defining a language, and for language creators it is key in driving the development of morphology and syntax.

Morphological typology is the theory that languages, while evolving, cycle through various amounts of morphological complexity. Recall from part three that morphology is bits-and-bobs that are added directly to words, such as suffixes and prefixes. Morphological typology is the way that languages are categorized in accordance to how many bobs-and-bits get added in the first place.

The first and simplest on this tree of wonders is Analytical. Analytical languages don’t put any, or very few, affixes onto their words. This usually means that these languages use particles, short words that carry grammatical meaning, or other normal words to convey meaning that other languages would convey with affixes. Wikipedia puts it: “In linguistic typology, an analytic language is a language that primarily conveys relationships between words in sentences by way of helper words (particles, prepositions, etc.) and word order, as opposed to using inflections (changing the form of a word to convey its role in the sentence).” To my own surprise, English is basically analytical. Think about it, we have no noun affixes except for -s, and verbs are pretty darn simplistic. A more succinct example would be Vietnamese, in which words take almost no marking for anything at all. Unfortunately, this type of morphology doesn’t lend itself to charts and diagrams.

Next up on the tree is Synthetic. Synthetic languages aren’t themselves a type of language like analytical languages are. Rather, they are a classification of languages that fall into multiple subgroups. The diagram above has synthetic languages split into a couple of categories i’m not familiar with, and don’t seem particularly relevant. I’ll discuss Agglutinative languages, Fusional languages, and other highly synthetic languages.

Agglutinative languages affix distinct parts, called morphemes, onto words. All of these have distinct meanings and stack onto each other instead of melting into one affix. According to Wikipedia: “Agglutination is a linguistic process pertaining to derivational morphology in which complex words are formed by stringing together morphemes without changing them in spelling or phonetics.” Turkish is a great example of agglutination:

Fusional languages use a smaller number of affixes, each of which carries a wider range of meanings. These morphemes may be very similar to each other and generally arise from multiple distinct morphemes melting into each other. Wikipedia yet again provides us a definition: “Fusional languages or inflected languages are a type of synthetic language, distinguished from agglutinative languages by their tendency to use a single inflectional morpheme to denote multiple grammatical, syntactic, or semantic features.” An example of fusional morphology would be Español:

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