Synthetic language

For a language consciously designed by people, see Constructed language.

In linguistic typology, a synthetic language is a language with a high morpheme-per-word ratio, as opposed to a low morpheme-per-word ratio in what is described as an analytic language. 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.

Synthetic and analytic languages

Synthetic languages are frequently contrasted with analytic languages. It is more accurate to conceive of languages as existing on a continuum, with the analytic pole (consistently one morpheme per word) at one end and highly polysynthetic languages (in which a single inflected verb may contain as much information as an entire English sentence with various words such as a noun, an adjective, and an adverb) at the other extreme. Synthetic languages tend to lie around the middle of this scale.


Synthetic languages are numerous and well-attested. Most Indo-European languages, all Kartvelian languages such as Georgian, some Semitic languages such as Arabic, and many languages of the Americas, including Navajo, Nahuatl, Mohawk and Quechua are synthetic.

More specifically, this includes Indo-European languages of the Romance family (Latin, Italian, Portuguese, French, Spanish, Romanian, etc.), of the Germanic family (German, Dutch language etc.), of the Slavic family (Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Serbo-Croatian etc.), of the Indo-Iranian family (Sanskrit, Hindi, Persian etc.) as well as Greek, Albanian, Armenian, Latvian and Lithuanian.

However, some languages belonging to these families have become more analytic over time, like English, the Romance languages, Afrikaans and Hebrew.

Forms of synthesis

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

Derivational synthesis

In derivational synthesis, morphemes of different types (nouns, verbs, affixes, etc.) are joined to create new words. For example:

Relational synthesis

In relational synthesis, root words are joined to bound morphemes to show grammatical function:

Degrees of synthesis

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

More analytic

tomorrow I (genitive particle(='s)) friend will for I makebirthdaycake
"Tomorrow my friends 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, Chinese words expressing even the simplest concepts—such as míngtiān 'tomorrow' (míng "bright" + tīan "day") and péngyou 'friend' (a compound of péng and yǒu, both of which mean 'friend')—are typically synthetic compound words.

The Chinese language of the Classic works, and of Confucius for example, is more strictly monosyllabic: 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 dialect of American English, it is not unusual for the short vowel sounds ĕ and i to be indistinguishable: thus the words "pen" and "pin" are homophones. In this dialect, 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 analytic

Rather synthetic

Very synthetic



Oligosynthetic languages are a theoretical notion created by Benjamin Whorf 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

External links

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/18/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.