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Analytic language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

An analytic language is a type of natural language in which a series of root/stem words is accompanied by prepositions, postpositions, particles and modifiers, using affixes very rarely. This is opposed to synthetic languages, which synthesize many concepts into a single word, using affixes regularly. Syntactic roles are assigned to words primarily by word order. For example, by changing the individual words in the Latin phrase fēl-is pisc-em cēpit "the cat caught the fish" to fēl-em pisc-is cēpit "the fish caught the cat", the fish becomes the subject, while the cat becomes the object. This transformation is not possible in an analytic language without altering the word order. Typically, analytic languages have a low morpheme-per-word ratio, especially with respect to inflectional morphemes. No natural language, however, is purely analytic or purely synthetic.


The term analytic is commonly used in a relative rather than an absolute sense. The most prominent and widely used Indo-European analytic language is Modern English, which has lost much of the inflectional morphology that it inherited from Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Germanic and Old English over the centuries and has not gained any new inflectional morphemes in the meantime, which makes it more analytic than most other Indo-European languages.

For example, Proto-Indo-European had much more complex grammatical conjugation, grammatical genders, dual number and inflections for eight or nine cases in its nouns, pronouns, adjectives, numerals, participles, postpositions and determiners, Standard English has lost nearly all of them (except for three modified cases for pronouns) along with genders and dual number and simplified its conjugation.

Latin, Spanish, German, Greek, and Russian and a majority of the Slavic languages, characterized by free word order, are synthetic languages. Nouns in Russian inflect for at least six cases, most of which descended from Proto-Indo-European cases, whose functions English translates by instead using other strategies like prepositions, verbal voice, word order, and possessive 's.

Modern Hebrew is much more analytic than Classical Hebrew with both nouns and verbs.[1] This shift towards a more analytical language reflects broad changes in linguistic trends overtime. Classical Hebrew relies heavily on inflectional morphology to convey grammatical relationships, while in Modern Hebrew, there has been a significant reduction of the use of inflectional morphology.

Isolating language[edit]

A related concept is that of isolating languages, which are those with a low morpheme-per-word ratio (taking into account derivational morphemes as well). Purely isolating languages are by definition analytic and lack inflectional morphemes. However, the reverse is not necessarily true, and a language can have derivational morphemes but lack inflectional morphemes. For example, Mandarin Chinese has many compound words,[2] which gives it a moderately high ratio of morphemes per word, but since it has almost no inflectional affixes at all to convey grammatical relationships, it is a very analytic language.

English is not totally analytic in its nouns since it uses inflections for number (e.g., "one day, three days; one boy, four boys") and possession ("The boy's ball" vis-à-vis "The boy has a ball"). Mandarin Chinese, by contrast, has no inflections on its nouns: compare 一天 yī tiān 'one day', 三天 sān tiān 'three days' (literally 'three day'); 一個男孩 yī ge nánhái 'one boy' (lit. 'one [entity of] male child'), 四個男孩 sì ge nánhái 'four boys' (lit. 'four [entity of] male child'). Furthermore English is considered to be weakly inflected and comparatively more analytic than most other Indo-European languages.

Persian has features of agglutination, making use of prefixes and suffixes attached to the stems of verbs and nouns, thus making it a synthetic language rather than an analytic one. Persian is an SOV language, thus having a head-final phrase structure. Persian utilizes a noun root + plural suffix + case suffix + postposition suffix syntax similar to Turkish. For example: Mashinhashunra niga mikardam meaning 'I was looking at their cars'. Breaking down mashin+ha+shun+ra (car+s+their+at) we can see its agglutinative nature and the fact that Persian is able to affix a given number of dependent morphemes to a root morpheme (in this example, car).

List of analytic languages[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See pp. 50–51 in Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2009), "Hybridity versus Revivability: Multiple Causation, Forms and Patterns", Journal of Language Contact, Varia 2, pp. 40–67.
  2. ^ Li, Charles and Thompson, Sandra A., Mandarin Chinese: A Functional Reference Grammar, University of California Press, 1981, p. 46.
  3. ^ Holm, John A. (1989). Pidgins and Creoles: References survey. Cambridge University Press. p. 338. ISBN 9780521359405. Retrieved 19 May 2010.
  4. ^ Geerts, G.; Clyne, Michael G. (1992). Pluricentric languages: differing norms in different nations. Walter de Gruyter. p. 72. ISBN 9783110128550. Retrieved 19 May 2010.
  5. ^ Danilevitch, Olga (2019), "Logical Semantics Approach for Data Modeling in XBRL Taxonomies"
  6. ^ a b "Grammar: Cases". people.umass.edu. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  7. ^ Minegishi, Makoto (3 March 2011). "Description of Thai as an isolating language". Social Science Information. 50 (1): 62–80.