A fusional language (also called an inflective or inflected language) is a type of synthetic language, distinguished from agglutinative languages by their tendency to overlay many morphemes to denote grammatical, syntactic, or semantic change. For example, the Spanish language verb comer ("to eat") can be expressed in first-person past preterite tense as comí, a word formed removing the "-er" suffix of the verb and replacing it by "-í", that indicate such specific meaning.
Examples of fusional Indo-European languages are: Sanskrit, Greek (classical and modern), Italian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Pashto, Polish, Russian, German, Icelandic, Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian, Czech, French, Irish, Albanian, Latin, Punjabi, and the Iberian Romance dialect continuum. Another notable group of fusional languages is the Semitic languages group. A high degree of fusion is also found in many Sami languages, such as Skolt Sami. Unusually for a natively North American language, Navajo is sometimes described as fusional due to its complex and inseparable verb morphology.
An illustration of fusionality is the Latin word bonus ("good"). The ending -us denotes masculine gender, nominative case, and singular number. Changing any one of these features requires replacing the suffix -us with a different one. In the form bonum, the ending -um denotes masculine accusative singular, neuter accusative singular, or neuter nominative singular.
Fusional languages generally tend to lose their inflection over the centuries—some languages much more quickly than others. While Proto-Indo-European was fusional, some of its descendants have shifted to a more analytic structure, such as Modern English and Afrikaans, or agglutinative, such as Persian and Armenian. Other descendants are fusional, including Sanskrit, Latin, Ancient Greek, Lithuanian, Latvian, Slavic languages and Romance languages.
Some languages shift over time from agglutinative to fusional. For example, while most Uralic languages are predominantly agglutinative, Estonian is markedly evolving in the direction of a fusional language. On the other hand, Finnish, its close relative, exhibits fewer fusional traits, thereby keeping closer to the mainstream Uralic type.
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Another feature of many fusional languages is their systems of declensions. Here, nouns, adjectives and pronouns have one or more suffixes attached to them to determine grammatical case (their uses or meanings in the clause). In most Romance languages this trait is merely vestigial as it no longer encompasses nouns and adjectives but only pronouns. Compare the Italian egli (Nominative), gli (Dative, or Indirect Object), lo (Accusative) and lui (also Accusative, but emphatic, and Indirect Case to be used with prepositions), corresponding to the single vestigial pair he, him in English.
- Edward Sapir. 1921 Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. Chapter VI. Types of Linguistic Structure
- Sloane, Thomas O. (2001). Encyclopedia of Rhetoric. Oxford University Press. p. 442. ISBN 978-0-195-12595-5.
- Mithun, Marianne (2001). The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge University Press. p. 323. ISBN 978-0-521-29875-9.
- Deutscher, Guy (2006). The unfolding of language: an evolutionary tour of mankind's greatest invention (reprint ed.). New York: Holt Paperbacks. ISBN 978-0-8050-8012-4.[page needed]
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