Talk:Synthetic language

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irregular verb: English[edit]

Is there a reason for mentioning English irregular verbs? Aren't regular ones inflected too? --Eric

Regular verbs are generally less inflected. I've made that clearer, I think. --AF
There are big classes of regular inflected verbs in English. These are represented by some of the most common verbs in English:
I-class 1: spin (for some speakers), drink, swim, sing, sink
I-class 2: write, ride, smite
O-class  : blow, throw, grow
thefamouseccles 09:19 22 Nov 2003 (UTC)
I guess these verbs could be considered "strong verbs" rather than irregular, since they often follow rather strict regular inflection patterns within their groups...

inflection but not polysynthesis[edit]

I'd also like to point out that the Mohawk word given is not an inflected word, but a polysynthetic word. The terms "inflected" and "synthetic" are still synonyms in the common imagination, but linguistically the two are extremely different. thefamouseccles 09:20 22 Nov 2003 (UTC)

English not creole[edit]

There are strong arguments that English isn't a creole, and no consensus that it is ( - Sci.lang FAQ). There are probably better examples of creoles with reduced inflections, more suitable for this page. Carandol 12:16, 23 Sep 2004 (UTC)

entry improvement[edit]


I have corrected the definition previously given, but in my opinion, the definition I have given is somewhat rough and ready - it requires someone more well-versed in linguistics to complete the transformation into a proper encyclopedia entry. --firstfox 12:06, 1 Dec 2004 (UTC)

confusion: synthesis & inflection[edit]

See my discussion @ Inflection: How is Inflection being confused with Synthesis?


some suggested reference sites: links.

peace -
- Ish ishwar 19:52, 3 Dec 2004 (UTC)

Quechua is Iroquoian??[edit]

News to me. Or maybe the sentence needs to be rewritten.

Quechuan languages are not related to Iroquoian languages. At all. Also, Quechan, a Yuman language, is not related to Iroquoian languages, either. I have no idea why this statement appears in the article. Just wrong. - Ish ishwar 06:48, 2005 Feb 24 (UTC)

Glosses, please?[edit]

Could knowledgeable speakers of the example languages please expand on the examples under the headings Rather synthetic, Very synthetic, and Polysynthetic? It would be better to have a morpheme-by-morpheme gloss as well as the idiomatic translation into English. --Jim Henry | Talk 17:56, 2 August 2005 (UTC)

Derivational/Relational English example[edit]

Could someone please explain to a complete novice in the subject why "unthinkably" was used as an example of derivational synthesis? It looks relational, at least by the definition on the page. The only root word in it is "think", while "un-", "-able", and "-ly" all appear to be bound morphemes. TCC (talk) (contribs) 03:23, 4 November 2005 (UTC)

Hmmm in fact the definitions are a bit unclear. As presented, it looks as if derivational synthesis includes relational synthesis. Unthinkably is derivational because it is formed by different types of morphemes joined together to form a new word; that's a pretty general way of saying it. On the other hand, relational synthesis is mostly about syntax: you take a root and then add affixes that show grammatical functions which relate the word to others and give it a place in the syntactic structure of the sentence. The affixes un-, -abl(e)- and -ly do not show such grammatical functions; they simply create a new word from a root (think) and leave it floating there. English doesn't have much of relational synthesis; the plural number of nouns is one example. The English plural doesn't create a new lexical item but a new form of an existing word, and also relates the noun with other parts of the sentence and the discourse (if you're speaking in the plural, the verb may have to agree with the noun, and subsequently you must refer to the noun using a plural pronoun, for example). One way to distinguish derivational and relational synthesis is to look up the word in a dictionary; typically derivational forms are found (because they are not predictable) but relational forms are not (because they're just regular grammatical variations over a word). Those are my 2 cents; anyone, correct me if I missed something. --Pablo D. Flores (Talk) 10:37, 4 November 2005 (UTC)
Perhaps this is the wrong place for a lesson in the subject, but you've only left me more confused when it comes to the function of the affixes. It seems to me that is "un-" and "-able" do indeed create new words, but -ly appears to do nothing but change the adjective "unthinkable" to an adverb. If I were to try your dictionary method here, I go to [1] where "unthinkably" doesn't have its own entry, but is only listed as a variation on "unthinkable". So I don't understand how adding that suffix is not relational synthesis. And I'm having trouble understanding the role of "-able" clearly. Although it obviously creates a new word, changing the noun to an adjective along the way, it also doesn't exist in this sense as anything but a suffix. TCC (talk) (contribs) 22:22, 4 November 2005 (UTC)
The "dictionary test" is a rule of thumb, not authoritative. -ly is derivational because English grammar doesn't have a rule about adverb formation. You can form many adverbs from adjectives using -ly, same as you can form adjectives from verb roots using -able, but those things are not part of the regular morphology of the language in the same way as the plural -s or the past-tense mark -ed are. That a dictionary needs to mention derived words with -ly and -able (regardless of whether they have their own entries or can be found within the main one) shows that these are indeed derivational; if they were relational they would be part of the grammar and they wouldn't be listed at all, because they could be generated using the grammar rules of the language. On the other hand, many adjectives (such as red and big) cannot form adverbs with -ly, so those that do must be explicitly listed in the dictionary. --Pablo D. Flores (Talk) 17:29, 5 November 2005 (UTC)
Actually you can form "redly", and it's even meaningful (sort of) but such a construction is an almost sure identifier of overwrought prose, of Eye of Argon caliber. Or perhaps an entry in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.
Anyway, many thanks for your patient and helpful responses. TCC (talk) (contribs) 06:48, 7 November 2005 (UTC)

There is, as far as I know, a mistake in that differentiation. Within the derivational class they include what would normally be called "compound synthesis", in which free morphemes (such as the German example given) are bounded, instead of bound morphemes (such as the unthinkable example). By the way, in linguistics jargon, the difference between derivation (in this strict sense, with bound morphemes) and relation, is that the bound morphemes of derivation are lexemes (-un) or, if not, they produce a syntactic change (-ly), whereas bound morphemes of relation are never lexemes nor produce a syntactic change. YoungSpinoza 00:03, 17 December 2005 (UTC)

Japanese examples[edit]

I think the first Japanese example actually shows it as an analytic language.. since the word is actually Sino-Japanese and we all know that Chinese is analytic. Is anyone going to say 停車場 (carpark, or stop-car-area, same idea) in Chinese is synthetic. The individual words have their own meanings so are morphemes, right? One page also mentioned that Japanese nouns are more analytic but verbs are synthetic.

The second Japanese example however is a "native" Japanese word therefore synthetic. By the way, why "station where the train stops" and not "train station"? Someone please tell me if I'm right. 08:51, 25 March 2006 (UTC)

I'm not sure what Sino-Japanese scholars treat this topic, but I'm going to engage in some original research here... First, those Sino-Japanese words could've been considered a special class of words, or something essentially different from other J words, hundreds of years ago, when they were recent borrowings; nowadays they're just like other words. A monolingual Chinese speaker might or might not recognize the word if s/he sees it in writing; most concepts have diverged in meaning a bit, others have fallen out of use, and modern (Mandarin) Chinese doesn't employ many monosyllabic words today. This is to say that J and C are 2 radically different languages, regardless of massive C->J borrowing, and you can't judge one in terms of the other. Second, teishaeki has three morphemes in one word, and only one is clearly a free root concept. Eki alone means "train station" and is a full-fledged noun, but -sha- is not a word in Japanese (it appears in words such as in jitensha "bicycle" and jidousha "automobile"). The stand-alone word for "moving vehicle" in Japanese (native, not Sino-), which is written with the same character as -sha, is kuruma and it means "car" (in the specific sense). Therefore -sha- is a bound derivational morpheme in Japanese.
In any case, Japanese nouns tend to be only derivationally synthetic, and that only because of the compounding-turned-derivation brought by Sino-J words. They're not inflected at all, and many "native" Japanese words are only one morpheme long. In contrast, verbs can be compounded, undergo derivation, and inflected in a million ways.
I think it all boils down to a confusion (already mentioned in this talk page) that equals synthesis with degree of inflection. Synthesis is related to morpheme-to-word ratio, nothing else. --Pablo D. Flores (Talk) 14:34, 25 March 2006 (UTC)
So you think that when those characters are in Japanese, they show it as a synthetic language, but when the same term is used in Chinese, they show it as an analytic language??
I think it boils down to whether -sha, on its own, would mean the same thing to a Japanese speaker as to a Chinese, or whether it would mean anything at all to a Japanese speaker. I believe it would have a meaning (i.e. separate morpheme) when written down, but then again the character would most likely be read as kuruma. 16:39, 26 March 2006 (UTC)
Forget the characters. I'm not saying that. Both Japanese and Chinese are synthetic insofar they allow for compounding. Japanese is a bit more synthetic because it allows for compounding and derivation (mainly of nouns). But Japanese nouns are still much less synthetic than English nouns (they show no number!), while Japanese verbs are much more synthetic than English verbs. The Japanese -sha means "vehicle" but can only be used as a suffix (a bound morpheme). I don't know Chinese, so I can't say what word it uses for "vehicle" or "car" (Chinese WP says 汽车, which I can't read). --Pablo D. Flores (Talk) 23:20, 26 March 2006 (UTC)

I, too, am skeptical about the Japanese examples. The current text says:

Japanese: 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 enclitic case markers, i.e., they are phonologically part of the previous word).

But the fact that these particles are clitics does not prove that the language is synthetic. Clitics are sometimes analysed as independent words by native speakers. For example, see here a list of English clitics. FilipeS 19:54, 26 November 2006 (UTC)

Japanese text typo - Rather Synthetic[edit]

I'm only a beginner in Japanese, but it appears to me that the hiragana transcription differs from the given roumaji example; where the roumaji reads Watashitachi ni (私たしたちに), the hiragana displays Watachi ni (私たちに). TWB 11:27, 22 September 2006 (UTC)

In fact the latter is correct and the former is wrong; 私 alone reads watashi. I'm going to remove the kanji/kana altogether; they serve no purpose at all for this topic. —Pablo D. Flores (Talk) 11:59, 22 September 2006 (UTC)

More About Mohawk[edit]

My interest in the difference between inflected and polysynthetic is piqued. I am also wondering what it is that makes that Mohawk word a word ... is the speed at which it is spoken? Could it not stand alone as a sentence/clause? It's only clear that it's word to me because there aren't any spaces in it, which seems like a trivial typographical thing. I think the reader could benefit from a clearer definition of "word". Great article. Boris B 09:05, 8 January 2007 (UTC)

Edward Sapir in Language mentions teaching speakers of one of the polysynthetic Indian languages of BC (or perhaps Alaska) how to transcribe their language. He remarks that they had no hesitation in deciding where the boundaries of individual words were, even though one word in the relevant language could be equivalent to an entire sentence in English. If anyone is dying of curiosity to know more details, I can look up the exact reference and surrounding circumstances.

Floozybackloves (talk) 08:19, 12 February 2010 (UTC)

Morpheme-to-word ratios[edit]

I'd be interested to see a rating of "the degree to which a language is synthetic." I'm new to linguistics; has anyone come across anything like that? Maybe an estimate of morpheme-to-word ratio in a given language, given typical usage? I understand there would be a lot of variability within a single language (e.g. the difference between formal and informal speech), among other problems, but I'm just throwing some ideas out there. Kevrhodes 00:00, 27 August 2007 (UTC)


as for the examples, it would be good that someone who knows (not my case) classed languages with the largest number of speakers or spoken in different continents, such as Chinese, Spanish or Portuguese, for demonstrative purposes.

as for Spanish, being myself a native speaker (yet not linguist) I'd say that it is rather analytic or, in any case, a rather isolating. This is maybe worth the note, but I'd rather have someone who really knows about how to put it in correct terms. Mountolive group using a loop of another pop group 21:31, 11 June 2008 (UTC) θð — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 11:23, 20 March 2014 (UTC)

Degrees of synthesis - syntax trees please?[edit]

I can follow the English, Japanese and Finnish examples, but I feel I really need a bit of help with the others. And I don't think I'm the only one for whom these examples are completely meaningless, so I think these are in need of syntax trees. Shinobu (talk) 13:17, 11 September 2008 (UTC)

Polysynthetic, Fusional, Agglunative[edit]

Shouldnt there be short introductions of those in the article? arent they part of syntethic aswell? Luka Jačov (talk) 17:12, 10 November 2008 (UTC)

This definitely needs clarification! Currently, Agglutinative language and Fusional language claim to be subsets of "synthetic language", but the intro to this article says these classifications are independent. -- Beland (talk) 19:29, 11 January 2009 (UTC)

Polysynthetic vs. Relational synthesis[edit]

Why is the Turkish example "Afyonkarahisarlılaştıramayabileceklerimizden misiniz" amongst the relational synthesis' examples, when it has clearly synthesized a whole sentence to one word? Shouldn't it be an example for polysynthesis? -- (talk) 22:18, 27 April 2009 (UTC)

Chinese example for "strictly isolating"[edit]

Is this example appropriate? The text says "each word is one morpheme", which is not true. Words like 生日 are clearly bimorphemic (birth-day), and in fact most nouns in Chinese are compound words like this. Jerry Packard's 2000 book The Morphology of Chinese says a lot about this. Should the example be changed, or at least should the explanatory text be modified? rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 21:42, 27 May 2009 (UTC)

I thought the same thing. I don't see how 生日 is any less synthetic than birthday. LeeWilson (talk) 14:30, 3 February 2010 (UTC)
In fact, I find it hard to believe any language is strictly isolating. It would mean that every single word in the entire language was composed of a single morpheme each. LeeWilson (talk) 14:33, 3 February 2010 (UTC)


It could help to clear this up a little bit. If I've understood correctly, an example of an Oligosynthetic language would be Newspeak, described by George Orwell in 1984 —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:25, 17 June 2009 (UTC)

Eahum, the trouble with Newspeak is that it is a fictional language that isn't described good enought to characterize it, so we should either keep to principle, or exemplify with an existing spoken language. An oligosynthetic language would use a comparatively small set of independent root words, and to compensate for the lack of independent meanings, use composition to create a large vocabulary. I believe this is the correct understanding of "oligosynthesis". Rursus dixit. (mbork3!) 13:29, 28 March 2010 (UTC)

There is also an entirely-different meaning of "synthetic language". --[edit]

There is also an entirely-different meaning of "synthetic language".

Think of Esperanto, Interlingua, etc. See: constructed language. (talk) 17:03, 20 August 2010 (UTC)

That's why these are called "constructed languages". Synthetics here is in the jargon of lingustic. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:16, 29 December 2010 (UTC)

Forms of synthesis: Derivational Synthesis[edit]

This sentence isn't clear at all to me.

"with" and "link" (as in link of a chain) form a derivation that is the German word for "member"; similarly, "completion", "collect" and "noun" form a derivation that means "meeting", with both "ver-" and "-ung" being bound morphemes

Can the author please explain where the "with" and "link" came from? -TMI

German word for "member" is Mitglied, which comes from mit ("with") and Glied ("link of a chain"), at least according to the author, because I didn't find any evidence on that etymology. It's very poorly written. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:19, 24 August 2016 (UTC)


An editor tried to translate the Hungarian example into what he thinks is English by using indesecretable. I cannot parse this alleged word. I looked for it in a couple of dictionaries. Google provides 191 hits -- this article and 190 mirrors of it. No encyclopedia should be in the business of introducing new words (that would be OR). Someone, please fix this abomination. (talk) 22:08, 12 December 2013 (UTC)

Degress of synthesis / Very synthetic / Hungarian[edit]

The hungarian example is not representative to the language. We here in hungary use that word (megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért) as a joke and I do not know a single hungarian word of similar length that is practical. Besides, I, and probably others too, did not understood that word the first time we have heard it. Consider at least noting that this is a joke-word, since maybe the examples of other languages are more serious and representative. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 07:21, 1 February 2014 (UTC)

Greek example[edit]

The Greek example given, υπερχοληστερολαιμία, is a borrowing of a compound constructed in international scientific terminology. That doesn't make it any less of a Greek word, however, I don't think it's a good example of the synthetic nature of Greek, since exactly the same word (hypercholesterolemia) is found in English, French, etc. I think it would be better to find a compound constructed within Greek. --Macrakis (talk) 14:43, 19 May 2015 (UTC)

I will change example to προπαροξυτόνησις (proparoxytonisis), whose constituent morphemes are προ-παρ-οξυ-τόν-ησις, and it's actually attested in a Byzantine author. --Macrakis (talk) 22:10, 20 May 2015 (UTC)

Improvements needed[edit]

Can someone add a normal gloss to the given examples? For now it's a pseudo-glossy English translation that makes no sense. For instance:

przystanek => "beside-stand-little"

This example suggests that 'ek means little, which is ridiculous, because someone may think that ek is an actual weird meaning little, while it's only a diminutive suffix.

Also, why are some words in italics, some in quotation marks, some divided into morphemes by hyphens, some not? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:57, 24 August 2016 (UTC)

Can someone explain the child labor law example in the English section? I say these words very distinctly, I'm not sure why the article says what it does. There are three separate stresses. "Child" "labor" "law". ?? — Preceding unsigned comment added by Atmilios (talkcontribs) 01:04, 14 September 2017 (UTC)