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Re: Polysynthesis & Oligosynthesis

From:Muke Tever <mktvr@...>
Date:Saturday, August 24, 2002, 23:45
From: "Tim May" <butsuri@...>
> I think I know enough now to have a broad idea of what a polysynthetic > language looks like, but I've never seen an entirely satisfying > definition of what distinguishes a polysynthetic language from a > non-polysynthetic one. Any clarification of this point would be > appreciated.
Well, according to Payne's _Describing Morphosyntax_: >> The index of *synthesis* [...] has to do with how many >> morphemes tend to occur per word. This index defines >> a continuum from *isolating* languages at one extreme to >> highly *polysynthetic* languages at the other. A strictly >> isolating language is one in which every word consists of >> one morpheme. The Chinese languages come close to this >> extreme. A highly polysynthetic language is one in which >> words tend to consist of several morphemes. Quechua and >> Inuit (Eskimo) are good examples of highly polysynthetic >> languages. He gives an example from Yup'ik Eskimo: tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq tuntu -ssur-qatar-ni -ksaite-ngqiggte-uq reindeer-hunt-FUT -say-NEG -again -3SG:IND "He had not yet said again that he was going to hunt reindeer." (Also, typing "polysynthesis" which has two y's next to each other like that is quite disturbing.)
> Also, can the essential details of Whorf's idea of oligosynthesis be > explained to me? All I really know is: > > *Whorf proposed an analysis of Nahuatl as oligosynthetic > *said analysis is considered to have been fundamentally incorrect > *oligosynthesis involves word-building from a very small set of > morphemes > *I am not aware of any natlangs which are described as oligosynthetic > *Brad Coon's conlang Nova [1] is oligosynthetic > > If anyone is familiar with the idea of oligosynthesis, I would be > pleased to hear more about it.
From what I remember reading about Whorf, it seemed like the idea of oligosynthesis is farther from the idea of isolation/polysynthesia and closer to what we think of proto-languages now: English has and has had millions of words, but the vast majority of them are derived (through various means) from a much, much smaller set of morphemes (those of Proto-Indo-European). Or, possibly a better example (if it works, because I know nothing about the actual theory), the way that Semitic triliteral roots would be derived from a [necessarily smaller?] set of biliteral roots with extensions. (Wasn't it some mystical analysis of Hebrew along these lines that inspired Whorf to see oligosynthesis in Nahuatl?) *Muke! --


Tim May <butsuri@...>