What're "agglutinating" and "isolating"? (was Re: Speedtalk attempts)
|From:||Tom Wier <artabanos@...>|
|Date:||Wednesday, October 7, 1998, 0:26|
The Keenan Establishment wrote:
> And can someone tell me in plain English the difference between
> agglutinating and isolating? (give examples?). I used to think that Oc
> was agglutinating, but now that I've talked to a few people here, I'm
> begining to think the opposite.
The basic difference between an agglutinating language and an isolating
one is the way it handles _morphology_, or word-building.
Agglutinating languages are ones where the predominant means
of forming new words and using old ones is to tack on all sorts of
affixes: prefixes, suffixes, circumfixes, and infixes. (I suppose one
could have _superfixes_ too, where the morpheme is a tonal change
rather than a segmental sound change, but that's more theoretical,
and AFAIK, no languages use this). Esperanto is a good example:
Li vidis la hundojn
he see:PAST the dog:N:PL:ACC
He saw the dogs.
N = noun suffix
PL = plural suffix
ACC = accusative suffix
See? They're just piled up one after the other.
Isolating languages are much the opposite: they use lots of independent
words in strings but not necessarily connected to each other to form
meaningful sentences. English is a good example:
The man killed the king.
where the subjects and objects are marked by their position.
Now, there is a third type, inflecting languages, and these are quite
similar to agglutinating except that the main difference between
them is that agglutinating languages usually have long strings of
affixes, each with one or maybe two meanings, while inflecting languages
may conflate a whole bunch of meanings into one ending. For example,
the verb ending -s in English is an inflection that indicates all these
things: present tense, aorist (or habitual) aspect, third person, singular,
indicative mode, active voice. Compare that to (e.g.) Esperanto's
plural ending -j, which indicates only one thing, plurality, and nothing
But to give an example of inflecting languages, Old English is a
Se mann thone cyning sloh
the man the king slew
"The man killed the king"
where the subject and object roles in the sentence are marked explicitly by
the form of the definite article (se = nominative masculine, thone= accusative
It should be noted though that when you are calling a language "agglutinating"
or "isolating" or "inflecting", you are only describing a major tendency within
that language's system, and are explicitly not ruling out the possibility that an
isolating language, for example, may have agglutinations or inflections (as with
English: e.g. "anti-", "-s [verb ending]").
To everybody else, I think we should create a FAQ for the list, as this idea
has come up a lot before. It might cut down on the traffic that some on the
list might not want.
Tom Wier <artabanos@...>
ICQ#: 4315704 AIM: Deuterotom
"Cogito ergo sum, sed credo ergo ero."