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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. where 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 else. But to give an example of inflecting languages, Old English is a good one: 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 masculine). 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 Website: <> "Cogito ergo sum, sed credo ergo ero." ========================================================