Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
An analytic language (or isolating language) is a language in which the vast majority of morphemes are free morphemes and considered to be full-fledged "words". By contrast, in a synthetic language, a word is composed of agglutinated or fused morphemes that denote its syntactic meanings.
Chinese (of all dialects) is perhaps the best-known analytic language. To illustrate:
As can be seen, each syllable (or sometimes two) corresponds to a single concept; in addition it can be seen that two words (所有 and 都) cooperate to form the concept of "all", which gives an idea of the syntactical rules that dominate the grammars of such languages. Comparing the Chinese to the English translation, one sees that while English itself is fairly analytic, it contains some agglutinative features, such as the bound morpheme -/s/ to mark either possession (in the form of a clitic) or number (in the form of a suffix).
|Der Mann||Die Männer|
Note that the morpheme "Der" corresponds to four separate concepts simultaneously, and the morpheme "Die" refers to three concepts (German does not distinguish gender in the plural), but the rules relating "der" and "die" in this manner are quite arbitrary1, making this set of morphemes fusional in nature. Furthermore, the word "Männer" corresponds to two concepts and relates to "Mann" through both the plural marker /-er/ and a process of umlaut that changes "a" to "ä" in many German plurals. Thus, the formation of German plurals is a simple, rule-governed inflectional pattern. As a result, German can be said to lie between the agglutinative and fusional areas of the spectrum of language typology.
1It is worth mentioning that both "der" and "die" also can function as a feminine singular definite article, depending on the case!
Bulgarian, the only analytic Slavic language, is curious, because Bulgarian became analytic significantly later than West European languages. This allows us to study the process. In the beginning, cases began to mix sounds; this paved the way for the distinctions between forms to be forgotten. Old relationships expressed by inflected words were, it is supposed, first replaced by prepositional phrases. If a preposition took an inflected word after itself, it was a short walk for the word to lose its declension, because cases after prepositions are in semantically weak positions - that is, replacing one case by another after prepositions doesn't affect meaning as much as does changing the case of a free inflected word (since prepositions distinguish meanings fairly unambiguously from the start).
Pronoun cases always tend to survive better than noun cases, but consider English "Me and him went a long way" or the hypercorrect (incorrect!) "The shipmaster saluted Martin and I."
Features of analytic languages
Analytic languages often express abstract concepts using independent words, while synthetic languages tend to use adpositions, affixes and internal modifications of roots for the same purpose.
Analytic languages have stricter and more elaborate syntactic rules. Since words are not marked by morphology showing their role in the sentence, word order tends to carry a lot of importance; for example, Chinese and English make use of word order to show subject-object relationship. Chinese also uses word order to show definitiveness (where English uses "the" and "a"), topic-comment relationships, the role of adverbs (whether they are descriptive or contrastive), and so on.
Analytic languages tend to rely heavily on context and pragmatic considerations for the interpretation of sentences, since they don't specify as much as synthetic languages in terms of agreement and cross-reference between different parts of the sentence.
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