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CLASSIFICATION, DESCRIPTION, AFFILIATION

FOR about a hundred years have been classified by the terms isolating, agglutinative, flexional, and semiflexional, analytic, synthetic and polysynthetic (including the incorporating class). Though not satisfactory in every respect, they have the advantage of easy illustration: a language is isolating like Chinese, agglutinative like Turkish, flexional like Sanskrit or Greek, semiflexional like Finnish, analytic like English, synthetic like Russian, polysynthetic like Eskimo, and incorporating like Mexican Nahuatl. The basis of classification lies in the handling of morphemes, units of grammatical relation attached to or formally modifying words. In an isolating language the word remains invariable. An agglutinative language employs semi-independent morphemes, i.e. such as have substantial form and meaning, though not used apart from other words. Inflexion employs fused morphemes and develops paradigms for both nouns and verbs. In a semi-inflected language the morphemes have a consistent form and sense, but they are not phonetically autonomous; they also tend to cohere in declensions and conjugations, of which the former are somewhat longer and looser than in an inflected tongue. An analytic language tends to reduce each significant unit of meaning and relation to a word. It thus resembles an isolating language in its reliance on word-order and auxiliaries, but differs by being analysis applied to an originally synthetic system. Synthesis is present in agglutination, flexion, and polysynthesis, which differ in degree and technique. Polysynthesis has been described as agglutination run mad; it involves not merely the association in one word of a principal concept and all its relational symbols, but the fusing of words into word-sentences and the massing of relational and derivative concepts. The word-sentence, when nothing is left over, might be described as due to holosynthesis. When the verb is a complex formed of the verb proper and its objects and adverbial complements, but the subject is distinguished, the language is described as incorporating.1

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1
Russian linguists use the term 'incorporation' for polysynthesis. From the languages of north-eastern Siberia, however, they supply examples of the word-

-286-

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Aspects of Language
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Editor''s Preface v
  • Prefatory Letter vii
  • Contents xi
  • I- Language 1
  • II- Change 34
  • III- Techniques 71
  • IV- Sounds 97
  • V- Grammar- Form and Function 145
  • VI- Grammar- The Sentence 167
  • VII- Grammar- Parts of Speech 187
  • VIII- Words 226
  • IX- Values 265
  • X- Classification, Description, Affiliation 286
  • XI- Languages 305
  • Index 363
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