A synthetic language uses inflection or agglutination to express syntactic relationships within a sentence. Inflection is the addition of morphemes to a root word that assigns grammatical property to that word, while agglutination is the combination of two or more morphemes into one word. The information added by morphemes can include indications of a word's grammatical category, such as whether a word is the subject or object in the sentence. Morphology can be either relational or derivational. While derivational morpheme changes the syntactic category, lexical categories of words, inflectional morpheme does not. In the first example below, ''faster'' remained an adjective when followed by the suffix; however, ''teacher'' becomes a noun after the suffix is added. Therefore, the first case is an example of inflection and the latter derivation. * ''fast'' (adjective, positive) vs. ''faster'' (adjective, comparative) * ''teach'' (verb) vs. ''teacher'' (noun) In synthetic languages, there is a higher morpheme-to-word ratio than in analytic languages. Analytic languages have a lower morpheme-to-word ratio and higher use of auxiliary verbs and word order. The four subtypes of synthetic languages are agglutinative, agglutinating languages, fusional languages, polysynthetic languages, and oligosynthetic languages.

Forms of synthesis

Language exhibits synthesis in two ways: Derivational morpheme, derivational and relational morphology. These methods of synthesis refer to the ways in which morphemes, the smallest grammatical unit in a language, are bound together. Derivational and relational morphology represent opposite ends of a spectrum; that is, a single word in a given language may exhibit varying degrees of both of them simultaneously. Similarly, some words may have derivational morphology while others have relational morphology. Some linguists, however, consider relational morphology to be a type of derivational morphology, which may complicate the classification.

Derivational synthesis

In derivational synthesis, morphemes of different types (nouns, verbs, affixes, etc.) are joined to create new words. That is, in general, the morphemes being combined are more concrete units of meaning. The morphemes being synthesized in the following examples either belong to a particular grammatical class – such as adjectives, nouns, or prepositions – or are affixes that usually have a single form and meaning: * German language, German ** *** *** "supervision + council + members + assembly" *** "Meeting of members of the supervisory board" *** This word demonstrates the hierarchical construction of synthetically derived words: ***# "members of [the] supervisory board" + "meeting" ***## "supervisory board" + ''s'' (''German nouns#Compounds, Fugen-s'') + "members" ***### "supervision" + ''s'' + "council, board" ***#### "on, up" + "sight" ***### "member" + plural ***#### "co-" + "element, constituent part" ***## (a verb prefix of variable meaning) + "to gather" + present participle ***, , , , and are all bound morphemes. * Greek language, Greek ** () *** () *** "pre" + "next to" + "sharp" + "pitch/tone" + "tendency" *** "Tendency to accent on the proparoxytone [third-to-last] position" * Polish language, Polish ** *** ***"harbor + [diminutive suffix]" *** "Public transportation stop [without facilities]" (i.e. bus stop, tram stop, or railway station, rail halt)—compare to . * English language, English **''Antidisestablishmentarianism (word), antidisestablishmentarianism'' ***''wikt:anti-#English, anti- + wikt:dis-#English, dis- + wikt:establish#English, establish + wikt:-ment#English, -ment + wikt:-arian#English, -arian + wikt:-ism#English, -ism'' *** "against + ending + to institute + [noun suffix] + advocate + ideology" ***"the movement to prevent revoking the Church of England's status as the official church [of England, Ireland, and Wales]." **English word chains such as ''child labour law'' may count as well, because it is merely an orthographic convention to write them as isolated words. Grammatically and phonetically they behave like one word (stress on the first syllable, plural morpheme at the end). * Russian language, Russian ** () *** () ***"Deserving + notable + [noun suffix]" ***"Place of interest" * Malayalam ** () ***"such/so + not + has + been + when + occasions + all + exclusively" ***"on all such occasions when it has been not so" * Persian language, Persian ** () *** () *** "play music" + "-ing" + [noun suffix] ***"musicianship" or "playing a musical instrument" * international classical compounds based on Greek and Latin **hypercholesterolemia () ***wikt:hyper-#English, hyper- + wikt:cholesterol, cholesterol + wikt:-emia#English, -emia ***"high + cholesterol + blood" *** the presence of high levels of cholesterol in the blood. ****alternately, cholesterol can be read as wikt:chole-, chole- + () + wikt:-ol#English, -ol, as in "bile + solid + [alcohol suffix]", or "the solid alcohol present in bile".

Relational synthesis

In relational synthesis, Root (linguistics), root words are joined to bound morphemes to show grammatical function. In other words, it involves the combination of more abstract units of meaning than derivational synthesis. In the following examples note that many of the morphemes are related to voice (grammar), voice (e.g. passive voice), whether a word is in the subject (grammar), subject or object (grammar), object of the sentence, possession (linguistics), possession, plurality, or other abstract distinctions in a language: * Italian language, Italian ** *** ***"communicate + [Gerund, gerund suffix] + plural you + feminine plural those" ***'Communicating those[feminine plural] to you[plural]' * Spanish language, Spanish ** *** ***"write + [gerund suffix] + me + it" ***'Writing it to me' * Nahuatl ** *** ***"[past tense] + [third-person-singular-object] + water + [causative voice] + [irrealis mood]" ***'She would have bathed him' * Latin language, Latin ** *** ***"together + crush + they + [passive voice]" ***'They are crushed together' * Albanian language, Albanian ** ***"give + to me + it[singular] + you[plural] + [imperative mood]" ***'You, give it to me' * Japanese language, Japanese ** () *** () ***"see + [causative tense] + [passive tense] + difficult" ***'It's difficult to be shown [this]' * Finnish language, Finnish **' ***"" ***"" ***"(run + frequentative + I [conditional mood, conditional]) + [question suffix] + [casual suffix]" ***'I wonder if I should run around [aimlessly]' * Hungarian language, Hungarian ** *** ***"house + [possession] + [plural] + your[plural] + in" ***'In your houses', ** *** ***"love + I [reflexive] you" ***'I love you' * Turkish language, Turkish ** *** ***"Afyonkarahisar + citizen of + transform + [passive] + not + be able + [future tense] + [plural] + we + among + [you-plural-future-question]?" ***"Are you[plural] amongst the ones whom we might not be able to make citizens of Afyonkarahisar?" * Georgian language, Georgian ** () *** () ***"They said that they would be forced by them [the others] to make someone to jump over in this direction" **The word describes the whole sentence that incorporates tense, subject, object, relation between them, direction of the action, conditional and causative markers etc.

Types of synthetic languages

Agglutinating languages

Agglutinating languages have a high rate of agglutination in their words and sentences, meaning that the morphological construction of words consists of distinct morphemes that usually carry a single unique meaning. These morphemes always look the same no matter what word they are in, so it is easy to separate a word into its individual morphemes. Note that morphemes may be bound (that is, they must be attached to a word to have meaning, like affixes) or free morpheme, free (they can stand alone and still have meaning). *Swahili is an agglutinating language. For example, distinct morphemes are used in the conjugation of verbs: **Ni-na-soma: I-present-read or I am reading **U-na-soma: you-present-read or you are reading **A-na-soma: s/he-present-read or s/he is reading

Fusional languages

Fusional languages are similar to agglutinating languages in that they involve the combination of many distinct morphemes. However, morphemes in fusional languages are often assigned several different lexical meanings, and they tend to be fused together so that it is difficult to separate individual morphemes from one another.


Polysynthetic languages are considered the most synthetic of the three types because they combine multiple word stem, stems as well as other morphemes into a single continuous word. These languages often turn nouns into verbs. Many Alaska Native languages, Native Alaskan and other Native American languages are polysynthetic. *Mohawk: Washakotya'tawitsherahetkvhta'se means "He ruined her dress" (strictly, 'He made the-thing-that-one-puts-on-one's body ugly for her'). This one inflected verb in a polysynthetic language expresses an idea that can only be conveyed using multiple words in a more analytic language such as English.


Oligosynthetic languages are a theoretical notion created by Benjamin Whorf. Such languages would be functionally synthetic, but make use of a very limited array of morphemes (perhaps just a few hundred). The concept of an oligosynthetic language type was proposed by Whorf to describe the Native American languages, Native American language Nahuatl, although he did not further pursue this idea. Though no natural language uses this process, it has found its use in the world of conlang, constructed languages, in international auxiliary language, auxlangs such as aUI (constructed language), aUI.

Synthetic and analytic languages

Synthetic languages combine (''synthesize'') multiple concepts into each word. Analytic languages break up (''analyze'') concepts into separate words. These classifications comprise two ends of a spectrum along which different languages can be classified. The present-day-English language, English is seen as analytic, but it used to be fusional. Certain synthetic qualities (as in the inflection of verbs to show grammatical tense, tense) were retained. The distinction is, therefore, a matter of degree. The most analytic languages consistently have one morpheme per word, while at the other extreme, in polysynthetic languages such as some Amerindian language, Native American languages a single inflected verb may contain as much information as an entire English sentence. In order to demonstrate the nature of the analytic–synthetic–polysynthetic classification as a "continuum", some examples are shown below:

More analytic

* Mandarin Chinese, Mandarin lacks Inflection, inflectional morphology almost entirely, and most words consist of either one- or two-syllable morphemes, especially two due to the very numerous Compound (linguistics), compound words. However, with rare exceptions, each syllable in Mandarin (corresponding to a single written character) represents a morpheme with an identifiable meaning, even if many of such morphemes are Bound morpheme, bound. This gives rise to the common misconception that Chinese consists exclusively of "words of one syllable". As the sentence above illustrates, however, even simple Chinese words such as ''míngtiān'' 'tomorrow' (''míng'' "bright" + ''tīan'' "day") and ''péngyou'' 'friend' (a compound of ''péng'' and ''yǒu'', both of which mean 'friend') are synthetic compound words. The Chinese language of the Classic works, and of Confucius for example, is more strictly monosyllabic (and southern dialects to a certain extent): each character represents one word. The evolution of modern Mandarin Chinese was accompanied by a reduction in the total number of phonemes. Words which previously were phonetically distinct became homophones. Many disyllabic words in modern Mandarin are the result of joining two related words (such as péngyou, literally "friend-friend") in order to resolve the phonetic ambiguity. A similar process is observed in some English dialects. For instance, in the Southern American English, Southern dialects of American English, it is not unusual for the short vowel sounds ĕ and i to be indistinguishable before nasal consonants: thus the words "pen" and "pin" are homophones (see pin-pen merger). In these dialects, the ambiguity is often resolved by using the compounds "ink-pen" and "stick-pin", in order to clarify which "p*n" is being discussed.

Rather analytic

* English language, English: **"He travelled by hovercraft on the sea" is largely isolating, but ''travelled'' (although it is possible to say "did travel" instead) and ''hovercraft'' each have two morphemes per word, the former being an example of relational synthesis (inflection), and the latter of compounding synthesis (a special case of derivation with another free morpheme instead of a bound one).

Rather synthetic

* Japanese language, Japanese: ** means strictly literally, "To us, these photos of a child crying are things that are difficult to be shown", meaning 'We cannot bear being shown these photos of a child crying' in more idiomatic English. In the example, most words have more than one morpheme and some have up to five.

Very synthetic

* Finnish language, Finnish: **''Käyttäytyessään tottelemattomasti oppilas saa jälki-istuntoa'' **"Should they behave in an insubordinate manner, the student will get detention." **Structurally: behaviour (present/future tense) (of their) obey (without) (in the manner/style) studying (they who (should be)) gets detention (some). Practically every word is derived and/or inflected. However, this is quite formal language, and (especially in speech) would have various words replaced by more analytic structures: ''Kun oppilas käyttäytyy tottelemattomasti, hän saa jälki-istuntoa'' meaning 'When the student behaves in an insubordinate manner, they will get detention'. * Georgian language, Georgian: **''gadmogvakhtunebinebdneno'' (gad-mo-gw-a-xtun-eb-in-eb-d-nen-o) **'They said that they would be forced by them (the others) to make someone to jump over in this direction'. **The word describes the whole sentence that incorporates tense, subject, direct and indirect objects, their plurality, relation between them, direction of the action, conditional and causative markers, etc. * Classical Arabic: ** ' (') **"And did we give it (masc.) to you futilely?" in Arabic, each word consists of one root that has a basic meaning ('  'give' and '  'futile'). Prefixes and suffixes are added to make the word incorporate subject, direct and indirect objects, number, gender, definiteness, etc.

Increase in analyticity

Haspelmath and Michaelis observed that analyticity is increasing in a number of European languages. In the German language, German example, the first phrase makes use of inflection, but the second phrase uses a preposition. The development of preposition suggests the moving from synthetic to analytic. * ''des Hauses'' (the Genitive case, GEN.Grammatical number, SG house Genitive case, GEN.Grammatical number, SG) ‘the house's’ * ''von dem Haus'' (of the Dative case, DAT.Grammatical number, SG house Dative case, DAT.Grammatical number, SG) ‘of the house’ It has been argued that analytic grammatical structures are easier for adults Second-language acquisition, learning a foreign language. Consequently, a larger proportion of non-native speakers learning a language over the course of its historical development may lead to a simpler morphology, as the preferences of adult learners get passed on to second generation native speakers. This is especially noticeable in the grammar of creole languages. A 2010 paper in ''PLOS ONE'' suggests that evidence for this hypothesis can be seen in correlations between morphological complexity and factors such as the number of speakers of a language, geographic spread, and the degree of inter-linguistic contact.

See also

*Analytic language *Isolating language *Inflection *Morphology (linguistics) *Linguistic typology *Bound morpheme *Morphological derivation


External links

* SIL International, SIL:What is a ''morphological process''?
* SIL:
* SIL:
* Lexicon of Linguistics:InflectionDerivation
* Lexicon of Linguistics:BaseStemRoot
*  , chapter 4 o
Halvor Eifring & Rolf Theil: ''Linguistics for Students of Asian and African Languages''
{{Authority control Synthetic languages, eo:Lingva tipologio#Sintezaj lingvoj