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Morphological Typology of Language

Language typology is the classification of languages into different structural types


based on the morphological similarities that exist between them. According to
Arokoyo (2013, p. 58) morphological typology does not consider genetic or
historical relationship between languages but is rather concerned with structural
similarities.

There are two types of classification in morphology studies. The first type
classifies languages into three morphological typologies of fusional languages,
agglutinative languages and analytical languages. The second type classifies
languages into two broad classes of synthetic languages and analytical
languages. The synthetic class is then further sub classified as either
agglutinative languages or fusional languages. The analytical class is further
distinguished in terms of isolating languages. The broad classification of
languages into synthetic or analytic is based on the recognition that words are
made up of either a series of interconnected morphemes (polymorphemic) or of
single words with little or no affixation (monomorphemic). For our purpose, we
are going to adopt the two broad classifications for ease of understanding.

Before going on to the typologies, it is useful to remark that no language can be


strictly classified as completely fusional, agglutinative, analytical or isolating. This
is because every language possesses to a certain degree the characteristic features
of each of the classifications. Commenting on this fact, Arokoyo (p.58) opines that
language typology is a continuum, with languages ranging from being either
extremely synthetic or highly isolating. In other words, the classification always
overlaps between the different groupings. For example, the English language can
be described as analytic because most words are made up of free morphemes and
to some extent can even be labelled as isolating but then it also has features of
agglutinating and fusional languages as words can be derived through the process
of affixation as well as other different morphological processes thus making it
agglutinating. It is fusional also to an extent because English verbs can be inflected
for tense ad concord, the nouns for plurality and the adjectives for the comparative
and the superlative. In the same vein, my language Yoruba spoken in the south
west of Nigeria can be described as largely isolating but with instances of
agglutinating but it is not inflectional in nature.
Synthetic Languages

These are languages in which words are made up of multiple morphemes. In other
words, words are formed through the process of adding affixes to root morphemes.
In this type of languages there is less attention to word order as the affixes
intrinsically indicate grammatical relations in themselves. For example, the
addition of certain prefixes and suffixes help us to determine the grammatical
classification of words into different parts of speech. It also helps us to find out
whether verbs are used in the present or past, or whether a noun is in the singular
or plural or whether an adjective is used in the superlative or the comparative. As
said before, synthetic languages can be further divided into agglutinating or
fusional languages. Let us first consider what it means for languages to be
agglutinating.

Agglutinating Languages

These are languages in which words are made up of one or more morphemes
attached to a root with each of the morphemes having a definite meaning of its
own. In other words, the morphemes that make up words are clearly separable.
According to Arokoyo (2013, p. 59) morphemes that can stand as a sentence are
transformed into words in agglutinating languages. Examples of languages that are
typically classified as agglutinating are Swahili, Turkish, Finish and Japanese.

The English language exhibits features of agglutination languages in the sense that
there are polymorphemic words as in compound words such as blackboard,
greenhouse and handmaid. In these words, the constituent morphemes can be
separated and the words can further take on inflectional affixes thus resulting in
blackboards, greenhouses and handmaids. In the same way in the word friendships,
the constituent morphemes can be separated into friend, ship and s.

Fusional or Inflectional Languages

Another name for fusional languages is inflectional languages. These languages are
broadly synthetic as we have mentioned but with different features from the
agglutinating languages. Fusional languages are described as very rich in
morphology because the morphemes in this type of languages have more than one
meaning combined or merged into an affix. In addition, there is no direct
correspondence between the form of the affix and the meaning. Another feature of
fusional languages is that it is also difficult to determine or establish or recognize
the base of words. According to Arokoyo (p.62), a single affix can carry two or
more grammatical information which makes it difficult to segment into individual
meaning. Examples of fusional languages are Latin, Russian, German, Spanish
and Hebrew. The following examples from Spanish are provided by Arokoyo,
(p.62):

a) Hablo I speak
b) Hablan they speak
c) Habl I spoke
d) Hablar I will speak

According to her, the affixes are -o, -an, - and ar and they carry a combination
of person, number, case and tense with o indicating first person singular
nominative present, -an second person plural nominative present, - first person
singular accusative past and ar first person singular nominative future. As we
can see, these affixes cannot be separated or analysed into the different meanings
that they have in them because they are fused. This explains why fusional
languages are described as being rich in morphology.

There is some degree of fusional features in the English language in terms of the
concord that or agreement that exist between different grammatical forms. This is
most apparent in the auxiliary and copular be often refers to as the verb to be.
This verb has different shapes and it is infused with different grammatical
information. For instance, it can be realized as:

a) Am I am here
b) Is he is here
c) Are they are here
d) Was he was here
e) Were they were here
In these examples, am carries the meaning of singular, first person and present, is
singular, third person and present, are plural, third person and present, was
singular, third person and past and were plural, third person and past.

Analytic / Isolating Languages

These are languages in which words are made up of free morphemes with little or
no affixes. They are described as languages with reduced morphology because
words are mostly lexical in nature and are therefore content words without any
bound morphemes either inflectional or derivational. In other words, the words in
these languages are monomorphemic. In these type of languages, syntactic such as
tense, number, person and case are expressed through the sequence in which the
words are ordered and not by inflections as it is the case with fusional languages.
Word order is therefore a significant feature of this type of languages. Examples of
typical analytic languages are Chinese, Vietnamese, Ponapean, Yoruba and to
some degree English. However, English has inflections so word order is not
significant in English.

Here are some examples in Yoruba:

a) Obirin naa ti de
Woman the has come
The woman has come
b) Awon obirin naa tide
Plural woman the have come
The women have come
c) Omo mi niyi
Child my be this
This is my child
d) Awon omo mi niyi
Plural child my be this
These are my children

In these examples, we can see that the forms of the words do not change and that
grammatical information is encoded through free morphemes.

So what are Isolating languages?


Isolating Languages

They are analytical languages that are extremely so analytical in their nature that
words are made up of single morphemes, tense and agreement affixes are not
morphologically marked on verbs and nouns and they have one meaning to each
word. It is in this sense for example that we can describe Yoruba as an isolating
language because it has no grammatical affixes but English as analytical but not
isolating. In order words, Yoruba is analytical and isolating as a language but
English is only analytical, it is not isolating. Remember that we said at the
beginning that there is no language that is fully under one classification; every
language has some mixture of the features of other morphological typologies.