Analytic languages and their function. (2)

Salinas17 at Salinas17 at
Fri May 26 20:22:33 UTC 2006

I wrote:
<<If we stick with communication as the variable, we might see 
analytical/isolating languages as a natural reaction by speakers to clashing inflectional 
systems as an obstacle to communication.  While synthetic languages reflect a 
more mature development where speakers have found a Gouldian/Dixonian 

Dr. Johanna Rubba replied:
<< What does "mature" mean? Is Steve trying to say that synthetic languages 
are capable of expressing more-nuanced meanings than analytic languages? What 
would lead one to believe this?>>

Well, I did not intend "mature" to mean better or more capable of "expressing 
more-nuanced meanings."  

My point was that, if inflection gets in the way of communication, then a 
less inflected language would be one obvious solution.  At least some scholars 
think this kind of explanation can account for the loss of inflection in English.

It's not that analytic languages can't carry a large amount of information.  
It's more that synthetic languages might have difficulty carrying the required 
minimum amount of information.  When you strip down to a bare minimum of 
"markedness" for communications' sake, perhaps a high degree of inflection simply 
gets in the way?  

<<Languages heavy with fusional or agglutinative morphology are often full of 
redundancy --  >>

And perhaps redundancy -- in the bad sense -- is the extra baggage that 
"maturity" brings?  Again, maturity isn't necessarily a good thing.  Perhaps it 
overstructures a language and therefore makes it less flexible, in terms of 
certain kinds of communication?

<<Creoles that grow out of impoverished pidgins often develop analytic means 
of expressing nuanced tenses and aspects, as African American English has done 
with words like "do" and "be", expressing things like immediate vs. remote 
past, durativity, and so on. Is doing this with analytic morphology less 
"mature" than doing it with suffixes and bound roots?>>

Yes, it might be.  Perhaps that is a sign of "maturity" -- a lot of 
semi-vestigial forms whose original independent meanings have been forgotten.  For a 
verb to turn into a preposition and then an affix would seem sometimes to be a 
unidirectional, simply because there's no way to reverse the process.  See 
e.g., Carol Lord's Historical Change in Serial Verb Constructions.  If the English 
possessive <s> arose out of <his>, then listeners and speakers without 
historical knowledge of the process have no way of knowing that the original <his> 
was truncated down to <s>, so there's no path left for going back to the 
isolating form.

Perhaps a language needs a "history" in order to get to the point where 
enough independent forms are collapsed down to affixes to be "synthetic."  Perhaps 
relatively recent creoles support that idea.

Steve Long

More information about the Funknet mailing list