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A term used for a language which tends to use free morphemes to indicate grammatical categories. Examples are Modern English and French to a certain extent. Other languages, such as Chinese or Vietnamese, are very clearly analytic and approach a relationship of one word per morpheme.



Refers to phenomena which occur in several different languages or in investigations which draw on data from diverse languages.


isolating language

A language type where individual words do not vary in form and where grammatical categories and relations are indicated by separate words and/or by word-order. English is fairly isolating; Chinese much more so.


linguistic area

A part of the world in which several genetically unrelated languages are spoken but which nonetheless show structural similarities. Such areas usually form an approximate geographical unit, e.g. the Balkans, the Caucasus, perhaps the eastern Baltic Sea region. The term is a translation of German Sprachbund, lit. 'language federation'.


linguistic universals

A postulated set of linguistic features which are common to all languages and which ultimately derive from our psychological make-up and our perception of the world, e.g. the existence of subject, predicate, object or first, second and third pronouns in all languages.



A reference to a language which has large complex words in which several grammatical categories are fused together. See Incorporating.



A language which is characterised by an extensive inflectional morphology, e.g. Latin and Modern German. This type contrasts with analytic and can be taken to have developed historically from the latter through centuries of change during which words fused together to give compound forms. For this reason new languages, like pidgins and creoles, are never synthetic in type.



The description of the grammatical structure of language independently of genetic relationships. There are many commonalities between languages which result from morphological principles so that this view of language structure is just as valid as an historical consideration. Furthermore, languages which occupy a geographically delimited area, for instance the Balkans, may come to share structural properties, irrespective of historical background or genetic affiliation.


typological classification

The ordering of language on the basis of shared grammatical structure rather than on historical or genetic grounds.



Any feature or property which holds for all languages. These are few and far between though near-universals, i.e. those which are good for the vast majority of languages, are more common and often more interesting in the insights which they lead to concerning the nature of human language in general.


Language typology

Language typology is the study of the synchronic structure of languages for the purpose of classifying them according to recurring patterns and regularities.