Isolating Languages

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Isolating Languages


one of the four basic language types, according to the Schlegel-Humboldt classification.

Isolating languages are contrasted to agglutinative, inflectional, and polysynthetic (incorporative) languages. The basic features of the isolating-language type are the invariability of the words (the absence of inflected forms) and the expression of syntactic relations primarily through word order. The concept of isolating languages is usually taken in a narrower sense, including only root-isolating languages (but not stem-isolating ones, according to F. Misteli), that is, those languages in which the stem coincides with the root (and the root morph with the word form). Isolating languages are also usually characterized by several concomitant features: the predominance of root monosyllabism and considerable limitations on the structure of the syllable; the existence of syllabic musical tones; and the impossibility of grouping all words into grammatical classes, such as parts of speech—that is, the possibility that a given word will fulfill more than one grammatical function. “Pure” isolating languages do not exist. The languages closest to the type are ancient Chinese (and, to a lesser extent, modern Chinese), Vietnamese, and some of the languages of West Africa, such as Ewe.


Sapir, E. Iazyk. Moscow, 1934. (Translated from English.)
Konrad, N.I. “O kitaiskom iazyke.” Voprosy iazykoznaniia, 1952, no. 3.
Skalichka, V. “K voprosu otipologii.” Voprosy iazykoznaniia, 1966, no. 4.
Kuznetsov, P.S. Morfologicheskaia klassifikatsiia iazykov. Moscow, 1954.
Korotkov, N.N. Osnovnye osobennosti morfologicheskogo stroia kitai-skogo iazyka. Moscow, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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