Polysynthetic Language

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Related to Polysynthetic Language: Analytic language, Fusional language

Polysynthetic Language


a type of synthetic language in which all grammatical meanings are usually conveyed in a word composed of a long sequence of morphemes.

Most polysynthetic languages have an ergative-type structure, as is the case with the Chukchi-Kamchatka, Eskimo-Aleut, and Abkhazo-Adyg languages and many Indian languages of North and Central America. The maximum degree of affix stringing is observed in the verb form, which includes a series of suffixal, or prefixai and suffixal, morphemes indicating person (objective conjugation), number, version, mode of action, tense, mood, and so on. All forms are constructed according to the principle of agglutination by strict positional rules. Moreover, word-formation affixes are also often present in the word. The verb form in polysynthetic languages usually represents the content of an entire sentence, as in the Adygei qə-š′ə-s’°-fə-r-i-γ ǎ-tx̌əγ (“he made him write to you here”). Nominal forms are represented by shorter morphemic chains, since analytic elements are found in the substantive, as in the Eskimo ayΧasi-ki-η (“my two boats”). The phenomenon of incorporation also occurs in polysynthetic languages.


References in periodicals archive ?
On the definition of Word in a polysynthetic language.
Polysynthetic languages pose particularly acute challenges because of the considerable size of the grammatical words involved.
We briefly relate the significance of this phonetic possibility to our understanding of the diachronic phonology of polysynthetic languages in Section 6.
It has been asserted for some polysynthetic languages, such as Mohawk, that speakers remember exactly, in gestaltlike form, which words they have heard before, without being aware of their component parts (Mithun 1998: 178).
In this respect Dalabon contrasts with some other polysynthetic languages, such as Chukchi (Dunn 2001), or Cree (Russell 1999), in which morphophonemic processes allow the analyst to clearly delimit phonological words--in Chukchi, coextensive with the grammatical word, and in Cree fitting inside it.
Admittedly, Kunwinjku has a more established orthographic tradition, its orthography being learned in school by L1 speakers who have produced some substantial written materials, so we cannot discount the possibility that the difference simply reflects the difficulties faced in writing long words by speakers first learning to write polysynthetic languages.
The developmental trajectory of head-marking and polysynthetic languages is often seen as a one-way street, with ever-more complex morphology developing typological "sinks"--structures that can only be disassembled by catastrophic processes like pidginization (see Lee [1987] for an example involving another polysynthetic Australian language, Tiwi).
All polysynthetic languages are characterized by complex grammatical words capable of expressing a clause worth of information, but there is significant crosslinguistic variation in whether these generously stuffed grammatical words are coterminous with phonological words (as in Chukchi or Bininj Gun-wok), or break up into more than one phonological unit (as in Cree).