Morphological typology is a way of classifying the languages of the world that groups languages according to their common morphological structures. First developed by brothers Friedrich and August von Schlegel , the field organizes languages on the basis of how those languages form words by combining morphemes. Morphological typology is the study of differences among the world’s languages relating to the ways in which words are formed from smaller meaningful units referred to as ‘morphemes’.
On the basis of typical pattern of word-formation linguist recognize five broad morphological types.
ANALYTIC LANGUAGES (isolating)
An analytic language is any language where syntax and meaning are shaped more by use of free functional morphemes and word order rather than by inflection. They do not use declension and conjugation.
A related, often-confused concept is that of an isolating language. An isolating language is any language where the vast majority of morphemes are free morphemes and are considered to be full-fledged "words". The degree of isolation is defined by the morphemes-per-word ratio.
In analytic languages, there is generally little if any morphological changes. Grammatical changes are indicated by word order, or by bringing in additional words. Words are usually meaningless on their own, or they just indicate the root concept. In these languages' grammars, context and syntax are more important than morphology.
Analytic (or "isolating") languages show a low ratio of morphemes to words; in fact, the correspondence is nearly one-to-one. Sentences in analytic languages are composed of independent root morphemes. Grammatical relations between words are expressed by separate words where they might otherwise be expressed by affixes, which are present to a minimal degree in such languages. There is little to no morphological change in words: they tend to be uninflected. Grammatical categories are indicated by word order (for example, inversion of verb and subject for interrogative sentences) or by bringing in additional words (for example, a word for "some" or "many" instead of a plural inflection like English -s). Individual words carry a general meaning (root concept); nuances are expressed by other words. Finally, in analytic languages context and syntax are more important than morphology.
Analytic languages include some of the major East Asian languages, such as Chinese, and Vietnamese. Note that the ideographic writing systems of these languages play a strong role in regimenting linguistic continuity according to an analytic, or isolating, morphology (cf. orthography).
Examples of analytic fron Chinese:
Ta ba shu mai le
He OM book buy Asp
‘He bought the book.’
AGGLUTINATING LANGUAGES (Agglutinative)
Agglutinative languages have words containing several morphemes that are always clearly differentiable from one another in that each morpheme represents only one grammatical meaning and the boundaries between those morphemes are easily demarcated; that is, the bound morphemes are affixes, and they may be individually identified. Agglutinative languages tend to have a high number of morphemes per word, and their morphology is highly regular.
In these languages the morphemes (structural elements) are always clearly detachable; that is, the root words are modified, but the elements can clearly be taken apart from the original word(s). Even though the root words are modified, they stay the same in that it is only affixes that are added to the root, most commonly added affixes are suffixes. They are added depending on the function of the word in the sentence. Word order is slightly less important than it was in analytic languages. This is because the word endings tell you the role of the words structurally.
INFLECTED LANGUAGES (Fusional)
Inflected languages differ from agglutinative languages in that in these languages, the morphemes are not readily distinguishable from the root; they are "squished" together so that each affix or inflection has more than one meaning. A different inflection is necessary to express a similar but subtly different meaning.
Morphemes in fusional languages (inflectional, flectional) are not readily distinguishable from the root or among themselves. Several grammatical bits of meaning may be fused into one affix. Morphemes may also be expressed by internal phonological changes in the root (itroflection). Most Indo-European languages are fusional to a varying degree. A remarkably high degree of fusionality is also found in certain Sami languages such as Skolt Sami.
POLYSYNTHETIC LANGUAGES (incorporating)
In 1836, Wilhelm von Humboldt proposed a third category for classifying languages, a category that he labeled polysynthetic. (The term polysynthesis was first used in linguistics by Peter Stephen DuPonceau who borrowed it from chemistry.) These languages have a high morpheme-to-word ratio, a highly regular morphology, and a tendency for verb forms to include morphemes that refer to several arguments besides the subject (polypersonalism). Another feature of polysynthetic languages is commonly expressed as "the ability to form words that are equivalent to whole sentences in other languages". The distinction between synthetic languages and polysynthetic languages is therefore relative: the place of one language largely depends on its relation to other languages displaying similar characteristics on the same scale.
Many Amerindian languages can be considered polysynthetic. Inuktitut is one example, for instance the word-phrase: tavvakiqutiqarpiit roughly translates to "Do you have any tobacco for sale?"
In the early 20th Century, A.F. Pott studied other languages that were not available to the von Schlegels, and added a third category: Polysynthetic languages.
These languages are morphologically extremely complex. They often incorporate many elements into one word or phrase. All elements tend to be fused with the verb stem. Generally, morphology is more important than context and syntax.
Many of the Amerindian languages are polysynthetic. Inuktitut is one example, and one specific example is the phrase: tavvakiqutiqarpiit which roughly translates to "Do you have any tobacco for sale?"
Each of the types above are ideals that do not exist. All languages are mixed in form, but generally they fit best into one category better than others. For example, English verbs distinguish the third person singular indicative from the rest of the present tense (synthetic) but only distinguishes the function of nouns in sentences using word order (analytic).
Polysynthetic languages have a high morpheme-to-word ratio, a highly regular morphology, and a tendency for verb forms to include morphemes that refer to several arguments besides the subject. Another feature of polysynthetic languages is commonly expressed as "the ability to form words that are equivalent to whole sentences in other languages".
Traditional typology neglected this morphological processes typical of semitic language like Arabic and Hebrew. Much of semitic inflection involves infixing vowels in a root that consist entirely consonant.
Thus, in Egyptian Arabic the three-consonant root ktb mean ‘write’. It provides the skeleton which is fleshed out with a variety of vowels in the formation of word form which belong to the lexeme KTB, such as:
Katab ‘he wrote’