Inflectional language is a type of language characterised by inflections, neologisms and compositions. In contrast to agglutinative languages, word endings, called affixes, are closely connected to the root word in inflectional languages. German and Latin are examples of inflectional languages.
Language typology deals with the structural properties of languages. Specifically, the linguistic research field examines the individual grammatical units of a language for similarities and differences to other languages. August Wilhelm Schlegel and Wilhelm von Humboldt divided languages into analytical languages based on classical morphological typology, in which the grammatical meaning of individual words is made clear by independent single words, and synthetic languages, in which the grammatical function of words is made clear by inflections within the word.
The synthetic languages and their subcategories
Humboldt noted that languages cannot be unambiguously categorised as they always exhibit characteristics of another type of language. Basically, synthetic languages are divided into agglutinative languages, polysynthetic languages and fusional languages, which are mostly of the inflectional type. This type of language will be discussed in more detail below.
The inflectional language structure
In inflectional language, there is a close connection between root words and affixes. The purpose of “inflection” is to determine the role of a word in the sentence and to assign it to a part of the sentence. Sometimes, just by reading a single word, it is obvious what grammatical message is to be conveyed.
Features of inflectional languages
Inflectional languages are characterised by the fact that case, number, person, etc. are expressed by morphological means. Grammatical relations are indicated by changes in the root word or affixes. These affixes, unlike in agglutinative languages, usually combine several grammatical meanings.
Declension is the inflection of nouns, adjectives, pronouns, numerals and articles. Common declension features are case, number and gender.
Conjugation refers to the inflection of verbs. The characteristics of person, tense (time) and mode of expression (mode) are taken into account.
Adjectives and some adverbs can take different forms when comparing living beings, things or circumstances.
Examples of inflectional languages
Inflectional language structure is found in several Indo-European languages, including all Slavic languages (e.g. Russian, Ukrainian, Polish or Croatian) and the Baltic languages (e.g. Lithuanian and Latvian). Ancient and Modern Greek are examples of inflectional languages, as are Latin and Arabic. German and partly English also show inflectional traits.
FAQ: More questions about inflectional language
What does ‘inflectional language’ mean?
Inflectional language is a subcategory of synthetic languages. In inflectional language construction, grammatical categories are expressed by so-called inflectional endings.
Is German an inflectional language?
Yes. In German, grammatical units are often expressed in affixes. In particular, the complex number and case markings are signs that German is an inflectional language.
What is meant by a synthetic language structure?
In language typology, a synthetic language structure is a categorisation of languages that express grammatical information through inflections of sentence elements.
What is the difference between inflectional and agglutinative languages?
Contrary to what one would initially assume, inflections also occur in agglutinative languages. The subtle difference between inflectional and agglutinative languages lies in the affixes. While words in inflectional languages usually contain an affix that contains multiple grammatical information, words in agglutinative languages such as Japanese or Turkish are often composed of several inflectional morphemes. A word can be very long or even a whole sentence.
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