In linguistics, isolating language refers to a language structure that has no inflectional endings. Instead, the grammatical relationships in the sentence are made clear through grammatical words and the arrangement of the sentence elements. The terms amorphous or analytical language are used synonymously with isolating language.
There are between 6,500 and 7,000 languages worldwide. In linguistics, they are analysed on the one hand according to genetic features, which take into account the historical and cultural development of the language, and on the other hand according to typological features, i.e. phonology, grammar and vocabulary of the language.
Aspects of language typology
Every language is based on a certain grammatical system. If one wants to analyse languages according to their word structure (morphology), they can be divided into three basic types: isolating, agglutinative and inflectional languages. The focus of this text will be on isolating languages.
Features of isolating language
The central feature of an isolating language structure is the lack of inflectional endings. Inflections refer to the tenses of a verb (e.g. I brought) and the grammatical cases of a noun (example: of the house). Strictly speaking, there is also no distinction between singular and plural. Isolating languages use short words that are unchanging. Grammatical relationships of the sentence elements are instead expressed by additional words or sentence order. In some cases, sound accents are used in these languages to give different meanings to words with the same meaning.
Examples of isolating languages
Mandarin Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese are considered typical representatives of isolating language structure. In these languages, a morpheme corresponds exactly to a conceptual and grammatical content.
In language typology, a distinction is made between isolating, agglutinative and inflectional language structure. The approaches are intended to provide guidance in the analysis of structural properties. The differences between these language types are shown below. Isolating language: In an isolating language, words are immutable. As already mentioned, there are no endings here to indicate grammatical cases or tenses. Examples are Vietnamese or Mandarin Chinese. Inflectional language: In an inflectional language, on the other hand, grammatical relations are expressed by inflectional endings. The changes in the root combine conceptual and grammatical content. Examples of inflectional languages are German, English, Latin, Greek and Arabic. Agglutinative language: Agglutinative languages are synthetically formed languages in which words are composed of long sequences of the smallest units (morphemes). The units each have their own grammatical meaning. Examples of this language type are Turkish, Kazakh, Hungarian, Finnish and Japanese.
FAQ: More questions about isolating language
What is the difference between isolating and inflecting speech?
While in isolating language no inflectional endings (e.g. of the house) are used, this is a central feature of inflectional language.
How is isolating language different from isolated language?
One speaks of an isolating language when a language has an isolating linguistic structure. If we are talking about languages that are not historically related to any other language, isolated language is the correct term.
Is English an isolating language?
No, English is classified as an inflectional language. However, the English language has far fewer inflectional endings than, for example, German or Latin.
Why is German not an isolating language?
The German language is characterised by the fact that case, number and tense are expressed by morphological means. Thus, it must clearly be assigned to the inflectional languages.
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