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Analytic language

An analytic language is a language in which the vast majority of morphemes are free morphemes. That is, they are considered to be full-fledged "words" in an analytic language, whereas agglutinative languages rely on bound morphemes to express meaning. Further along the scale are synthetic languages (also referred to as "inflected" or "fusional"), in which multiple morphemes are combined to produce a "fused" or blended string of phonemes that correspond to multiple syntactic meanings.

Mandarin Chinese is perhaps the best-known analytic language. To illustrate:

3Wo .de       2peng 3you, 1ta   2men   1dou 4yao 1chi 4dan.
I   possessive friends,    (s)he plural all  want eat  egg.
"My friends all want to eat eggs."

As can be seen, each syllable (or sometimes two) corresponds to a single concept. Comparing the Chinese to the English translation, one sees that while English itself is fairly analytic, it contains some agglutinative features, such as the bound morpheme /-s/ to mark either possession (in the form of a clitic) or number (in the form of a suffix).

When compared to a language with synthetic tendencies, such as German1, the contrast becomes clear:

Der Mann 
Die Männer
The.masculine.singular man
The.masculine.plural man.plural

Note that the morpheme "Der" corresponds to three separate concepts simultaneously, and the morpheme "Die" refers to three concepts, but the rules relating "der" and "die" in this manner are quite arbitrary2, making this set of morphemes fusional in nature. Furthermore, the word "Männer" corresponds to two concepts and relates to "Mann" through both the plural marker /-Er/ and a process of umlaut that changes "a" to "ä" in many German plurals. Thus, the formation of German plurals is a simple, rule-governed inflectional pattern. As a result, German can be said to lie between the agglutinative and synthetic areas of the spectrum of language typology.

  1. Russian might provide better examples of fusion in languages, but I don't know it well enough to use it here.
  2. It is worth mentioning that "die" also can function as a feminine singular definite article!