4. Linguistic Typology

1. In your own words, define the concept of language type.

An abstract concept, it is a set of features like a) word endings (affixes) leading to classification of languages as “inflecting” (=affixes express number of different meanings) X “agglutinating” (=each affix has distinct meaning) and b) word order → “isolating languages” (=fixed word order, one morpheme per word (=no affixes))

– the existence of endings is “favorable” to the existence of a “free” word order and on the other hand, the non-existence of endings implies a “fixed” word order ‐ , i.e. word order that has a grammatical function.

Language type is seen as a set of these (a) and (b) properties, but it is important to remember, that it's a theoretical construct which may help us classify and contrast different languages, but no language has ever been fully “inflecting” “agglutinating” or “isolating”, there is always a mixture between these characteristics, BUT most language tend to lean towards one type more to the others which makes the classification possible (e.g. Czech is seen mostly as an inflecting language).

2. Why are language types potential?

Because a language type is never manifested fully or ideally in an authentic, natural language (living or extinct)

Real languages can be typologically described as combinations of properties belonging to various language types. In every language, one of these types is found to predominate and therefore we may classy languages and compare different languages regardless of genetic or areal considerations.

– LT can describe and analyze languages from a number of perspectives: morphology (= its central and original domain), phonology, syntax, word-formation

3. Why can language typology be used as “operational framework” for the history of English?

Language type analyzes the structure of a language and its change in time → we can see that English developed from being a highly inflected language to one which has more agglutinating and isolating characteristics.

4. What is the relationship between typological and genealogical/genetic classification of languages?

1) typological classification – analyzes the structure and its change over time.

2) genealogical (or genetic) classification- the family tree, based on the common origin and historical relations among languages.

- typologically related languages resemble one another structurally, but genetically related languages may exhibit many differences, especially if separated widely in time or location (Modern English X Modern Icelandic are of the same origin but typologically they're very different)

5. Sum up the principal properties of inflection, introflection, agglutination and isolation, respectively.

INFLECTION (Czech, Old English)

terminological variety → synthetic (Trnka, Vachek)

a) the richness of endings are favorable to the free word order; the endings participate in grammatical concord

b) every lexical (autosemantic) word has a single grammatical ending

c) the endings ‘accumulate’ functions:

– Starší syn byl právě na pol i‐ :

• i marks the noun for the grammatical categories of number (sg.), case (locative), gender (neuter)

d) the ending does not necessarily have its own syllable (cf. pol-i vs. po-li; æcer-e vs. æce-re)

e) the ending is very closely attached to the stem/root – so much so that it may trigger formal changes in it (rise of allomorphy; this feature distinguishes inflection from agglutination), e.g. cf. Czech vojsko („army"): vojskách – vojscích (loc. pl.)

f) the ending exhibits a large amount of synonymy and homonymy:

‐ example of synonymy: Czech pol‐i, měst‐ě, jezer‐u: three synonymous endings = difference of form (‐i, ‐ě, ‐u) and identity of meaning/function (locative, sg., neuter of "field", "town", "lake")

‐ example of homonymy: Czech pol‐i ("field", loc. sg. neuter´), hol‐i ("stick", dat. sg. fem.), vol‐i ("ox", nom. pl. masc.) – three homonymous endings = identity of form and difference of meaning/function

g) on the syntactic level, the clear distinction of word classes is correlated with the presence of numerous kinds of dependent clauses


‐ never serves as a basis of the whole structure of a language; it is always combined with the syntax of another type (in such languages as Czech and Old English, the introflectional type typically functions as a subsystem/extension of the inflectional type)

‐ typologists sometimes distinguish between the "outer“ flection, i.e. inflection, and "inner" flection, i.e. introflection

1. the morpheme can be interrupted: certain phonemes within a lexical morpheme have their grammatical meanings: e.g. PDE foot (compare OE wer "man, male" . pl. wer-as (= inflection) vs. fót . pl. fét (= introflection)

2. the opposition between lexical and grammatical means is phonemically clearly expressed

3. word classes are differentiated by introflection: cf. PDE sing vs. Song

4. introflection is employed in derivation ‐ cf. Arabic hamala, ‘to carry’, himlun ‘load’, hammālun ‘carrier’ ‐ cf. ModE to bear – burden – bier

- because introflection closely cooperates with inflection, its role in the history of English diminishes with the rise of typological isolation in the system

ISOLATING TYPE (English, French)

terminological variety → analytical (Trnka, Vachek)

1. endings/affixes are absent;

2. there are numerous monosyllabic words, both lexical and grammatical

3. the lack of endings and the existence of numerous function words do not allow for a ‘free’ word order; (→ strict word order)

4. the lack of endings does not allow for a differentiation of word classes, i.e. conversion is present;

5. the capacity of the system to derive words is weakened: the lexis is therefore characterized by sets of words associated by meaning, not by form (as opposed to the inflectional and agglutinating types). i.e. morphemic derivation of affixes is connected with the abundance of isolated words, not related by morphemic derivation (ox vs. beef) 6. the function words favour the presence of many kinds of derived clauses (with conjunctions), but, on the other hand, the lack of word class contrast allows for condensations such as gerund in ModE: "But now that this son of yours turns up, after running through your money with his women, you kill the fatted calf for him." the occurrence of such condensation phenomena is therefore higher than in the inflectional type (though lower than in the agglutinating type)


1. the existence of grammatical suffixes (the affixes are equivalent to the endings of the inflectional type and to the function words of the isolating type) BUT

2. each affix is monofunctional, i.e. affixes do not "accumulate" grammatical meanings

3. affixes attached to the word-basis come in abundance (agglutination = "glueing together")

4. the affixes usually have syllables of their own

5. the affixes display little synonymy and homonymy

6. there usually is little grammatical concord

7. property 6 calls for a fixed word order

8. word classes are not distinguished:

9. if word classes are not distinguished, there is little room for dependent clauses the numerous ‐ affixes are used to derive various kinds of condensation structures, such as infinitives, participles, gerunds etc.:

6. To which level/subsystem is linguistic typology not applicable, and why?

Language type cannot describe and analyze lexis because the structure and development of vocabulary is largely due to “external” factors