Agglutinating, Incorporating and Infixing Languages

Agglutinating languages are to be contrasted with both inflectional and isolating languages discussed before:

Isolating languages are language types in which each word consists of only one word element; the group of inflection languages (e.g., Latin) comprises those languages, in which one word element prototypically represents various grammatical categories. Agglutinating languages refer to those processes in which the words can be decomposed into a sequence of morphemes. Each of these word elements, however, represents no more than a single grammatical category.

Finnish, Japanese and Turkish are commonly considered as language types, which by and large form words by agglutination.

Take for instance the Turkish word evlerdu ( evlerdu = from the houses). Here, the word contains a stem and two further morphemes. Thereby, each element only represents one single grammatical category:

- house- plural form- to indicate "from"

As can be seen above, prototypical representatives of agglutinating languages have the tendency of a more or less one-to-one matching of morpheme with morphs.

Incorporating languages, often referred to as polysynthetic languages, include all those in which a single - though extensively long - word may represent an entire phrase, or even sentence, including a verb, an adjective and even an object.

Words in polysynthetic languages are formed either by inflection or extensive agglutination.

The following word from Tiwi might be of help to understand the underlying principles of word-formation. Here, the single word ngirruunthingapukani is propositionally equivalent to an entire English sentence:

ngrirruunthingapu - kani
IPASTfor some timeeat repeatedly

Afroasiatic languages, such as Hebrew or Arabic, are classified as typical examples of infixing languages. Roughly speaking, infixing languages usually form words by inserting a word-building element within the root. Look at the example from the Bontoc language, the native language of the indigenous Bontoc people who live in the northern area of the Philipines: fikas = strong f UM ikas = to be strong


It is crucial to note, however, that language typology and its five major morphological categories tend to blur -- in short: there is no such thing as a clear-cut demarcation between these classifications that allows to classify a given language as unalloyed agglutinating, analytic, inflecting or incorporating morphological systems. Instead, the typological classification of language systems reflects general tendencies.