Typology - an Introduction

Within the field of comparative linguistics (CL), typology is part of the synchronic approach, which analyses linguistic phenomena at a fixed point in time, usually the present. Here, the synchronic approach differs from the diachronic approach which takes into account the historical development of the phenomena.

The goal of typology is "to identify patterns and limits of varation among the languages of the world and to distinguish different language types via the empirical analysis of a multitude of languages which are neither historically, genetically nor geographically related."(Kortmann,160).

In order to identify these patterns, typologists study samples of all languages worldwide while focusing on only one parameter. The parameters which are focused on, need to be clearly determined. For example, the basic word order of SVP in simple declarative sentences or the types and complexity of inflectional morphology. (Kortmann,160) Through the focus on only a few parameters, typologists attempt to establish correlations between patterns of various language systems. From these correlations, they can make generalizations which are so-called "implicational universals", e.g. "A language which has SOV as its canonical word order is very likely to have postpositions."

Typology has pushed the field of comparative linguisics to approach new methods, new questions and to adopt a whole new framework of classification.

Within the field of typology, there are five major morphological types which can be identified:

  • analytic/ isolating languages

  • synthetic/ inflecting languages

  • agglutinative languages

  • polysynthetic/ incorporating languages

  • infixing languages