I have seen both the word "fusional" and the words "inflectional"/"flectional" used as the counterparts of "agglutinative" when describing a morphological process.

1) Is there a distinction between fusional and (in)flectional (as it relates to morphological types), or is fusional simply a more modern terminological equivalent of the latter?

2) Does the term fusional include the concept of "stem classes", or is there a separate term for that?

For example, Latin has a different genitive singular ending for consonant stems (e.g. hominis "of the person") versus a- and o- stems (agricolae "of the farmer"), but to call these affixes "fusional" would seem to suggest that they combine (i.e., fuse) different morphological functions, when in fact they seem to constitute a "splitting" of the same morphological function (genitivity) into different forms, based on the final stem-vowel (or lack thereof) of a given word.

By contrast, an affix like the Greek genitive plural ending -ōn (as in andrôn "of the men", etc.) seems more appropriately described as "fusional", because this ending combines the two categories of genitivity and plurality but is not separable into two distinct morphemes.

Would the term "fusional" nonetheless be used to describe the variation in the Latin genitive singular between -is and -e/-i?

Thanks for any help

  • By the way, I don't think Latin genitive singular suffixes like -is can be seen as a fusion of genitivity and "singularity", because "singularity" seems to be morphologically unmarked in Latin, as in many/most other languages. By contrast, since plurality does seem to be a marked category in Greek (as in Latin, English, etc.), it can be taken into account when evaluating the "fusionality" of the Greek gen. plural -ōn.
    – user8017
    Jul 29, 2015 at 23:38
  • And yet Latin has no "pure" markers of genitivity — when you use any of the endings, you're willy-nilly also communicating whether it's singular or plural. Jul 30, 2015 at 6:19

2 Answers 2


The traditional way to tell the story goes like this:

So that's the taxonomy. Agglutination and amalgamation (or fusion) are two different ways to inflect words. The key is the difference in the paradigms. All inflection is paradigmatic, but there are different kinds of paradigms.

Fusional languages like Latin have multi-dimensional paradigms. If you look at Latin verb paradigms, for instance, you can see that almost any verb form appears marked for person, number, tense, voice, and mood. Amātis, for instance, is marked -- uniquely -- as the second person, plural number, perfect tense, active voice, and indicative mood form of the verb 'love'.

That's a 5-dimensional paradigm. That's fusion. It generates multidimensional well-organized short inflections, each a unique combination of categories. The problem is that there are a lot of them, and their combinations tend to be messy and have to be memorized. This poses no learning problem for kids (nothing like this is a problem for kids -- if it were, it wouldn't last), but it's very hard work for an adult to master paradigms like these.

Agglutinative systems, on the other hand, mostly have one-dimensional paradigms which are stacked up (in a particular order determined by each language), producing rather long words consisting of many small inflections, liek this one-word sentence in Turkish. You can get a flavor of the system with these Turkish morphology problems.

Think of fusional inflections as being melted together, while agglutinative inflections are simply lined up in order, usually with some phonological alteration, but not a whole lot. Again, kids learn all this before they go to school, but adults take a lot of practice getting everything in the right order at speech speeds.

As far as stem classes go, that's just a way to classify roots that have the same kinds of inflectional irregularities (see the "conjugations" in the Latin Verbs link above, or the "declensions" in Latin Nouns). One of the big distinctions is between roots that are marked with a distinctive long ("thematic") vowel that shows up in the inflections, and roots that end in a consonant (3rd conjugation of verbs and 3rd declension of nouns, called "athematic" because they don't have a thematic vowel). -

  • 1) You say that fusional affixes are multi-dimensional: how do you define what a "dimension" is for this purpose? For example, it seems debatable whether Latin recognizes "2nd person" as a separate dimension, because there is no affix in Latin that conveys this and only this information. Instead, one can perhaps say that the dimension "2nd person plural" is generally conveyed by -tis, and exceptions to this pattern such as the 2pl. passive suffix -mini show the fusion of the dimensions "2pl." and "passive" (the latter of which is usually conveyed by the suffix -r).
    – user8017
    Jul 30, 2015 at 22:00
  • 2) You also refer to fusionality/agglutinativity as properties of entire morphological systems. I had thought that agglutinativity and fusionality applied to specific affixes and other morphological processes, and that the different types of processes could easily coexist within a single language: e.g. the Latin genitive plural suffix -um / -rum could be considered a fusional affix, and the Latin 3rd person singular suffix -t could be considered an agglutinative one (because, as far as I can recall, -t is the only way in which the information "3sg." is conveyed in Latin).
    – user8017
    Jul 30, 2015 at 22:18
  • No, agglutination and fusion are properties of whole inflectional systems, not of individual inflections. Taking a look at the Turkish Verb analysis problem and its two short solutions, you see that there are a whole bunch of "slots" that are filled by an allomorph (which might be zero), each of which represents one category.
    – jlawler
    Jul 31, 2015 at 0:11
  • Hmm, it seems to me that you can pretty straightforwardly (at least in some cases) identify a morpheme as fusional or agglutinative by comparing it to certain other morphemes in the language, without knowing anything further about the inflectional system in question. For example, in Latin, the meaning "passive voice" is generally conveyed by "-r" and is marked separately from the person and number of the verb's subject. The 2pl. passive ending -mini diverges from this pattern because it is not separable into morphemes meaning "2pl." or "passive", and thus it can be termed a fusional affix.
    – user8017
    Jul 31, 2015 at 0:52
  • You should try looking at Greek verb paradigms, then. You'll find a lot of such chunks that have some kind of significance; but there will be no regular pattern, due to the vast variation in stems and affixes. And Sanskrit is even more complex, because there are so many more inflections.
    – jlawler
    Jul 31, 2015 at 0:55

Hominis and agricolae are not in any way "less" fusional than andrôn — because singular is not an absence of number. They combine singularity and genitivity. As opposed to agglutinative examples such as the Turkish evde "in the house" where -de only carries the locative, and the singular is technically expressed by a null ending: ev.Ø.de, as demonstrated by ev.ler.de "in the houses".

  • 1) If singular is not (at least to some extent) an absence of number in Latin, then why do neuter consonant stems have no endings in the singular (iecur, cor, etc.), while their plurals consistently end in -a (iocinera, corda)?
    – user8017
    Jul 30, 2015 at 7:06
  • 2) The focus of my question was not specifically whether the genitive singular endings in Latin are fusional, but whether the variation of these endings according to stem class (-is versus -e / -i) should be considered a "fusional" property. (I just edited the question to make this clearer.)
    – user8017
    Jul 30, 2015 at 7:37

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