4

I believe it's traditionally been held to be more on the synthetic side of the spectrum, but why? Are there any quantitative analyses to back this up?

3
  • 2
    I don't know what the results would be for Welsh, but I know a way to measure it: Popescu I.I., Altmann G. 2008, Hapax Legomena and Language Typology, Journal of Quantitative Linguistics 15/4, 370–78. Essentially, the index is based on the frequency of hapax legomena in texts, and the results seem rather convincing to me.
    – kamil-s
    Apr 5 '12 at 19:51
  • Good old Gerry.
    – Julie
    Apr 5 '12 at 22:52
  • 3
    There really isn't such a thing as an 'analytic/synthetic spectrum', at least not as an absolute scale. It's possible of course to employ various metrics to try and compare particular languages as to how analytic they are, but this is very rough. Apr 6 '12 at 10:41
3

According to The Welsh Language Welsh is an analytic language and that the relation of one word to another is conveyed by the use of prepositions or by the placing of the word in the sentence. It does imply, however, that there was a shift from a synthetic Brythonic language to the modern analytic Welsh language some time around 600 AD.

1
  • I think that process continued a good deal more recently than that. Some synthetic verb forms survive in modern colloquial Welsh (particularly 2nd person forms), but they are more prevalent in modern literary Welsh, and still more so in middle Welsh.
    – Colin Fine
    May 5 '12 at 18:56
1

Language is not monolithic: some of its subsystems can be regarded as ‘(more) analytic’ and some ‘(more) synthetic’. Welsh is in this regard not different.

There cannot be a linear quantitative scale or spectrum partially because of the this; language isn't made of one piece. If one looks for a simple number (‘Welsh is 0.65 synthetic and 0.35 analytic’) xe is bound to oversimplify and erase important, non-negligible details. Oversimplification, caused by mixing flattened descriptions of many language en masse, is unfortunately too common in typology, resulting in contradictory and unusable conclusions.

Specifically, considering the language in question, let's take the Welsh verbal system — at least in Modern Literary Welsh, with which I'm more familiar — as an example. It is twofold: it has a basically synthetic sub-system (canai, for example) and a basically analytic one (oedd hi yn canu, for example). Even if we could quantify the analytic/synthetic-ness of each sub-system, how can one mix them in order to obtain a single, simple quantitative result? Should we calculate an average…? ;-)

Moreover, different linguists might mean different things when using these terms. For introductory reading, I'd recommend chapters V and VI of Sapir's Language.

6
  • This is partially true but partially unhelpful. You could use the same argument to say "Chinese and Finnish are not in different positions along the analytic/synthetic spectrum because there is no such thing as 'analytic/synthetic spectrum'. After all there is also no such thing as 'phoneme'. Feb 8 '14 at 9:32
  • There cannot be a linear quantitative scale or spectrum partially because of the first paragraph: language isn't made of one piece. If one looks for a simple number (‘Welsh is 0.65 synthetic and 0.35 analytic’) xe is bound to oversimplify and erase important, non-negligible details. Oversimplification, caused by mixing flattened descriptions of many language en masse, is unfortunately too common in typology, resulting in contradictory and unusable conclusions. Feb 8 '14 at 12:06
  • Specifically, let's take the Welsh verbal system — at least in Modern Literary Welsh, with which I'm more familiar — as an example. It is twofold: it has a basically synthetic sub-system (canai, for example) and a basically analytic one (oedd hi yn canu, for example). Do you want to mix them in order to obtain a single, simple quantitative result? Should we calculate an average…? Feb 8 '14 at 12:08
  • I think an explanation like this in your comments is a much better answer to a naively worded question than only pointing out that you can't turn it into a number. Feb 8 '14 at 17:45
  • 1
    Thanks for pointing this out. I'm new here; from what I see and from the responses I get I understand that detailed, well-explained answers are much more appreciated here than laconic ones. This is a wonderful norm to have in a Q/A community. I edited my answer to incorporate what I wrote in the comments. I hope it's better now. Feb 8 '14 at 19:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.