Is there any relationship (either one implies the other, for example) between the usage of characters and analytic grammar.

By analytic grammar I mostly refer to the lack of conjugations, and hence the lack of irregular conjugations, which makes many other languages a pain.

Would the use of an alphabet (e.g. pinyin) ruin the analytic grammar of Chinese in the long-term? For example by spreading erhua into the written language.

  • 1
    From some searching, it looks like Vietnamese is also relatively analytic, and it uses an alphabet.
    – Maroon
    Jun 11, 2016 at 14:06
  • 1
    If there is a need for an alphabet to correctly model the spoken language in writing, it will be added. Japanese is a good example, adding two auxilliary alphabets to complement the use of foreign Chinese characters. Spoken Japanese required these changes, whereas Chinese does not. Then there is the question if spoken Chinese has been influenced by its long use of characters, but I don't think so, given that illiteracy has been the prevailing condition for most of the time.
    – 倪阔乐
    Jun 11, 2016 at 14:16
  • First of all, erhua (儿化) is not a conjugation in my opinion, it doesn't change tense. Second, I think Chinese has it's conjugations rules as well. In English, by adding the suffix "-ed" on "pass", we know "passing" happened before; In Chinese, you can use "了" with "过",so it becomes "过了", it has the same meaning as English.
    – user2550062
    Jun 12, 2016 at 2:55
  • The general consensus is that Chinese was actually not as analytic as it is now when the first characters were devised. There are examples like 吾 and 我 that appear to reflect different cases of the 1sg. pronoun originally, and although the writing system makes it very hard to say much with certainty, prefixing and suffixing seems to have been a productive part of morphology and possible declension in Old Chinese and pre-Chinese. (And erhua has already spread into the written language; the writing system has nothing to do with that.) Jun 14, 2016 at 20:55
  • Let's not forget also that English, Spanish, and perhaps numerous other languages have moved toward being more analytic over the centuries -- even though they were written using alphabets. Old English had grammatical gender, case, a richer conjugation-system than at present, etc. Jun 14, 2016 at 23:46

1 Answer 1


There is very little relationship between the structure and grammar of languages and how they are written. Bear in mind that most languages that have ever existed were unwritten, that some languages have been written in more than one writing system, and that native speakers of a language almost invariably learn to speak before they learn to read and write.

Whatever might be their view for or against Chomsky's Universal Grammar, virtually all linguists agree that language "happened naturally" in some sense, whereas writing was an invented technology, that came along only in the last few thousand years. It is conceivable that the writing system of a language could have been devised with reference to the grammatical structure of a language, but I'm not aware of any examples. (Sanskrit is the only example we have, as far as I am aware, of a pre-literate tradition of grammatical analysis; and while the Devanagari script is ordered on phonetic principles - unlike the arbitrary arrangement of European alphabets - I don't believe there is anything particular to Sanskrit grammar in its construction and use).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.