The major agglutinative languages like Turkish and Japanese are also notable for being almost strictly left-branching, much more so than, say, English is right-branching.

Is it a coincidence, or is there a relationship or correlation between agglutination and branching directionality (head directionality)?

What are some examples of mostly right-branching agglutinative languages, if any?

I am specifically interested in a language that uses prefixes and prepositions for agglutination, rather than suffixes and postpositions.

2 Answers 2


Elamite is agglutinative and (mainly) right-branching, though quotative phrases are left branching.


  • Exceptions to directionality are fine, especially for marking, Turkish has them too and most other languages much more. Commented Sep 3, 2016 at 16:25
  • I read about Elamite. It seems it has postpositions, like Turkish. Perhaps I should re-phrase my question. Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 6:09

I'm unsure by what we even mean by "mainly" or "mostly" right- or left-branching in a comparative context. I mean, sure, I can see how Japanese is mainly left-branching; but if by "left-branching" we mean OV + postpositions, and "right-branching" is VO + prepositions, then WALS would like to remind us that some languages have OV + prepositions (including Persian, Kurdish, Tuvaluan and at least 13 known others); and some languages have VO + postpositions (including Guaraní, Finnish and 40 others).

So all combinations of adposition and verbal argument order occur, although some are rarer than others. We could compare the two directionality variables (verb-object order, and adposition order) with an "agglutinative" parameter. But "agglutinative" is a category that mixes up several different things, and (to my knowledge) there's no easy way to define it in WALS. I tried to approximate it as a combination of exclusively concatenative, case, and time-aspect-mood monoexponential. Under this definition, this map allows you to compare the parameters in all possible combinations.

In particular, the following languages are listed as VO, prepositioned, and basically "agglutinative" (concatenative, monoexponential case and TAM): Squamish, Malagasy. The following have prepositions, VO, no morphological case, and may be more or less "agglutinative" depending on how you define it—it ends up including English!: Warembori, Hatam, Abipón, Cayuvava, Arapesh (Mountain), Luvale, Maung, Mixtec (Chalcatongo), Jakaltek, Zulu, Swahili, and English.

  • In my definition, agglutination is composed of morphemes that are provably not standalone words, as in tr, ja, ka, hu. I am less concerned with SVO/OVS/... than with nouns and verbs. Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 6:14
  • I do not understand how OV vs VO has anything to do with left or right branching. Am I missing something?
    – fdb
    Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 9:28
  • 2
    @fdb In a verb phrase (VP), the verb is the head. In a VO language, "[eat [the apple]]", the syntax tree branches right (the non-heads are tacked on to the right). In an OV language, [[the apple] eat], the tree branches to the left (non-heads added left), so it's left-branching. Now consider adpositions: prepositions like [in [the room]] branch right; postpositions like [[the room] in] branch left. It was once assumed that languages which branched one way would do so consistently; but typologists have found many languages with mixed branching (OV+prepositions, or VO+postpositions). Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 19:56
  • @A.M.Bittlingmayer re: bound (non-standalone) morphemes: that's the "exclusively concatenative" variable; cf. the links above for more details, and more precision on what's exactly meant by "agglutinative language". Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 20:09
  • @A.M.Bittlingmayer I added monoexponentiality (cf.) to rule out things like e.g. Latin; because, despite morphemes like -mus, -tis-, -nt in amamus, amatis, amant, it's not usually considered within the fuzzy, popular category of "agglutinative". The reason is that each suffix stands for many things: -tis is all of "active indicative 2nd. pl. present", and in a traditional "agglutinative" language we'd expect one distinct morpheme for each (=monoexponentiality). Though I note that Japanese has poly-exponential morphemes (e.g. -keri = modal past, -ta (can be) past perfective etc.) Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 20:11

Your Answer

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

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