Do we know of any cases where the grammar of a language was influenced by the imperfection of its writing system? For example, has any language become isolating because it had a logographic writing, which didn't express inflections?

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    Interesting question. I guess there are cases where a "rule" of prestige language has changed the general grammar, and perhaps some of these might have come from oddities in the writing system. I can't think of an example, though, and it might be difficult to prove that that was the origin. I'm reminded also of the way that Japanese script constrained Japanese grammarians not to think in terms of consonant-final roots; but I'm not aware of any grammatical change that arose from this. – Colin Fine Dec 5 '12 at 12:03
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    Hello Lev, welcome to Linguistics SE and nice question! – Alenanno Dec 5 '12 at 12:20
  • This might have affected some creole languages. Japanese is a case where it conspicuously didn't happen (they add okurigana after the logogram). Chinese might be an example, but probably hard to verify. – Mechanical snail Jan 28 '13 at 5:24
  • Creole languages? But most of them are not written! And I suppose none were written initially. – Lev Jan 29 '13 at 8:11
  • (1) Using a space had its influence (agglutinativeness of Finnish? CJK). (2) For the introduction of the orthodox christianity in the slavonic area, one started in Bulgarian with the invention of a new Cyrillic (glagolithic alphabet)[en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glagolitic_alphabet], which was too complicated, and soon replaced by the current Cyrillic script. There are reciproke influences among Bulgarian and Cyrillic, but I doubt that the grammar is concerned. (3) The normal case of writing influencing the speech patterns: using "..., that ...", stilted talk, speeches. – Joop Eggen Aug 21 '13 at 9:33

This is really not the right question to ask. Writing is not just about the way of writing things down but also its own way of communication. People who read and write, don't just transfer speech into letters. They express themselves differently in the two modes. This is partly because of the different cognitive demands of reading/listening and partly because the two are used in different contexts. But in effect, all literate people are to an extent bilingual - they are competent in two codes and they switch between those codes with ease.

But as in all instances of language contact, there is cross-pollination. So it's quite likely that complex multi-clausal sentences with embedding and hypotaxis developed in complexity alongside writing - although I don't think there is any definitive proof of that. In some cases, written language perpetuates older forms - e.g. in Czech or Arabic that would probably otherwise disappear. In English, there are many pronunciations influenced by spelling and vice versa. None of these examples constitute 'imperfections', just features. Although, it would not be difficult to argue that the English spelling system is completely flawed, the impact of these flaws on spoken English has been minimal.


I don't know of any case of a particular script or orthography influencing grammar but writing in general can have an influence. Written forms of a language are very often their own "dialect" or register. Sentences tend to be longer and more grammatically complex. Undoubtedly this feeds back into the spoken language to some degree. But I guess this isn't the kind of answer you are looking for. I think it is more likely that grammar will influence the writing system.


No, Chinese characters or what we call Chinese logogram have not influenced it's grammar at all. Writing is just a image of the mapping from sound and maybe meaning of language. How could it influence the rule of language? From modern model of evolution of language like evolution game theory, also it is unlikely that logogram influences grammar either!

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