I asked a similar question on languages with "small words": In languages with "small words", how do they conceptualize of these units?

How do agglutinative languages with long, "sentence" words like Inuktitut, Turkish, or Finnish (or others) conceptualize of both these long sentence "words" and their parts, the what linguistics calls "morphemes" (I think)?

Do they think of the long sentence words as units? Or as conveying a singular message? Or as part of a sentence? Or what? How do they think of what we in English-land write as single "words" (things without spaces)? Not as a linguist, but as a native speaker, how do they feel about these things?

And likewise, the parts? How do they think of the parts that make up the words? Not how do linguists think of them, but how does it feel as a native speaker to use these word parts?

  • 2
    I’m not sure it’s possible to answer a question like this objectively, even for English: how do English speakers think of such ‘units’? Is ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’ or ‘tennis shoe’ single or multiple words? Do they convey a singular message? If you surveyed a hundred English speakers, you’d get wildly different answers, and that will apply equally – or probably even more so – to many agglutinative languages. Apr 25, 2023 at 10:27

1 Answer 1


The "long words" (certainly for Thai and Lao) represent clauses. In Thai, no punctuation, aside from an occasional question mark or quotation marks, is in common use. The word space between clauses represents the equivalent of an English comma, colon, or semicolon--or the period at the end of the sentence. Lao has adopted basic punctuation, but still forms its clauses in similar fashion to Thai, with no word spaces between words except at the clause boundaries.

If there is a list of items that in English might be comma-separated, Thai will use spaces to distinguish between items in the list: perhaps one might consider each such item to be its own clause. Lao will have both a space and a comma. Generally speaking, however, clauses will follow phrases in their entirety, with one or more such unspaced word groupings per sentence.

To the native speakers of these languages, the space functions in the same capacity as the punctuation would in its place in English. When speaking, that space represents a pause, as it is a logical break point in the flow of speech/thought.

  • Are those ‘long words’, though? The ‘things without spaces’, which is sometimes used as a test for wordness in English (though even there it doesn’t really work), obviously won’t apply in a script that doesn’t use spaces. Other ways of defining what a ‘word’ is will have to take over. Thai people presumably don’t think of ‘มนุษย์ทั้งหลายเกิดมามีอิสระและเสมอภาคกันในเกียรติศักด[เกียรติศักดิ์]และสิทธิ’ (“all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”) as being one word just because it has no spaces. Apr 25, 2023 at 10:20
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Obviously that is not all one word, but that English concept of "word" is what the questioner appeared to be asking about, and is what I attempted to address. In your Thai statement, though, it should be noted that the "and" in Thai (และ) is usually spaced, which would break the clause you have provided into more than one piece.
    – Biblasia
    Apr 25, 2023 at 10:25
  • I think you’ve misread the question, then. It’s not about the orthographic spaces per se, but about what the ‘language itself’ considers to be ‘words’ (in English often represented by spaces). This can be particularly tricky with agglutinative languages; e.g., Turkish Çekoslovakyalılaştıramadıklarımızdanmışsınız ‘you are reportedly one of those that we could not make Czechoslovakian’ is built from a single root with suffixes, but its meaning corresponds to a whole sentence in English, so the question is whether Turkish speakers think of that as ‘one word’ or ‘one meaning’. Apr 25, 2023 at 10:33
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Perhaps you're right. I guess we'll have to wait for the questioner to clarify.
    – Biblasia
    Apr 25, 2023 at 10:41

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