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I had always thought agglutinative languages were inflected languages where the inflections to a greater degree are built up by multiple affixes, each having an atomic effect. (Unlike the -s on English verbs which denotes 3rd person + singular + present tense.)

On hearing Esperanto described as a "highly agglutinating language" I found this odd. I know Esperanto can add more than one affix to nouns and/or verbs to build up a grammatical ending. This makes it more agglutinating than English but not "highly agglutinating" according to my understanding.

I might expect the term "highly agglutinating" to be used of languages like Finnish, Hungarian, Tamil, or Turkish.

However, in a recently posted answer, user AJN states:

Esperanto is a highly agglutinative language, because it uses a word-building mechanisms to rapidly build new words from roots.

In followup comments an example is given:

ex: from root word "san"(health) we obtain "mal-san-ul-ej-o" => (mal=inverse,ul=person,ej=place,o=substantif) as a result, mal-san-ul-ej-o = hospital, a name of a place where you find not healthy people.

Are the terms "agglutinating language" and/or "highly agglutinating language" correctly applied to such word-building processes or only to the morphological processes I outlined above?

If the terms are applicable to both, does accepted terminology exist to differentiate the two types of agglutination?

  • Why do you think Turkish is more agglutinative than Esperanto? As a native Turkish speaker, to me they seem equally agglutinative, both derivationally and inflectionally. – cyco130 Nov 6 '13 at 9:14
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    I've always thought that agglutinating was a bogus claim applied to Esperanto by proponents to make it seem less thoroughly European. – Colin Fine Nov 6 '13 at 10:42
  • @cyco130: Only that Turkish seems to always be called agglutinative while Esperanto is called agglutinative only sometimes or by some people, in my experience. – hippietrail Nov 7 '13 at 4:24
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The term "agglutinative" refers to languages in which BOTH derivation and inflection are expressed by chained suffixes. The confusion might originate from the fact that both properties positively correlate in natural languages. Esperanto is an artificial language, and therefore atypical in this respect.

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    Generally it refers to inflected languages in which the inflectional paradigms are mostly one-dimensional. That is, one does not have a single morpheme (as in Latin) marking second person plural genitive, but rather one (more or less separable) morpheme each for second person (contrasting with first and second), for plural (contrasting with singular), and for genitive (contrasting with other cases), as in Turkish. – jlawler Nov 6 '13 at 22:17
  • @jlawler Latin has a second person plural genitive ending? That's news to me... – TKR Nov 7 '13 at 2:01
  • Not ending, morpheme. – jlawler Nov 7 '13 at 4:12
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    @jlawler Maybe I'm being obtuse, but 2pl. is a verbal category and genitive is a nominal category - what Latin morpheme expresses both? – TKR Nov 7 '13 at 6:33
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    I doubt that "both properties correlate in natural languages". English has "agglutinative" derivation (scare quotes because as jlawler says this isn't how the term is normally used), e.g. environ-ment-al-ism, but no agglutinative inflection, and I can think of several other languages like this. On the other hand it seems likely (though I don't actually know) that languages with agglutinative inflection would tend to also have "agglutinative" derivation. – TKR Nov 7 '13 at 6:44
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As to the definition wikipedia, agglutinative language Esperanto indeed is highly-agglutinative. And "malsanulejo" (there exists a hundred year old alternative, but rare, "hospitalo") indeed is often cited by both the pro and contra E-o factions.

Having the same stem and same endings for deriving adjective -a, noun -o, verb (-i) is one property. For E-o this has a funny effect on the "internationality," but assumedly makes the language easier for members of other language families.

The "highly" makes only sense with sufficient affixes being used:

-em'       (verbal stem) having a tendency
-ind'      (verbal stem, passive) worthwile, -worth

emo        inclination, tendency    ridindeco  ridiculity
ridi       to laugh                 paroli     to speak
ridema     often laughing           parolema   talkative, loquacious
ridinda    ridiculous               parolo     speech
inda       worth                    kverelema  quarrelsome
batalema   combative

This sample here only, to give a taste of such agglutinative languages. They often are taxed "difficult" for their "strangeness" like the Uralic languages. The reality is: they often are more regular.

  • In this case what would be your choice of terminology for a language with a lot higher degree of agglutination? "Extremely highly agglutinative language"? And which languages would you characterize as being merely "agglutinative" but not "highly agglutinative"? I don't follow your reference to the Wikipedia article which does not mention Esperanto or noun compounding, which your example "malsanulejo" is an example of. You seem to be talking mostly about word derivation morphemes, which exist in all language types, agglutinating, inflecting, and isolating. – hippietrail Mar 7 '14 at 13:18
  • @hippietrail (1) indeed "highly" is overrated (as you will seldom see more than say 5 morphemes together), more indicating its regularity and number of semantically different affixes. Which make up for a very high number of combinations that come naturally in active speech. Example "rid-et-em-a" I would ad hoc translate inprecise as "ever smiling" (two words). You are right E-o has agglutination in the breadth, whereas Finnish (which I do not know) probably has more morphemes per word. (2) I wanted to accent: agglutination = short morphemes + regularity. (3) Inflections: I mentioned N/Adj/V. – Joop Eggen Mar 7 '14 at 14:06
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    The Wikipedia article you cited only mentions one language as highly agglutinative, Georgian. To my experience they have chosen the term usefully in that case. I may ask a new question about whether agglutination is about derivation or inflection. I had always believed it to be about inflection but the Esperantists on this thread talk about it chiefly in regard to derivation. – hippietrail Mar 7 '14 at 14:24

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