LINGUIST List 8.988

Thu Jul 3 1997

Disc: Evolution analytic > synthetic

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Patrick C. Ryan, Evolution analytic > synthetic

Message 1: Evolution analytic > synthetic

Date: Sat, 28 Jun 1997 03:47:49 +0000
From: Patrick C. Ryan <>
Subject: Evolution analytic > synthetic wrote:
 > 1)
 > Date: Wed, 04 Jun 1997 09:16:25 -0500
 > From: "Geoffrey S. Nathan" <>
 > Subject: Re: 8.826, Disc: Evolution analytic > synthetic
 > -------------------------------- Message 1
 > Date: Wed, 04 Jun 1997 09:16:25 -0500
 > From: "Geoffrey S. Nathan" <>
 > Subject: Re: 8.826, Disc: Evolution analytic > synthetic
 > Just to add a little more to the value judgment part of
 > Haspelmath's very clear explication of current views of the
 evolution of
 > typology, I should point out that Otto Jespersen believed that the
 > evolution from synthetic to analytic (such as has happened between
 Old and
 > Modern English) was an overall improvement, with an assumption that
 > isolating languages like Chinese represented the ideal goal of
 > I don't have my copy easily available, but I believe this view can
 be found
 > in The Philosophy of Grammar. I have heard it suggested that the
 reason J
 > believed this was he believed English was close to an ideal
 > I second Martin's claim that the view that there is a fairly
 > consensus among historical linguists about the directionality he
 Current introductory texts certainly include discussion of this
 > nice discussion can be found, for example in Terry Crowley's _An
 > Introduction to Historical Linguistics_ (Oxford, 1992), and similar
 > discussions can be found in other current texts.
 > Geoffrey S. Nathan
 > Department of Linguistics
 > Southern Illinois University at Carbondale,
 > Carbondale, IL, 62901 USA
 > Phone: +618 453-3421 (Office) FAX +618 453-6527
 > +618 549-0106 (Home)

 Dear Geoff and LINGUIST-Listers:

 I believe the distinction made between synthetic and analytic
languages is, at best, superficial.

 Whether a language marks a transitive subject by first position in
the sentence (S1) or with an IE -s, markers are always present if
total meaninglessness is not the result.

 In my studies of earliest language, I have discovered that there were
no synthetic-type markers in it. Word-order, OV, established the
relationship between (/among) elements in the simplest sentences; and
tone delimited the sentences. The synthetic elements that still
characterize many languages started but as analytic elements. For
example, the b- past tense prefix in Basque began life as a a simple
adverb, ba, meaning "already", and before that, simply "over". The IE
e-augment for non-concommitant verbal forms started out as simply the
adverb *e, "then", and before that "there (3rd p. deixis)". The
formant -i/y, which forms adjectives in so many languages, was first
the noun "word", which acquired the meaning "like". Many languages
like IE have factitive forms that are simply -- at origin --
combinations of the verb stem and an element meant "it", in IE yo. The
AA second person singular -k is simply a word for "male".

With this history behind us, it is difficult to believe that
constructions like "have done" will not, at some some future, develop
into v-prefix perfects.

Nietzsche, of course, said it far more eloquently, but the modern
phrase "what goes around, comes around" expresses it quite well
also. Language, like all of existence, is not unidirectional. It has a
direction only in the same sense that a very small segment of a circle
APPEARS to be straight.

What really separates "primitive" languages from advanced ones, is the
insistence of nominative-type (G. A. Klimov) languages on an overtly
expressed transitive subject.

The mindset that this produces is directly responsible for the
scientific approach that has resulted in the technology of the late
20th century.

However we may wish to theorize, it is a fact that the scientific
advances that have us all in a state of perpetual uneasiness, have
come about through scientists who speak nominative-type languages, or
who got their training in nominative-type languages.

Science is simply a matter of correctly linking cause and effect.
Nominative-type language are used to organizing their thoughts by
reflex into a cause and effect algorithm. That is not to say that
speakers of other languages cannot organize their thoughts
logically. But logic and what constitutes a logical approach is
culturally determined. Factors that NT-speakers would reject as not
directly causal would be difficult to eradicate from the "logic" of
thinkers in other non-NT-speaking cultural matrices.

The single advantage that synthetic languages have is freer word
order, which can be economically employed for emphasizing or
topicalizing selected elements of the sentence. But every analytic
language with rigid word order has other devices to accomplish the
same purpose.


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