Monday, August 30, 2004

Agglutination – What’s it all about?

Let’s make up a language. With our language, instead of using a whole bunch of little words all over the place, we’re going to tack a bunch of things on to the main words. Ready?

The man sees your mother.

Man-the mother-your sees.

That “s” on “sees” stands for “he/she/it,” by the way. So, just to make things clear…

Man-the mother-your see-s.

Let’s make it in the past.

Man-the mother-your saw.

Oops! Where’s the “s” in “saw”?

Man-the mother-your saw-s.

That doesn’t look very good either. Let’s make “see” a regular verb.

Man-the mother-your see-s-ed.

It looks funny, but now we’ve got something we can work with. Try to change this sentence:

The horse heard my mother.

How’s this?

Horse-the mother-my hear-s-ed.

Let’s go back to our first sentence:

Man-the mother-your see-s-ed.

Let’s expand it, mentioning that this happened in Edinburgh.

Man-the mother-your Edinburgh-in see-s-ed.

Suppose the horse saw my mother in London…

Horse-the mother-my London-in hear-s-ed.

Now, let’s suppose the man was seeing your mother when the horse heard my mother. We’re going to add an “ing” in “see” to indicate an ongoing action (like “was seeing” or “is seeing”).

Man-the mother-your see-s-ing-ed Edinburgh-in when horse-the mother-my hear-s-ed.

This may look like gibberish, but what you’re looking at is “agglutination,” which boils down to “gluing” a bunch of piece onto a word to specify its meaning in context. Let’s look at our sentence again.

Manthe motheryour seesinged Edinburghin when horsethe mothermy hearsed.


Would you believe this is how Turkic languages work? It is, sort of.

On the next page, we’re going to do an exercise like this with Uzbek.

Click for the next page.