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Analytic and synthetic: Typological change in varieties of European languages

Haspelmath, Martin; Michaelis, Susanne Maria

It has long been observed that the modern European languages use more function words compared to earlier inflectional patterns, and this trend seems to have increased even further in creoles and other non-standard varieties. Here we make two arguments: First, we note that the terms synthetic and analytic are based on the “word” concept, which is not well-defined, so that these concepts cannot be used in a synchronic typology. But we can define a notion of “analyticization”, i.e. the replacement of an earlier pattern by a new, more elaborate pattern based on lexical or concrete items. Second, we observe that such analyticizations are particularly common in creole languages (when viewed as continuations of their lexifiers), and we hypothesize that this is due to the extra transparency that is required in situations with many adult second-language speakers.

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