American Indian languages * American Indian heritage * American Indians

Agglutinative Languages

Some Native American languages are described as "agglutinative" languages. This means that words in those languages are made up of multiple morphemes, or parts, each contributing a piece of the word's meaning.

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One example of agglutination would be the Cherokee word datsigowhtisgv'i which means "I was seeing something facing me." The prefix "da-" means the object is facing the speaker, "tsi-" is the conjugation for a first-person subject ("I"), "gowhti" is the root to see, "-sg-" means a verb has progressive or ongoing action, and "v'i" is past tense.

A language with words like this is sometimes also called polysynthetic, especially if speakers of the language can use many morphemes together in the same word. "Polysynthetic" and "agglutinative" are often used interchangeably when referring to Native American languages, but they are not actually synonyms. There is another type of polysynthetic language known as a fusional language, which can also have long words with many morphemes, but the morphemes do not each have a distinct meaning the way they do in agglutinative languages. Since fusional polysynthesis is rare in indigenous American languages, most polysynthetic languages in the Americas are also agglutinative.

Here are some examples of agglutinative Native American languages:

Abenaki Achuar Alabama Aleut Algonquin Alsea Alutiiq Arabela
Arapaho Arawak Arikara Ashaninka Assiniboine Atakapa Aymara Babine
Beaver Caddo Cayuga Chehalis Cherokee Chinook Chumash Coeur d'Alene
Crow Dakota Guajiro Guarani Haida Inuit Karok Kwakiutl
Lushootseed Makah Mohawk Nootka Oneida Onondaga Pawnee Quileute
Salish Seneca Tlingit Tsimshian Tuscarora Yanomamo Yupik  

Further Reading

 What Is An Agglutinative Language?
 Wikipedia: Agglutinative languages
 Polysynthetic Languages

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