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Polysynthetic Languages

Some Native American languages are described as "polysynthetic" languages. This means that sentences in these languages are composed of long, highly structured words with many parts (known as morphemes to linguists.)

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One example of a polysynthetic word 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 also called agglutinative. "Polysynthetic" and "agglutinative" are often used interchangeably when referring to Native American languages, but they are not actually synonyms. Agglutination is a subset of polysynthesis, where each morpheme in a word generally has one meaning and they all stack together one after another. There is another type of polysynthetic language known as a fusional language, but fusional polysynthesis is rare in indigenous American languages.

Here are some examples of polysynthetic Native American languages:

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

Further Reading

 What Is A Polysynthetic Language?
 Polysynthetic Languages
 Wikipedia: Polysynthetic languages



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