The Relationship Between Morphology and Syntax

Inuktitut is a polysynthetic language, which means morphemes accumulate to form a word comparable to a sentence in English. In addition, nouns can be incorporated into verbs. This type of word in Inuktitut does not exist in any Indo-European language. Subordinate relationships between words, phrases, and clauses are expressed in Inuktitut by morphological means instead of the syntactic ones. Much of the syntax of Inuktitut occurs within an individual word in terms of the relationships between morphemes, rather than across word boundaries. The semantic density of Inuit words is among the highest in the world.


Below is an example showing the syntactic and morphological difference between English and Inuktitut. English uses nine words to express the meaning, while Inuktitut uses only two words. The Inuit words “utaqqiguvinga” and “aullaqatiginiaqpagit” are highly inflected. Morphemes are agglutinated to the word, which give prolific morphology. The word “utaqqiguvinga” subordinates the other word “aullaqatiginiaqpagit”. There is only one syntactic relationship in the Inuit sentence.


If you wait for me,


utaqqi – gu – vi – nga

wait – if – you - me

I will go with you


aulla – qati – gi – niaq – pa – git

go – partner – have – future – assertion – I/you


The above suggests that the notion of “word” varies according to the type of language. In agglutinating languages, a word may be regarded as a sentence. The more developed the morphology of a language is, the simpler its syntax is. Reversely, the simpler the morphology of a language is, the more complex its syntax is. Inuktitut belongs to the former type and English the latter.


In Inuktitut, a word is a discourse unit which is not pre-fabricated. An Inuit word is constructed as one is speaking, which is the reason it looks like a phrase, a clause, or a sentence to us. Therefore, an Inuktitut dictionary does not contain words, but the morphemes that accumulate to form words. And there are mechanisms limiting the combination possibilities of the morphemes. When there are several lexical suffixes in the word, they follow each other in a very precise order. It can be said that there is syntax within a word, which governs the order of suffixes and their compatibility.


In this project, I shall divide the analysis into morphology and syntax. Morphology involves an introduction to verbs, verbal inflection, and nominal inflection. Syntax involves the clasual structures and the order of morphemes within a word. The sense of “word” in Inuktitut is comparable to the sense of “sentence” in English.