What Does It Mean That Russian Is An ‘Inflected Language’?

Anyone studying an inflected language?

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2 thoughts on “What Does It Mean That Russian Is An ‘Inflected Language’?

  1. That a language is inflected simply means that it consists of root words or stems (think of these as building blocks), which then get letters added on at the end (suffixes), at the beginning (prefixes), or even somewhere in the middle (infixes). These “-ixes” are considered “inflections,” which are just changes that express a word’s grammatical function, such as tense, mood, number, person, case, or gender. For instance, the verb (a word expressing action) “machen” in German means “to do.” “Machen” is the infinitive form, which you can think of as the default form without respect to time or tense and without respect to person (that is, who is doing the action or the “subject” of the sentence); “mach” is the stem and “en” is the infinitive ending (that is, the ending that signals “this is a verb in its default form).” When I conjugate “machen” in the present tense (conjugating means inflecting or changing it to make it match the subject), I take off the infinitive ending and add a different ending depending on who the subject is: ich mache (I make), du machst (you [singular] make), er macht (he makes), wir machen (we make), ihr macht (you [plural] make), and sie machen (they make). Not every ending is even unique. But did you notice the English translations? Only in the 3rd person singular (he makes) did we add an ending. That is because English is a language that is just barely inflected, whereas German is highly inflected. As English speakers, we hardly inflect our words at all, which means doing a lot less work than in other, more inflected languages. But it often means that we native English speakers are less aware of grammatical structure, such as conjugating verbs or declining nouns, and that makes learning a foreign language harder for us. As we delve into a new foreign language, we have to quickly figure out what all these grammatical structures are and how they work, whereas the German person, for instance, learning, let’s say, Spanish already knows that stuff because his language has forced him to be attentive to it. I can tell you this: once you start learning a foreign language, you’ll really become aware of and learn your own.

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