English might be the most analytic language in the IE family, in that it has no case, no gender, and very few personal pronouns. Since PIE and other IE languages are generally synthetic, then what drove English to be so analytic compared to others??

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    Thank you very much John! Yes I understand that this change takes a long time, but my point is that why is it more complete than other nearby languages? Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 20:51
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    Hi @candied_orange. Chinese has NO inflections whatsoever, but neither Hebrew or Chinese can be considered an Indo-European language which is an essential aspect of the question.
    – Karlomanio
    Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 21:22
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    @candied_orange Very true. Most languages become more analytical over time and less inflectional. Not true with all languages, though, German being a prominent example of this.
    – Karlomanio
    Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 21:37
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    @vectory Chinese does not have morphology, full stop. A word is a word is a word – it has only one form, regardless of whether it’s a verb, a noun, an adjective, a pronoun, etc. One of the odd things (to a speaker of an IE language) is actually that, while there are generally ways to express the past and future situations, there is no real way to express non-present situations with copulas (those that mean ‘to be’). The particles you use to express the past, for instance, cannot be used with 是 shì, the most common copula. Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 21:51
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    @Karlomanio German is also becoming less inflectional and more synthetic (it’s currently in the process of losing the genitive case, for instance). It is generally accepted that there is a (very slow) tendency for languages to cycle between morphological typologies; I believe there’s a term for this cycle, but I don’t remember what it is (I keep thinking of Jespersen’s Cycle, but that’s to do with negations). When languages become isolating, they tend to start moving towards agglutination, whence they can then move back to fusional, then analytical, then isolating, etc. Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 21:57

2 Answers 2


The quoted paper below seems to ascribe this to the time when the Anglo-Saxons were conquered by the French. Because Anglo-Saxons were the conquered people of the time, they found it necessary to communicate with the French and this profoundly affected English, not only in its vocabulary, but also in its grammar. The article summarizes the analytical development of English and its lack of inflectional grammar having resulted from this time period.

Language changes tend to stem from the want or need to become more regularized or simplified. For example, contact between two distinct yet similar languages produces a basic need to communicate for trading and other common purposes. The inflectional endings, in these particular interactions, become superfluous to the task at hand. Rather than attempt to learn the respective language’s unique inflectional system, two speakers of different languages can instead opt to learn the foreign word absent of its appropriate inflectional morphology.

German in contrast also had a great deal of influence from French as well, but was NOT the result of conquest and didn't have the profound affect on its grammar as it did in English.

French influence on the German language and its people, however, occurred not as a result of conquest, but rather admiration. Waterman (1966) notes that even before the Middle High German period, “the prestige of French learning and culture had… been firmly established in Germany” (p. 89). In fact, by the time of the Middle High German period, it was not at all uncommon for the German knights to visit in France, or even to seek service at one of the French courts. Nor was it unusual to find Frenchmen engaged as tutors to the children of German nobles. Thus, in a relatively brief space of time, the German language of the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries took on many French words, expressions, and turns of speech. (p. 89)

Thus German still kept its largely inflectional language intact.

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    Note that many parts of the British Isles were conquered by the Norse at one time or another in the centuries prior to 1066, which would have had a similar effect. Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 22:02
  • Compare Afro American English and carribean creole's effect on English; So much for conquest.
    – vectory
    Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 22:42
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    Without using the term, this is the argument that Middle English is a creole. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_English_creole_hypothesis The problem there is that most creoles are based on the dominant language; ME is still a Germanic language with tons of French vocabulary.
    – KarlG
    Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 23:19
  • @vectory I'm not sure I completely understand what point you are making, but the circumstances of the Anglo-Saxons' conquest and its effect on English are not necessarily indicative of all conquests, just this one. Certainly, when a group of people are conquered AND removed from their home country and home language, it only will have more severe effects on their language.
    – Karlomanio
    Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 23:24
  • This is often quoted, but I remain unconvinced that it really played that big a role. Danish was influenced by French (and German) in much the same way that German was, not through conquest or true diglossia – and yet Danish now resembles English more in terms of morphological complexity: no cases, no verbal agreement (even less than English), only two genders left (in some dialects only one). Even Swedish, which was even less influenced by German, is comparable, though they do retain a bit more of their morphology. Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 23:32

Innshort: Foreign speakers and rapid growth.

Grossly Simpmifying: The problem is that inheritence in linguistic terms implies an unbroken descend from parent to child. To say that the language changed, i.e. changed itself, implies an unnoticable, ever so slight difference from generation to next generation, at least in the usual explanation of sound-shift (I do suppose that hearing impairment due to infection must have been frequent, for one). Loss of morphemes can stem from sound shift, if sounds in various environments are lost. Reading of course slows the process, but only if a significant number of speakers can read.

Anyhow, there is no unbroken descend when foreign speakers adapt. Rather, they speak broken English to various success. The Norman invasion marks the start of Middle English. The rest is history as they say. In other words, to be honest: I don't know nearly half enough about the history, or the olde Languages; Just living in a city with 10+ % foreign speakers gives a good idea of the effect, though I have no idea under which conditions this could overcome the native speakers. Loss of irregularities is preferable, I suppose (viz. gender that has little to no semantics).

German on the other hand, since a comment mentioned, has a hint of slavic influence, which has even more cases (I'm generelizing from Russian, scold me if that's wrong), and vice versa (e.g.Grenze, nischtz [nichts]).

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