LINGUIST List 10.1320

Thu Sep 9 1999

Disc: Universal Word Order

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Larry, Re: Universal Word Order

Message 1: Re: Universal Word Order

Date: Thu, 9 Sep 1999 11:33:09 +0900
From: Larry <>
Subject: Re: Universal Word Order

Hello again,

the more one looks the more one finds, and here is another, more detailed,
comment on word order diversity that I received and am passing on to the
list. In my September 3 submission I had not mentioned the author because
his name had not been included with the message fragment that I received.
This time there is a name, however.

Bill Lewis (University of Victoria, Canada) wrote the following:

- begin quote: -

The first division is between those languages who follow any word order
strictly for pragmatic reasons, having other systems of argument

No order: Sahaptin (Sahaptian; Oregon, Washington), Papago (S.
Uto-Aztecan), Warlpiri (Australia), Sanscrit (and others; Indo-European)

(Others, like Yimas (Lower Sepik; New Guinea) and Basque are free but
for the usual final position of the verb.)

All six logical orders (3! = 6) of Predicate/MajorArguments are actually
found. Some examples:

SOV: Japanese, Tibetan, Chechen (NE Caucasian), Turkish, Navaho,
Choctaw (Muskogean)

SVO: Mandarin, Thai, Yoruba (Benue-Congo), Fula (Atlantic; W.
Africa), English, Kalapuya

VSO: Arabic, Irish, Lushootseed (Puget Salish), Zapotec (E.
Otomanguean; S. Mexico), Maori (Malayo-Polynesian)

VOS: Malagasy (Malayo-Polynesian; Madagascar), Toba Batak, [probably]
Mexquitlal Otom� (W. Otomangean), Tzotzil (Mayan)

OVS: Hixkaryana, Makuchi, Arekuna (two branches of Cariban family; all
N. Amazonas)

OSV: Apurin� (Arawakan; Amazonas), Xavante (Gean; S. Amazonas),
Djirbal (Australia; like Warlpiri, Djirbal doesn't really have fixed
word order, but this is the most common order found when NP arguments
are nominals)

It is easily seen that the first two have between them about 85% of the
world's languages. The third another 10% or so. OS languages, on the
other hand, are much less common. Greenberg made a famous statement in
1966 about 'The three [word orders] which do not occur at all, or at
least are excessively rare', which Vennemann in 1973 turned into 'only
three occur'. After Keenan reported his discovery of Malagache
(Malagasy), Pullum declared in 1977 that 'Four basic word orders, not
three, are found: SVO, SOV, VSO, and VOS. The other two logically
possible orders, OSV and OVS, do not occur at all, contra various
allusions in the literature on syntactic typology.' As this well-known
paper, published in Syntax and Semantics 8, was going to press, Pullum
ran into Desmond Derbyshire at University College, London, where the
latter became advisee in his doctoral program. Derbyshire had been
living with the Hixkaryana off and on from 1959 through 1975 studying
their language (for Bible translation). He showed Pullum how
Hixkaryana allows one constituent to front the V for topical reasons;
otherwise it's quite regular.

It will be seen that all orders are represented. Only OVS is limited to
just one genetic family. Probably others will be found. Such kind of
relationships where a constituent intervenes between O and S causes
potential trouble for those for whom a VP is necessarily part of
Universal Grammar. Tzotzil, for example, has a Spec which operates
discontinuously. But then NPs in Sahaptin may be similarly
discontinuous across the sentence. Stephen Anderson (1984), for
example, includes no VP in his GB description of Kwakwala (VSO, with no
non-pragmatic movement): just V NP NP. These kind of things give
Chomskyan regulars nightmares.

When will people stop dreaming and open their eyes to what's really
going on?

- end quote -

Regards: Larry
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