LINGUIST List 10.304

Wed Feb 24 1999

Disc: Word order in Russian

Editor for this issue: Brett Churchill <>


  1. Dr. Joel M. Hoffman, Re: Word order in Russian

Message 1: Re: Word order in Russian

Date: Tue, 23 Feb 99 16:27 EST
From: Dr. Joel M. Hoffman <>
Subject: Re: Word order in Russian

>Word order in Russian [LINGUIST 10.287]
>Many languages allow the scrambling of syntagmatic constituents within a
>sentence, but in many of these languages, adjectival modifiers cannot be
>separated from the noun phrase they modify. In a grammar book for learners

Russian, some other slavic langauges, Latin, and a few others do allow
adjectives to be separated from the nouns they modify. (Generally, if
the langauge doesn't have determiners, this sort of scrambling is
possible.) Given the simple sentence:

 ja videl svaju maSinu
 I saw self's car
 I saw my car.

all 24 logical word-order possibilities are grammatical, given the
right information-theoretic environment. In fact, words can even
scramble out of a clause:

 svaju on dumajet Sto ja videl maSinu
 self's he thinks COMP I saw car
 He thinks I saw my car

My PhD dissertation (Syntactic and Paratactic Word Order Effects,
Univ. of Maryland at College Park, 1996) gives a thorough theoretical
treatment of these phenomena, concluding that this sort of scrambling
is different than traditional Movement. (Words don't obey the usual
isalnd condition; they must "reconstruct"; NPI's can move; idioms can
be broken up.) I call this M-scrambling, and claim that it results
when the Syntax does not completely order the words of a sentence.

This sort of scrambling is common in spoken Russian (though,
naturally, dialects vary), less common in standard written Russian.

-Joel Hoffman
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