Saturday, January 30, 2010

Word Order Typology

The languages of the world can be classified by their word order. Using the three constituents of subject, verb and object, it is possible to construct a word order typology. With these constituents, six word orders are possible- SVO, SOV, VSO, VOS, OSV and OVS.

Certain languages differ in their use of subject, verb and object. For example, French uses the order SVO with nouns but SOV with pronouns. "Michel parle italien" means "Michel speaks Italian" but "Michel le parle" is "Michel speaks it". In German, SVO occurs in independent clauses but SOV in dependent ones. "Ich weiss es" is "I know it" but "She knows that I know it" is "Sie weiss, dass ich es weiss". For these reasons, it is necessary to establish the conditions under which subject, verb and object must occur for a basis of comparison.

The constituents of subject, verb and object should occur in declarative sentences, they should be in an independent clause, the subject and object must be nouns and no unit should have special emphasis. This aims to rule out special circumstances such as the word order of dependent clauses in German and the position of the subject and verb with an object pronoun in French.

The most common word order typology in the languages of the world is SVO. Also common is the word order SOV. Far less common is VSO. The remaining three types are rare. VOS and OVS only occur in a small number of languages and OSV in an even smaller number.

SVO is the most common word order. It occurs in English, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, German, Dutch, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Bulgarian, Russian, Chinese and Swahili.

The word order SOV is also common. It is found in languages such as Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Basque, Farsi, Malayalam, Tamil, Hindu, Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali and Nepali.

Less common but also found in a significant number of languages is VSO. This word order occurs in Hawaiian, Irish, Breton, Welsh and Tagalog.

The remain three word order types are not common. VOS occurs in Fijian and Malagasy. OVS is found in Kixkaryana, a language spoken in Brazil. The last type, OSV, is found in Warao and Xavante, also languages of Brazil.

One method of classifying languages is word order. With the units of subject, verb and object, all languages can be categorized into six possible types. The most common word order is undoubtedly SVO and the least common, one that is very different from SVO and is not found in any widely-spoken language, is OSV.

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