Friday, October 21, 2016

Latin Word Order

Latin word order is very different from that of English. The reason is that Latin uses case to indicate the function of words in a sentence. The result is that Latin word order is far more flexible.

Consider the sentence A dog bites a man. The noun dog is the subject and man is the object. This is determined by the position of the words in the sentence. If we changed their positions in the sentence and uttered A man bites a dog, we'd have a very different meaning. In Latin, however, the same sentence can be stated in six different ways.

The sentence A dog bites a man is Canis mordet virem in Latin. The Latin sentence only has three words because no articles are used in Latin. The word canis (dog) has the ending -is to indicate that it is the subject of the sentence, and virem (man) has the ending -em to indicate it is the object.

The result is that the sentence A dog bites a man can be expressed in Latin with different word orders. Here they are:

Canis mordet virem.
Canis virem mordet.
Virem canis mordet.
Virem mordet canis.
Mordet canis virem.
Mordet virem canis.

The usual word order of Latin is SOV. This corresponds to Canis virem mordet. However, as we have seen in the previous examples, the sentence A dog bites a man can be expressed with six different sentences. In contrast, only one sentence is possible in English.

English is classified as an SVO language. We see this in the sentence A dog bites a man. In Latin the usual word order is SOV. However, Latin is a language which marks nouns with subject and object endings. The result is a flexible word order.


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