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English Language : Linguistics : Syntax :

Word order

المؤلف:  P. John McWhorter

المصدر:  The Story of Human Language

الجزء والصفحة:  24-5

2024-01-09

483

Word order

A. In English, word order is subject-verb-object: The boy kicked the ball. Linguists call this word order SVO.

 

B. Different word orders. But across the world’s languages, we find all of the possible orders. There are actually more languages with SOV order than SVO, such as Turkish.

“Hasan bought the ox.”

There are languages where the verb comes first, such as Welsh.

“Alun saw a dog.”

 

Linguists used to consider it impossible that a language would have the direct reverse of our familiar SVO, but languages like this have been discovered, such as the Hixkaryana language spoken by a small group in South America.

“The man took the canoe.”

 

C. Word order and language change.

1. These different orders are the product of change over time. We cannot be sure what order the first language had, but most linguists think that the first one was either SVO or SOV. Languages tend to change their word order over time; therefore, the various ones in existence today arose when new languages drifted from the first language’s word order.

 

2. For example, Old English was basically an SOV language.

Old English

Hwi wolde God swa lytles þinges him forwyrnan?

why would God so small thing him deny

“Why would God deny him such a small thing?”

Biblical Hebrew put the verb first, but Modern Hebrew has SVO like Modern English.

 

3. In a language such as Warlpiri, for example, there actually is no set word order.

Warlpiri

maliki KA wajilipi-nyi kurdu wita-ngku

dog is chase child small

wajilipi-nyi KA maliki kurdu wita-ngku

wajilipi-nyi KA kurdu wita-ngku maliki

kurdu wita-ngku KA maliki wajilipi-nyi

kurdu wajilipi-nyi KA wita-ngku maliki

maliki KA kurdu wita-ngku wajilipi-nyi

“The small child is chasing the dog.”

The first language may have been like Warlpiri in this regard, which would mean that any set word order in a language is a change from how language began.