Word order

In linguistics, word order typology is the study of the order of the syntactic constituents of a language, and how different languages employ different orders. Correlations between orders found in different syntactic sub-domains are also of interest. The primary word orders that are of interest are

  • the constituent order of a clause, namely the relative order of subject, object, and verb;
  • the order of modifiers (adjectives, numerals, demonstratives, possessives, and adjuncts) in a noun phrase;
  • the order of adverbials.

Some languages use relatively fixed word order, often relying on the order of constituents to convey grammatical information. Other languages—often those that convey grammatical information through inflection—allow more flexible word order, which can be used to encode pragmatic information, such as topicalisation or focus. However, even languages with flexible word order have a preferred or basic word order,[1] with other word orders considered "marked".[2]

Constituent word order is defined in terms of a finite verb (V) in combination with two arguments, namely the subject (S), and object (O).[3][4][5][6] Thus, a transitive sentence has six logically possible basic word orders:

Constituent word orders

These are all possible word orders for the subject, object, and verb in the order of most common to rarest (the examples use "she" as the subject, "loves" as the verb, and "him" as the object):

Sometimes patterns are more complex: some Germanic languages have SOV in subordinate clauses, but V2 word order in main clauses, SVO word order being the most common. Using the guidelines above, the unmarked word order is then SVO.

Many synthetic languages such as Latin, Greek, Persian, Romanian, Assyrian, Russian, Turkish, Korean, Japanese, Finnish, and Basque have no strict word order; rather, the sentence structure is highly flexible and reflects the pragmatics of the utterance.

Topic-prominent languages organize sentences to emphasize their topic–comment structure. Nonetheless, there is often a preferred order; in Latin and Turkish, SOV is the most frequent outside of poetry, and in Finnish SVO is both the most frequent and obligatory when case marking fails to disambiguate argument roles. Just as languages may have different word orders in different contexts, so may they have both fixed and free word orders. For example, Russian has a relatively fixed SVO word order in transitive clauses, but a much freer SV / VS order in intransitive clauses.[citation needed] Cases like this can be addressed by encoding transitive and intransitive clauses separately, with the symbol "S" being restricted to the argument of an intransitive clause, and "A" for the actor/agent of a transitive clause. ("O" for object may be replaced with "P" for "patient" as well.) Thus, Russian is fixed AVO but flexible SV/VS. In such an approach, the description of word order extends more easily to languages that do not meet the criteria in the preceding section. For example, Mayan languages have been described with the rather uncommon VOS word order. However, they are ergative–absolutive languages, and the more specific word order is intransitive VS, transitive VOA, where the S and O arguments both trigger the same type of agreement on the verb. Indeed, many languages that some thought had a VOS word order turn out to be ergative like Mayan.