Hans C. Boas, Director :: PCL 5.556, 1 University Station S5490 :: Austin, TX 78712 :: 512-471-4566
Syntactic Typology: Studies in
the Phenomenology of Language
Winfred P. Lehmann
A Characteristic SVO Language
Winfred P. Lehmann
In examining a language of civilization spoken throughout a vast area, one is faced with the problem of
identifying the variant to be discussed. Different forms of pronunciation, and different idioms, are found even within one area of use,
such as Great Britain or the United States, as well as between these and other countries in which English is widely used. Here a form of
popular literature is chosen for examples, and in this way assumed to be a standard: Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (1865) and
Through the Looking Glass (1872). The references in parentheses following citations indicate page numbers in The Complete Works
of Lewis Carroll (New York: Random House, n.d.).
Both pieces are read today without difficulty. The differing pronunciations in New Zealand, Australia, and other
areas where English is spoken have no effect on the grammatical structures, or even the phonological structure, in the view of some
linguists. The language of Lewis Carroll might for the most part be used today in speech, as well as in writing. Accordingly his texts are
taken as representative of English today as well as a century ago. Fixing on such texts reduces the possibility of drawing on idiosyncratic
materials, whether from one's own speech or from that of others. The English exemplified here is then in a careful, popular
literary style designed for understanding by children but accepted as a standard by native speakers of all ages.
English is a highly consistent SVO language. The government constructions observe SVO patterns, as do the nominal
modifying constructions — with the exception of descriptive and limiting adjectives in an archaic order. As a consistent language,
English exemplifies characteristic features of SVO languages, such as the many patterns that have been developed in the verbal modifying
constructions, the wide use of substitutes, and the grammatical processes used to highlight elements of sentences.
The verbal patterns make heavy use of auxiliaries, which are also involved as substitutes and in interrogative
and negative constructions, differentiating English in this way from (S)OV languages like Japanese and VSO languages like Easter Island.
The grammatical processes involve function words, again in distinctive constructions like clefting. An examination of the characteristic
typological patterns presented below in accordance with the patterns listed in section 1.3, then discloses on the one hand the expected
constructions found in SVO languages and on the other the basic structure of English.
4.1. The Structure of Simple Clauses
Simple, unmarked clauses agree with the SVO pattern, and require representations for the three constituents:
subject, verb, and object.
||Alice folded her hands. (55)
Neither the subject nor the verb nor the object of a transitive verb may be omitted; the following variants of this sentence
Further, a consistent SVO language like English does not permit any order other than the above in unmarked sentences occurring
as single utterances. Thus the following are not possible:
||*Folded Alice her hands.
||*Folded her hands Alice.
||?Her hands folded Alice.
||?Her hands Alice folded.
||?Alice her hands folded.
The last three are questioned rather than starred because they might be possible in the middle of a discourse.
This constraint applies also in subordination, as in the sequence:
||Margaret fidgeted while Alice folded her hands.
Such a mandatory syntactic arrangement then requires the analysis of English as an SVO language (see also section 6.1). Any
attempt to propose a different underlying structure for English fails to consider the implication of such analysis for other
languages. If, for example, English were to be labeled a VSO language, one would have to account for the differing characteristics
in languages like Easter Island or Irish. When such attempts have been made under the rubric of a given theory, languages
of VSO structure have not been considered.
Inasmuch as the basic patterns of English are so consistent, this essay will discuss at some length consequences
of SVO structure. One of these has to do with the expression of verbal qualifiers. In accordance with the principle expressed in section
1.3, verbal qualifiers must precede verbs. This position, however, conflicts with the optimum position for subjects. To express negation,
for example, the negative might be prefixed to the verb, as it indeed was in Old English, so that the negative of (1) might be:
||*Alice ne-folded her hands.
Such a position seems awkward, as does sentence-initial placement:
||*Ne Alice folded her hands.
The dilemma has been resolved for English by the use of auxiliaries. As will be observed at some length below, auxiliaries
are characteristic of SVO languages though not confined to them.
Moreover, SVO languages typically require the S position to be filled, as well as the V and O positions, though
with well-defined exceptions, in contrast with simple verb sentences in OV languages. To meet this requirement, substitutes are prominent,
as in the following variants of sentence 1.
||She folded her hands.
||The griffon folded its wings. Alice did her hands.
||The griffon folded its wings and Alice her hands.
||Alice folded them.
Further examples given below illustrate at greater length the prominence of substitutes in SVO languages, substitutes not
only for nouns and verbs, but also for phrases and clauses, e.g., so
Further, the characteristics of SVO languages have given rise to special constructions. Thus, if the requirement
for the S to be placed before the V were rigidly observed, an awkward style would result, and also special emphasis on the S. Devices
then have been developed to offset these difficulties, such as the passive. This is a construction which permits the object
to be the theme. Passives are especially characteristic of SVO and VSO languages. Other similar devices, such as clefting,
also have largely a functional role.
This chapter then illustrates the characteristics of SVO languages, not simply the conformance of English with
the expected patterns.
In contrast with OV languages, the subject is the mandatory nominal constituent of SVO languages, as in sentences
with intransitive verbs, or in equational sentences.
||I shall be too late.
||Substantive Copula Adjective
||I'm not a serpent.
||Substantive Copula Substantive
||The face is over.
||Substantive Copula Adverb
Constituents in these patterns may be highlighted through various grammatical processes, as noted further below.
|(2.1) and (30)
||It was Alice who turned.
Marking too may be used for singling out various constituents, by change of order or by intonation, with or without accompanying particles.
|(2.3) and (VI.1)
||A serpent I'm not.
|(2.3) and (VI.2)
||I am not a serpent.
The impacts of such variants are determined by the regularity of the basic SVO pattern, which assures marked effects because
of the contrast introduced.
Government operates strongly in English, both in predicates and in other government constructions. Only
prepositions are used in current English except for specific idioms; ago, as in two years ago, may be viewed as a
postposition, but it is severely restricted in use, as may be illustrated by the attention given to Dylan Thomas's phrase:
a grief ago.
||Then Alice dodged behind a great thistle. (50)
Moreover, constructions with a standard place this after the variable. In comparisons of inequality the adjective
precedes the standard.
||It's very easy to take more than nothing. (81)
In titles, the name follows, functioning like a standard for the "variable" title.
In personal names the surname follows as standard to the given name.
||Alice Pleasance Liddell. (272)
And in numerals in the teens, the form of ten follows, as in the other constructions of this kind furnishing a standard for
the simple numerals from three to nine.
It is the prominence of government which leads rhetoricians to assert for English that "main elements are usually most
emphatic at the end of a sentence" (Crews 1977: 140). English has been characterized by functional syntacticians as a language
in which the initial segment, or theme, often using old material, sets the scene for the new material, or rheme. Thus in sentence
(1) the subject Alice
is one of the important elements of the preceding discourse, while the predicate folded her hands
introduces a new action. SVO order provides a convenient basis for such organization of sentences. VSO languages, on the
other hand, provide greater difficulty for initial placement of the theme, requiring special constructions for that purpose.
Subjects normally furnish a link with previous sentences, thus being less "emphatic" in Crews's characterization and yielding
the position of rhetorical emphasis to the verb and its object or complement. This same effect may be noted in the other government
patterns, for example, in comparative constructions, where the standard holds the position of greatest prominence.
4.2. Nominal Phrases
As in other SVO languages, the position of relative constructions is determined by the VO constituent. They
regularly follow nouns, avoiding in this way disruption of the verb-object constituent. The relationship of relative constructions to their
antecedents is so clear that if an object is the shared noun of the relative clause no marker is needed; which or that is
often omitted, as after rules in the following example:
||All because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them. (22)
English relative constructions may be restrictive, as is the first in the following quotation, or descriptive, like the
second. Restrictive clauses are normally spoken as part of the intonation pattern of their head; this pattern of intonation
is generally indicated by lack of punctuation, unlike Carroll's practice here. Descriptive clauses on the other hand have
their own intonation pattern.
||The only two creatures in the kitchen, that did not sneeze, were the cook, and a large cat, which was lying on the hearth and grinning from ear to ear. (66)
The distinction between restrictive and descriptive relative clauses is maintained for other nominal modifiers as well, such
as the participles in the following examples:
||There stood the Queen in front of them, with her arms folded, frowning like a thunder-storm. (98) (Descriptive)
||With tears running down his cheeks, he went on again. (105) (Restrictive)
The contrast also applies to adverbial clauses. The temporal clause in (5.5) is restrictive, while that in (5.6) is descriptive.
||So Alice began telling them her adventures from the time when she first saw the White Rabbit. (110)
||That's different from what I used to say when I was a child. (112)
The parallelism in this respect between relative clauses, whether in full form or as abbreviated to descriptive adjectives
and genitives, and adverbial clauses reflects the similarity of their origins. When relative clauses were developed in the
Indo-European languages, many of the conjunctions were based on the stem of the relative pronouns.
Syntacticians have long proposed that descriptive genitives and adjectives are reduced forms of relative clauses.
Genitives then observe the arrangement of relative clauses with regard to their head; 90 percent of the genitive constructions
in contemporary English do, following their head (Fries 1940).
||with her head in the lap of her sister. (129)
(From: The lap is her sister's.)
In the course of reduction the form of the verb BE is elided together with the relative pronoun.
||She peeped over the edge of the mushroom. (52)
If genitives, however, are proper nouns, particularly single names, they often precede.
||To Tweedledum's house. (179)
Yet even single names are often postposed.
||To the house of Tweedledee. (179)
The current status of the genitive in English and its development have great historical interest, for they reflect a change
from OV order in pre-Old English times to VO order today.
While the favored order for genitives has been shifted, adjectives still predominantly precede the modified noun.
||An enormous puppy was looking down at her with large round eyes. (50)
Only when they are in turn modified do descriptive adjectives regularly follow their head.
||And then they rested on a rock conveniently low. (186)
Limiting adjectives — articles and demonstratives — also stand before nouns, as do numerals; they
descriptive adjectives, with limiting adjectives standing before descriptive adjectives.
||And at that distance too. (223)
||I haven't sent the two Messengers. (223)
||She jumped over the first of the six little books. (169)
Parallel to the order of limiting adjectives is that of multiplying numeral combinations with nouns representing higher entities:
millions, thousands, hundreds, tens in the order of higher to lower (preceded by the simple numerals). (Greenberg 1976: lecture)
||Four thousand two hundred and seven ... (223)
As with preposed descriptive adjectives, genitives, and relative clauses, preposed limiting adjectives and the cited numeral
combinations reflect OV structure. This is the most conservative of the English modifying patterns. In maintaining it as a
relic pattern, English provides evidence for the OV structure which is posited for its ancestor language, Proto-Indo-European.
Yet English nominal phrases for the most part observe the canonical order of SVO languages, maintaining from
early stages OV order only with adjectives and numeral constructions other than the teens.
4.3. Verbal Phrases
In SVO languages, expressions for verbal modification should be placed before verbs, in accordance with
their VO structure. Like nominal modification, verbal modification avoids disruption of the VO constituent. Such placement leads
to difficulties, however, through conflict between the mandatory
subject and the verbal modifying constituent. SVO languages resolve these difficulties by various means. One of the most widespread
is the use of auxiliaries; these function in part like verbs, in part like empty markers which can be placed before the central
verb but still not interfere with the similar preverbal placement of the subject. The English dummy verb DO admirably exemplifies
such a device. It provides the qualifying marker, but because of its weakly stressed form it does not interfere with the initially
placed subject. Yet, in contrast with VSO languages, auxiliaries in SVO languages do not coalesce with the central verb, providing
prefixed markers. The presence of separate verblike elements called auxiliaries then constitutes one of the characteristics of SVO
languages and of English.
Expressions for declarative utterances simply observe the normal word order.
||This speech caused a remarkable sensation among the party. (41)
This arrangement is accompanied by an intonation pattern, with final drop in pitch from the syllable with the chief accent.
The pattern, often indicated as 231#, contrasts with a pattern with final rise: 223||
, which indicates
doubt or uncertainty on the part of the speaker. The 231# intonation pattern is accordingly a device for expressing certainty on
the part of the speaker, that is, the declarative qualifier.
The contrasting pattern, 233||, is one of the devices for expressing interrogation.
||You like poetry? (183)
This pattern is commonly found with an auxiliary preposed before the subject to express interrogation.
||Is this New Zealand? (19)
||Do cats eat bats? (20)
Such questions usually require an answer of either yes or no, and as a result they are often labeled yes-or-no questions (see Jespersen
for other labels, 1924: 302-305).
In accordance with the general ordering principle, the interrogative marker should stand close to the sentence
boundary, whether initially in VO languages or finally in OV. For SVO languages this requirement provides a difficulty, inasmuch as the
subject should also occupy this position. The conflict has been resolved in two ways in English. For pronominal questions it has led
to the production of a special set of words which may combine the interrogative with a substitute for the subject, the so-called
wh-words. For yes-or-no questions it has led to the introduction of auxiliaries. Among the auxiliaries DO is the most remarkable
in having today only a grammatical function, whether as interrogative marker as in (11.3), or as a device for the indication
of negation or emphasis. Other auxiliaries combine uses as grammatical markers with expression of modality, aspect, and tense.
The auxiliaries, which correspond to postverbal affixes in OV languages and preverbal affixes in VSO, are among the prime
characteristics of SVO languages. Their gradual development in English and other SVO languages has been the topic of much
fascinating research. Moreover, since understanding of the auxiliaries corresponds to an understanding of that section of
the grammar of SVO languages regarding the verb phrase, the analysis of their role and functioning is required for an understanding
of SVO languages.
The second large set of questions in languages is characterized by a question word. These, often referred to as
wh-question words after the wh-segment in many English interrogative words, Jespersen labels x-questions, because they
include an "unknown quantity" (1924: 303). Initial position of the interrogative element accords with the expectation of this
order for the theme as well as with the general ordering principle.
||What's the French for fiddle-de-dee? (254)
||What right have you to call yourself so? (251)
||How is bread made? (254)
English, like other SVO languages, permits only one wh
-word before the finite verb, whether this is a noun as in (11.4), an
adjective as in (11.5), or an adverb as in (11.6). OV languages, by contrast, admit more, and languages with partial OV patterning,
like the Slavic, also do. A changing language, like Chinese, may place the wh
-word in either the subject or the predicate.
The treatment of wh
-words is then characteristic of language types.
Besides wh-questions and yes-or-no questions, English, like other languages, includes devices indicating
presupposition in yes-or-no questions. One such device is the tag question, consisting of a positive auxiliary when a negative answer is
presupposed, and a negative auxiliary for a presupposed positive answer. The auxiliary corresponds in form to that of the principal verb,
as in the following idiosyncratic statement.
||"I speaks English, doesn't I?" the Frog went on. (260)
Interrogative expressions are then closely related to expressions for sentence negation, though negation may be used for syntactic
rather than pragmatic purposes.
Negation, in accordance with the general principle, occupies third position from the sentence boundary, next to
interrogation. This position is reflected in English negated yes-or-no questions.
||Isn't he a lovely sight? (188)
In patterns other than questions, however, expression for negation is placed after the auxiliary, in this way preceding the
principal verb but also not conflicting with initial placement of the subject.
||Manners are not taught in lessons. (252)
||I don't rejoice in insects at all. (173)
This position is observed even for emphatic negatives.
||It'll never do for you to be lolling about on the grass like that.' (250)
Besides their attraction to auxiliaries, negatives also are placed with indefinites, often standing initially.
||Nobody said you did. (251)
Such negated indefinites incorporate sentence negation, as may be determined by producing a comparable sentence with a definite
pronoun, whether a statement or a question.
||She didn't say you did.
||Didn't she say you did?
Individual segments of sentences may also be negated, with the negative indicator typically placed before the
||Then there was an uncomfortable silence for a minute or two. (252)
In OV languages, by contrast, even negatives for individual segments are postposed, as in Turkish
'uncomfortable, literally comfort-Neg.' Because of their placement
with indefinites and individual segments, negative indicators are far more widely distributed in sentences of SVO languages
than are those for interrogatives. They come to approximate the remaining Q features in lexical rather than grammatical expression.
Of these further features, the middle is especially characteristic for its expression in SVO languages. Widely
indicated by verbal suffixes in OV languages and by verbal prefixes in VSO languages, the middle is generally expressed with pronouns in
SVO languages. The complexities resulting from such expression may be noted for Japanese, which in the course of its history
has introduced expressions borrowed from Chinese, notably zibun 'self' (see section 2.3.3).
The middle is used especially for reflexive and reciprocal relationship. An understanding of expressions for
reflexive and reciprocal reference in English is assisted by the knowledge that its remote ancestor, Proto-Indo-European, expressed the
middle by means of a verbal suffixed inflection, comparable to that in Turkish. By Old English times only one reflex of the middle
remained, and only in relic patterns: hātan 'be called', whose cognate still survives in German
heissen 'be called', ich heisse x 'my name is x'. Like other Q features the middle may come to be
expressed lexically. Yet lexical expression for it fails to accord with the general patterning of verbs with an object in SVO languages.
Even in Old English times, hātan was used transitively more frequently than as a middle. And in Modern English only
a handful of verbs remains which are middles, e.g., agree, cross, embrace, hug, kiss, marry,
||Our letters crossed.
(Rarely: Our letters crossed each other.)
The gradual disappearance of such verbs may be noted from their greater abundance in Shakespeare (Jespersen 1949: III.332).
||As You Like It 1.1.117:
||Never two ladies loved as they do.
In spite of such lexical middles, the characteristic device for expressing middle features in SVO languages is pronominalization.
The earliest expression for reflexivization through pronouns in English made use of personal pronouns,
in a usage which has survived especially after some prepositions and in adjectival uses (Jespersen 1949: VII.4.8).
||If I don't take this child away with me ... (70) (Not: myself)
||It unfolded its arms. (55) (Not: itself's)
For the most part, however, pronouns were suffixed with forms of self
to form the characteristic elements in
reflexive and reciprocal constructions today.
||Alice was just beginning to think to herself. (70)
||Don't give yourself airs. (57)
||And here the two brothers gave each other a hug. (182)
Compare the middle verb agree
, which does not require an overt indicator of the middle value:
||Of course you agree to have a battle. (192) (Not: with each other)
The reflexive is maintained when its subject is elided.
||"Don't grunt," said Alice, "that's not at all a proper way of expressing yourself." (70)
While expression for the middle in English is "far from simple," whether for its history as Jespersen notes
(1949: VII.162) or for its current use, as the last example and many cited elsewhere illustrate, it is basically made with pronouns, and
in this way English is characteristic of SVO languages.
4.3.1. Expressions for Modality
Expressions of modality have intricate nuances of meaning, which merge with one another and shift as other
Q features such as negation are aligned with them. Yet the patterning is straightforward. Specific verbs come to be used as "modal
auxiliaries" in early Old English and have subsequently been enriched with others. Moreover, necessitative modality may be expressed
through arrangement, in a reflection of a characteristic verb form for the imperative in earlier periods of the language. Initial
verbs without a subject generally have necessitative force.
Auxiliaries are used, especially when tense or another Q feature is included.
||You mustn't say that.
||(Nec. + Neg.)
||You should have meant! (251)
||(Nec. + Perf.)
The English modal auxiliaries have often been described, in treatments that are extensive. Since we aim simply to
note their role in the English grammatical system, a compact analysis will be given here, based in part on Twaddell (1960 10-12; see also
Calbert and Vater 1975). In Twaddell's treatment the modals proper are presented in three groups, with hierarchization of contingency.
As such a table suggests, the meanings of individual modals are not sharply distinct. Since modals proper do not
co-occur, we may conclude, as Twaddell also notes, that "there are elements of incompatibility in their meanings." Yet cooccurrence
is found for "new" expressions of modality.
||I shouldn't be able to say. (190)
Such co-occurrence, as well as other patterns, reflect the dual use of modals as full verbs and as grammatical markers expressing
modality. As grammatical markers they may indicate interrogation, by initial position, or they may support negation.
||Will you walk a little faster? (107)
||I can't explain myself. (54)
Expression for modality may be accompanied by expression for aspect and tense, which is largely made through auxiliaries.
||She would have liked very much to ask them how they came there. (250)
4.3.2. Expressions for Aspect and Tense
Perfective aspect is often indicated by means of the auxiliary HAVE accompanied by the participle; as here,
adverbials may be used with such compound verb forms.
||By the time she had caught the flamingo and brought it back, the fight was over. (93)
Momentary aspect is indicated by contrast with an auxiliary-based construction using BE plus the gerund.
||You're thinking about something, my dear, and that makes you forget to talk. (96)
Simple verb forms are used to express momentary action as opposed to continuous, which is expressed by means of be
||Alice guessed in a moment that it was looking for the fan. (42)
Both the perfective and the momentary expression are placed closer to the principal verb than are expressions for modality,
with +continuous or -momentary following perfective expressions.
||You ought to have finished. (117)
||I must be growing small again. (30)
||You couldn't have wanted it much. (103)
||You couldn't have been wanting it much.
With its adaptation of auxiliaries, English has developed a complex verb phrase which may be compared with
the large number of affixes found in OV languages like Quechua and Turkish. Yet the requirement that a subject be expressed with these
complexes leads, as noted above, to a less harmonious system of verbal quantifiers in SVO languages.
For while the affixes of OV languages are parallel in their treatment, the auxiliaries of SVO languages are comparable on
the one hand to principal verbs, on the other to grammatical markers.
Further, SVO languages tend to employ increasing numbers of verbs as auxiliaries, leading to expanded lexical
expression of Q features. The results are especially notable in technical and scientific language, in which auxiliarylike verbs come to
be highly prominent, expressing little more than Q features. In treatments of German the resulting patterns have come to be known as
Streckformen 'extended forms'. Such verbs in English are get and make, which have come to be used to
express the causative, and give and take, which in such expressions do little but express verbality and direction.
||I give you fair warning. (99) (= I warn you fairly.)
||The other guests had taken advantage of the Queen's absence. (99) (seventeenth century: advantaged themselves)
An extreme development of auxiliaries is found in Basic English, which excludes all but a dozen verbs. This ultimate development,
or virtually caricature, of English devised by I. A. Richards (1943) illustrates forcibly how auxiliaries are perceived to
be characteristic verbal markers in SVO structure, in contrast with prefixes in VSO and suffixes in OV.
The iterative is expressed lexically, by means of repetition or with particles.
||Still she went on growing and growing. (44)
||She generally gave herself good advice ... and sometimes she scolded herself ... (24)
The causative is also expressed with characteristic verbs, or lexically, as in the three expressions for
"cause to be dry" below.
||It doesn't seem to dry me at all. (37)
||I'll soon make you dry enough. (36)
||What I was going to say ... was, that the best thing to get me dry would be a Caucus-race. (37)
The verb get
puts the emphasis on the process of causing, make
on the result.
||She'll get me executed, as sure as ferrets are ferrets. (42)
||The hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid. (17)
The predominant use of auxiliary-like verbs to express causation, whatever their further connotation, reflects
the history of English. In its earliest attested texts it still contained causative verbs which were distinguished from simple verbs by
suffixation of -i/j-, e.g., Old English nerian 'rescue'. For the most part the suffix had been lost, with
some verbs maintaining a distinction between the causative and the simplex through vowel difference, e.g., Old English settan
'set' and sittan 'sit'. Subsequently even such lexical contrasts have been lost, so that the expression of causation in
verbs is distinguishable only by syntactic means: the breeze dried her hair versus her hair dried. The confusion between
sit : set and between lie : lay in spoken English is proverbial. Causative expression has accordingly been
lexicalized or expressed in characteristic phrasal formations as noted above. These several possibilities have given rise to much discussion
among linguists concerning the relationships in meaning between such expressions as kill and cause
to die. It is not difficult to demonstrate that Q expressions consisting of individual elements permit greater explicitness and
flexibility, especially of interrelationship among several Q features, than does lexicalization of Q features in SVO languages.
Of the expressions for aspect and tense, that for tense alone still maintains the OV pattern of suffixation,
e.g., advise : advised. Yet even here the means of expression have been eroded, as in set : set, and in
irregular forms like dive : dove versus dive : dived. Or tense is indicated through auxiliaries, as for other
Q features. When auxiliary expression is considered as well as inflection, English distinguishes between the present, past, and future
||I advise you to leave off this minute. (24) (Present tense)
||Who in the world am I? (28) (Present tense)
||Was I the same when I got up this morning? (28) (Past tense)
||Did you ever eat a bat? (20) (Past tense)
||Dinah'll miss me very much tonight. (20) (Future tense)
||And then I'll tell you my history. (24) (Future tense)
Expression of tense may be combined with expressions for aspect. Its freedom of position permits the suggestion
that tense is closely related to nominal or adverbial indicators of time, as in: We leave tomorrow. They dine at eight
(tonight). In a case grammar, then, tense may be introduced through a nominal time category rather than a verbal. Its expression may
be made nominally, verbally, or adverbially,
with a freedom greater than that of the other expressions associated with the verb.
But tense is expressed in conjunction with each of these. Past tense is combined with perfective aspect and
with -momentary expression in the following example.
||While she was still looking at the place where it had been, it suddenly appeared again. (73)
As these examples illustrate, tense is expressed with auxiliaries when combined with verbal expressions for modality, aspect,
and also interrogative and negative expressions.
||Perhaps, as this is May, it wo'n't be raving mad. (73)
The expression of negation with simple verb forms now seems archaic, and even with qualifiers it seems to be
receding, as may be illustrated with current versions of the Bible, such as the Living New Testament of 1967 in contrast with the
Authorized Version of 1611.
||Don't be surprised.
||We have toiled all the night and have taken nothing.
||We worked hard all last night and didn't catch a thing.
English then has increasingly developed expression of verbal qualifiers by means of auxiliaries, exemplifying in this way
one of the characteristics of SVO languages.
4.4. Sentence Adverbials
Another device has been developed in English which may be characteristic of SVO languages: the so-called sentence
adverbials. These resemble modals in referring to the entire sentence, for example, unfortunately in (IV.1) and (2) as opposed to (3).
||Unfortunately, the Duchess played badly.
||The Duchess, unfortunately, played badly.
||The Duchess played unfortunately badly.
In sentences 1 and 2 the adverbial sets the tone for the entire sentence. Linguists then equate it with a longer, reduced
sentence, such as: It was unfortunate that
... They support this analysis by noting its independent intonation pattern.
Some sentence adverbials, like unfortunately, are also widely used as general adverbs, modifying
adjectives, adverbs, and verbs. Others are more widely used as sentence adverbials, such as certainly, perhaps,
possibly, probably. Comparing the equivalents of these in OV languages like Japanese and Turkish, one finds in them
inflected verb forms, with or without supplementary adverbs. Thus (IV.4) is expressed in Japanese with a verb form expressing
probability: daroo 'it may be', often in conjunction with tabun 'much, in
||Probably he forgot.
The following pair illustrates a similar difference in Turkish.
||Possibly a person wouldn't know this.
The flexible expandibility of OV verbal forms contrasts sharply with the varied but limited devices of SVO languages, which indeed use
auxiliaries but also a device like sentence adverbs. Sentence adverbs like maybe
(< it may be
) illustrate the relationship
between the two devices.
||Maybe it's always pepper that makes people hot-tempered. (95)
An OV language like Japanese, on the other hand, makes use of postverbal elements to supplement verb forms, such as
'(it is) likely', soo desu
'it is a likelihood, likely', and
of (IV.5). The postverbal position of such elements in OV languages reflects their
structural patterning, as the predominantly preverbal position of sentence adverbials agrees with the expression of verbal
qualifiers in VO languages.
4.5. Compound and Complex Sentences
Compound and complex sentences are general in all types of languages, though the distribution of kinds of
alignment and devices for it vary. In expressing coordination, VO languages place particles before the coordinated element, typically
||and then the different branches of Arithmetic — Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision. (103)
OV languages, by contrast, place such particles after the coordinated elements, with possible omission after the last, as in Japanese.
||'Taroo and Ziroo went.'
Coordination is often accompanied by ellipsis, especially in SVO languages, both with the same subject of a
verb and with different subjects.
||So she sat still and [she] said nothing. (102)
||Some of the jury wrote it down "important," and some [wrote it down] "unimportant." (124)
||The Owl and the Panther were sharing a pie. (112)
The kind of ellipsis exemplified in (21.4) is particularly characteristic of SVO languages, for the differing subjects and
objects in their fixed order permit ready reconstruction of the elided segments of the sentence. Both in VSO and SOV languages,
on the other hand, the reduced sentence may give rise to ambiguities, for the nouns expressed by S and O are not separated
by a verb.
Ellipsis of the verb, or gapping, is also distinct in OV as opposed to VO structure, for in OV the early forms
of the equivalent verbs are elided, as in Japanese.
||'Taroo brought pencils and Ziroo paper.'
In coordination, clauses may be adversative as well as parallel in meaning.
||I've read that in some book, but I don't remember when.
When parallel, nonfinite verbs are commonly used.
||He kept shifting from one foot to the other, looking uneasily at the Queen. (117)
While coordination, or parataxis, is general in sentences of SVO languages, it is far more characteristic of OV
languages, which tend to have many nonfinite forms for linking clauses paratactically, as does Turkish. SVO languages on the other hand
are more widely characterized by subordination or hypotaxis.
Subordination is often marked with conjunctions, and is found whether or not the two related clauses have the
||If you can't be civil, you'd better finish the story for yourself. (8l)
||Alice watched the White Rabbit as he fumbled over the list. (122)
In OV languages, related clauses with the same subject tend to make use of participles, as in Turkish.
||'When you drink raki, you forget everything.'
Such nonfinite forms in OV languages may indicate varied relationships, which in S languages are introduced by means of specific
conjunctions, as illustrated in the sentences numbered (24) below.
In keeping with the tendency toward parataxis in OV languages, quotations are commonly expressed without
modification, as so-called direct quotations concluded by a quotative particle or other marker. SVO languages on the other hand, with
their favoring of hypotaxis, tend to have devices for indirect statements and questions. These devices may involve special forms
of verbs, or uses of substitutes. In current English, special inflections (subjunctives) are no longer found, with the exception
of BE, but modals or past tense forms are introduced in the indirect quotations.
||I told you butter wouldn't suit the works. (77) (From: I told you, "Butter won't suit the works.")
||The very first thing she did was to look whether there was a fire in the fireplace. (148) (From: Is there a fire in the fireplace?)
Special verbal patterns may also be used in adverbial clauses, notably in contrary-to-fact conditionals.
||You'd have guessed if you'd been up in the window with me. (143)
Yet for the most part, in English, adverbial clauses have unchanged verb forms. They express various relationships, generally
through conjunctions. The subordinate clause may precede or follow the main clause, though often a conditional clause precedes,
in keeping with a practice that has been characterized as universal.
||Now I growl when I'm pleased and wag my tail when I'm angry. (72) (Time)
||Only as it's asleep, I suppose it doesn't mind. (75) (Cause)
||We called him Tortoise because he taught us. (102) (Cause)
||Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it. (96) (Condition)
Conjunctions may however be omitted, especially in verse and the spoken language.
||You have baked me too brown, I must sugar my hair. (111) (Result)
Subordinate clauses tend to stand in an adverbial relationship with their matrix clauses, as the labels for the
examples of (24) indicate. When on the other hand the relationship of the embedded clause to the matrix clause is comparable to that
of an object, the embedded elements are often called complements, and the process is called complementation. (The term is
also used more broadly of an element that may follow a verb, whether an object, a predicate noun, an adverb, or a clause.)
Complementation in VO languages differs characteristically from that in OV languages, for the markers stand in different positions
with regard to the matrix and the verb of the embedded segment.
Complementation is found characteristically with verba dicendi 'verbs of saying' and verba sentiendi
'verbs of perception'.
||She said afterwards that she had never seen in all her life such a face as the King made. (150)
||The Cat seemed to think that there was enough of it now in sight. (91)
As in these examples, complements in English may be full clauses, introduced by a complementizer, typically that
Especially when the subject of both verbs is the same, however, a nonfinite form may be used in the embedded clause, either
the infinitive introduced by (for
or the gerund.
||She wants for to know your history. (102)
||The governess would never think of excusing me lessons for that. (175)
While complements in SVO languages tend to be nominal clauses or reduced nominal clauses, in OV languages they are generally
sentences embedded before a noun, a so-called nominalizer. Many such nouns are so used in Japanese: sidai
'thing, person', koto
'fact' and probably an abbreviation
of it in the quotative particle to
Whatever the devices used for complementation, it is simply a process for expanding the nuclear sentence; a clause
or a reduced form of a clause serves as an object. Similarly, adverbial clauses are expanded forms of adverbs. However involved
they become, compound and complex sentences in general maintain the patterns of simple sentences, whether these are SVO, VSO,
VOS, or OV. Further explorations in typology will lead to increased understanding of the characteristics of the more involved
constructions in each type of language.
While the involved constructions dealt with in this section exploit the possibilities of each type, they do
not overcome its weaknesses. These result in part from the rigidity imposed by a given type, as we may illustrate with SVO patterns.
Theoretically, all sentences in an SVO language should follow that structure, as in sentence (1) above:
||Alice folded her hands.
In this structure the agent of the action is also the subject — grammatical, logical, and psychological — or whatever terms may
be used for these functions. Yet another constituent of the sentence may occupy one of these roles and accordingly stand in
initial position. When it does, the process is referred to as foregrounding, or marking.
Various devices are used for marking, with reference both to the nuclear sentence and to grammatical processes.
Sections 4.6 and 4.7 will deal with these devices. It will be observed that the term marking may be applied narrowly, as here, or widely,
so as to include the grammatical processes discussed in sections 4.7.3, 4.7.4, and 4.7.5.
Marking, or highlighting, may be achieved by departing from the standard order, by special intonation, or through
the use of particles. In written texts the special intonation patterns
may be difficult to determine; but Lewis Carroll indicated many of these by italicizing marked constituents, as illustrated
A prominent aim of marking is to put the object before the verb, with or without the use of special intonation
or particles. In English the subject is then maintained before the verb.
||Oh dear, what nonsense I'm talking! (27)
(Marking through OSV order)
||That you won't! (46)
(Marking through OSV order and intonation)
||This, of course, Alice could not stand. (115)
(Marking through OSV order, intonation, and particle)
Marking is also used prominently in abbreviated sentences.
||Who is to give the prizes? Why, she, of course. (38)
It may apply to elements other than objects of verbs, as in (VI.4) and the following examples.
||Adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs. (214)
||Said the mouse to the cur. (40)
||Up I goes like a sky-rocket. (48)
Yet some patterns do not admit it, whether in VO or OV languages. Among these are adpositions and comparatives of inequality.
A sequence like 'the dog is cat from big' would scarcely be expected in English, or in any other VO language unless it has
undergone OV influence. Such patterns were maintained in Homeric Greek and Classical Latin from their earlier OV stages. Marking
applies particularly to the freer patterns, such as clauses and noun modifiers. It is especially
frequent in poetry, as with the adjectives in the following example.
||The dream-child moving through a land of wonders wild and new, (13)
Moreover, it is comparable to foregrounding, though this process is here treated separately in (29) below, in view of its
use of grammatical processes other than those indicated above for marking.
4.7. Grammatical Processes
The various language types are characterized by grammatical constructions which result from or are at least
closely aligned with their pattern. As noted above, languages of the SVO pattern require overt expression of subjects. Any subject can,
of course, be elided in a suitable context, such as the subject In the answer to: "What did you do then?" "Went home."
And every language includes sequences like: Yes! Thanks! Dear me! which Jespersen called amorphous sentences. But
in comparison with OV languages like Japanese, English and other SVO languages
observe some constraints in ellipsis and in the application of grammatical rules. The subject element is normally represented
in an utterance, and the object element as well where a transitive verb is used; the Japanese examples in Chapter 2 may serve
to illustrate that OV languages do not require these. The normal requirement of subjects and the frequent requirement of objects
lead to a mandatory use of substitutes in SVO languages, of which the most prominent are pronouns.
Pronouns are in the first instance substitutes for nouns. Their uses, while manifold, may be illustrated with
a few selections, the first somewhat extended.
||However, the egg only got larger and larger, and more and more human: when she had come within a few yards of it, she saw
that it had eyes and a nose and mouth; and, when she had come close to it, she saw clearly that it was HUMPTY DUMPTY himself.
"It ca'n't be anybody else!" she said to herself. "I'm as certain of it, as if his name were written all over his face!" (208)
This passage, the first paragraph of a new chapter, indicates how in a new text a noun (egg
) is used, and thereupon a pronoun
). To be sure, a pronoun is used at once for the heroine (she
); but by this time in the story Alice has been well
established as the central figure, and accordingly a substitute is unambiguous. Besides serving as "substitutes," pronouns may convey
additional information, as when himself
rather than itself
is used after HUMPTY DUMPTY to identify the egg as a well-known
figure in nursery rhymes. Yet essentially they are grammatical substitutes, required by the SVO pattern.
Introduced with reference to an identified noun in anaphora, or in a further function to external objects in
deixis, pronouns lend continuity to an account. On the other hand, without adequate context, sentences in which they occur are murky
||And oh, I wish you could see her after the birds! (41)
This sentence is obscure unless one knows that her
refers to Dinah, Alice's cat; the references of I
also clear from the context.
||Wouldn't it be murder to leave it behind? (70)
With two uses of it
, this sentence is obscure unless one knows that the first it
is an "anticipatory subject" and that the
second refers to "the child."
||"Which is just the case with mine," said the Hatter. (77)
This sentence is even vaguer with its three anaphoric elements: mine
refers to the Hatter's watch; the case
refers to the
fact that a watch does not indicate the year "because it stays the same for such a long time together"; and
refers to the similarity of the watch and other timepieces in not indicating the year.
Like which in (26.4), pronouns often refer to situations or actions rather than simply substitute for
nouns. Similarly, while they in (26.5) refers to "three sisters," that refers to their "living on treacle."
||"They couldn't have done that, you know." (81)
Pronouns are accordingly substitutes for any syntactic element with substantival use.
In their anaphoric uses pronouns are comparable to elements in other types of languages, such as
kore 'this', sore 'that', are 'that there'
in Japanese. But pronouns used personally may be expressed by other devices, such as honorifics in Japanese, or through lexical
distinctions. Thus any speaker of Japanese would interpret the verb form itasimasu as indicating
"humility" and thus appropriate only to a first person subject: I or we. On the other hand, the verb form
irassyai-masu is "honorific" and thus appropriate to a second or third person subject.
This sentence could not be interpreted: 'I am reading a book', for the honorific irassyaimasu
subject other than the speaker or first person. Japanese has many devices to express status, which obviate a need
for pronouns (Kuno 1973: 18-22, 127-136). Whether or not other OV languages parallel it in the wealth of such devices, their
structure leads to less explicit expression of the subject, and accordingly less use of pronouns than is found in SVO languages.
The availability of pronouns has led to various patterns in which their primary use is not anaphoric. They may
be used to avoid the mandatory theme : rheme contrast of constituents of simple SVO sentences. By placing a demonstrative in initial
position, it is possible to emphasize the situation rather than the subject.
||Now, Kitty, let's consider who it was that dreamed it all. This is a serious question... (271) (Not: the question is serious)
Interrogative pronouns may be used rhetorically rather than to ask a question.
||What do you suppose is the use of a child without any meaning? (251) (Not: a child ... is useless)
Relative pronouns are used as a linking device in the construction often referred to as cleft.
||I'm one that has spoken to a King, I am. (210)
Moreover, in descriptive relative constructions relative pronouns are scarcely more than grammatical markers.
||Here he looked at Tweedledee, who immediately sat down on the ground, and tried to hide himself under the umbrella. (191)
In keeping with the heavy reliance of past grammars on morphological markers, clauses introduced by relative pronouns
have been viewed as comparable, whether they are restrictive or descriptive. Unlike many languages, English uses relative
clauses in both restrictive and descriptive functions, distinguishing them primarily through intonation. Even a language as
closely related to English as German has demonstrative clauses corresponding to English descriptive or appositional relatives.
The many studies devoted to explicating differences between the two types of English relative clauses might gain perspective
from examination of comparable constructions in other languages. For in descriptive relative clauses the pronoun is largely
a grammatical marker. In (26.10) who
could be replaced with and he
or but he
. The relative pronoun is a
compact and convenient device in a linguistic type requiring expression for subjects and objects.
The prominence of pronouns in SVO languages is paralleled by that of other substitutes, both for substantives
and for other syntactic elements. Among these further substitutes are quantity words and numerals.
||It's laid for a great many more than three. (75)
Besides the pronoun it
, which refers to 'table', the quantity word more
and the numeral three
refer to guests at a meal.
As for pronouns, such use of substitutes is connective, in providing close relationships with previous matter.
In this way it is similar to use of anaphoric elements: this, that, here, there.
||"That you won't!" thought Alice. (46)
(That = Then I'll go round and get in at the window.)
The substitute refers to an entire sentence expressing the
rabbit's proposed action. Anaphoric particles, such as so
, may also substitute for entire sentences.
||"There ought to be some men moving about somewhere — and so there are!" (164)
(So = Some men are moving about.)
Auxiliaries such as forms of DO commonly substitute for verbs, as had
does below, indicating past perfect tense:
||"She's grown a good deal!" was her first remark. She had indeed. (160)
A further prominent anaphoric device is deletion, which is carried out under highly specified conditions, as has
long been observed, to yield a zero substitute. Thus in coordination specific elements can be elided, such as subjects and other constituents.
||At last he said, "You're traveling the wrong way," and (O = he) shut up the window, and (O = he) went away. (170)
||... and everybody jumped up in alarm, Alice (O = jumped up) among the rest. (172)
Substitutes may also refer to adverbial phrases, as does there
in (27.6) for a phrase like along the river-bank
||There are some scented rushes! (204)
In a further use there
has been extended as a pure grammatical marker in foregrounding, where it occupies the place of the
grammatical subject but is in no way anaphoric.
||There's certainly too much pepper in that soup! (66)
The grammatical application of there
for emphasis is so prominent in English that it will be discussed separately below. Like other
anaphoric elements, there
has come to be a grammatical marker, assisting in providing flexibility of expression in the SVO pattern.
Flexibility of expression is achieved also through the process known as passivization. With the introduction of
a passive the emphasis falls on the object, or the verb, rather than on the agent of the action, commonly the subject of active verbs.
When misused, as often in technical language, passive constructions lead to dullness, as Carroll demonstrates with his satirization
of historical writing.
||William the Conqueror, whose cause was favored by the Pope, was soon submitted to by the English. (36)
Presumably the passive is so favored in technical and scientific writing because it permits an SV sequence when the agent
is unknown, or unimportant.
||She had read several nice little stories about children who had got burnt ... (27) (Mention of the agent of the burning is not essential.)
||I must have been changed for Mabel. (29) (The agent of the change is not known.)
The avoidance of mention of an agent thus may lead to emphasis on the verbal phrase. In the following example
the target or object is highlighted more than it would be in the active variant: "They shall not behead you."
||"You sha'n't be beheaded!" said Alice. (88)
Such an effect results even if the agent is introduced, as in the second example followed by a participle with passive force:
||"Not quite right, I'm afraid," said Alice, timidly: "some of the words have got altered." (58)
||I wish they'd get the trial done. (114)
The active possible variant: 'I wish they'd finish the trial" is less forceful.
Passivization thus leads to foregrounding of the predicate, whether its object or its verb, or both. It achieves
this effect in part by deleting the subject.
||How is that to be done, I wonder? (62)
An active variant:
||How am I to do that?
would specify a definite actor, here I
, or an unidentified actor:
||How is anyone to do that?
Definite mention of the first person actor would go counter to the sense, for someone besides the speaker might carry out
the action. Mention of unidentified actors also is avoided, as unnecessary in view of the effect of the passive construction.
||There ought to be a book written about me, that there ought. (45)
Its function in this way may be most forcibly illustrated by noting that indirect objects may become subjects of passive verbs
as well as direct objects.
||She was given a book.
In the same way the passive in English does not require that an agent be included to correspond to the subject of the active variant.
||That town can only be reached by boat.
This sentence may be derived from:
||One can only reach that town by boat.
which does not lead to:
||That town can only be reached by someone with a boat.
The passive in English then is not simply a voice used when "the subject is represented as the receiver or
product of an action" but rather a grammatical construction used for highlighting constituents which by their normal order in an SVO
pattern do not receive such emphasis. It is conveniently used for constructions in which the active subject would be an inanimate or
||She ... noticed that they [insides of the well] were filled with cupboards and bookshelves. (18)
(Not: cupboards filled them)
For somewhat the same reason the passive is used with verbs that combine an appositional element with an object.
||It was labeled "ORANGE MARMALADE." (18)
(Not: Someone had labeled it "ORANGE MARMALADE.")
In contrast with the passive in many other languages, such as Japanese, the English passive construction then is a grammatical
device primarily for foregrounding the verbal action or its object, but other constituents of the predicate as well.
4.7.4. Foregrounding; Topicalization
Other devices as well may be used for highlighting or topicalization. The subject may be taken out of
the clause, and its place filled with a pronoun.
||As to the bottles, they each took a pair of plates. (266)
Often the subject is placed last, in rhetorically emphatic
position; the construction is commonly referred to as extraposition.
||It's rather curious, you know, this sort of life! (44)
By extraposition especially subjects are highlighted, whether they are nouns, or nominal phrases or clauses.
It then serves as anticipatory subject.
||It'll never do for you to be lolling about in the grass like that! (250)
||Wouldn't it be much easier to leave it behind? (70)
Other syntactic elements, such as adjectives, adverbs, and prepositions, may also be foregrounded by placement
in initial position.
||How surprised he'll be when he finds out who I am. (43)
||Very soon the Rabbit noticed Alice. (43)
||Up I goes like a sky-rocket. (48)
Change of order, often to initial position, then is a frequently used device for foregrounding constituents,
Distribution of emphasis is also carried out by use of the existential there. This construction avoids
foregrounding of any one constituent of the sentence, highlighting instead the entire situation rather than either the action or the actor.
||There was a dispute going on between the Executioner, the King, and the Queen. (93)
Neither the dispute nor its progress nor the set of disputants is of central concern but rather the dispute in its progress among them.
This pattern then is a device to avoid
the inherent highlighting given to subjects in SVO languages or to elements in final position, as the following examples also illustrate.
||There was a large mushroom growing near her. (52)
||And certainly there was a most extraordinary noise going on within. (64)
Grammatical devices have then been developed in English which highlight individual constituents or the substance of the entire sentence.
A special construction which has come to be highly prominent for highlighting individual constituents is known
as clefting. By "cleaving" the clause through use of it with a form of BE, this construction gives special emphasis to the element
after BE, whether it is the subject, object, or other constituent.
||It was this last remark that had made the whole party look so grave and anxious. (94)
(Not: This past remark had made the whole party look grave and anxious.)
The sentence in parentheses would single out the appearance of the whole party as grave and anxious; the cleft sentence highlights
The emphasized elements may or may not be followed by a relative pronoun.
||It's the most curious thing I ever saw in my life! (74)
Conjunctions may also be used when appropriate.
||It was so long since she had been anything near the right size that it felt quite strange at first. (62)
Cleft sentences may be interrogative, or subordinate.
||Is that the reason so many things are put out here? (80)
||Alice knew it was the Rabbit coming to look for her. (46)
As in this last example, the clefted sequence may be reduced to a participial clause.
Clefting has led to patterns which use other devices than the anticipatory subject it, notably there.
||There could be no doubt that it had a very turn-up nose. (70)
The nonclefted sentence would be impossible without further change. (*That it had a turn-up nose could be no doubt.) Such
extensions of clefting illustrate its special force in the language.
A similar construction, known as pseudo-clefting, distributes foregrounding so that it does not fall on the
object or other constituent put in first place.
||A loaf of bread ... is what we chiefly need. (186)
The simple version of this sentence would highlight the object as last element.
||We chiefly need a loaf of bread.
Typically, a pseudo-cleft places what
initially, rather than in the modification applied by Carroll:
||What we chiefly need is a loaf of bread.
The construction is then similar to the use of interrogatives in exclamations or indirect questions.
||What a fight we might have for the crown, now! (231)
||Where the noise came from, she couldn't make out. (237)
Like these it achieves emphasis for an element by arranging it nearer the first position in the sentence.
Grammatical processes have in this vay been developed in SVO languages which compensate for some of their
rigidities or even inadequacies. English is not unique in developing such processes. Nor are the processes developed in English the only
possible ones for variety of expression in the SVO type. Those in other languages, such as German es
(ist) 'it (is)' in clefting, or the French c'est 'it is', might be similarly
explored and illustrated here. Yet English provides adequate illustration of the devices used to introduce flexibility in a language,
whatever the strengths and disadvantages of its simple structures. Further typological study will identify the array of such constructions
in SVO languages, as well as in languages of the other types, and in this way increase our understanding of language.
4.8. Morphological Characteristics
A number of morphological characteristics have been identified for specific language types. Prominent among
these is the placement of affixes, notably those expressing the verbal qualifiers. In VSO languages these precede the central verb; in OV
languages, on the other hand, they follow, as is illustrated by the Japanese verbal inflections in Chapter 2. The placement of qualifier
affixes is in accordance with the principle of arrangement stated in section 1.3. VSO languages have prefixes; OV languages have suffixes.
The principle applies also in some degree to expressions for case in the noun and to derivational processes. VSO
languages thus often modify the initial word in genitive constructions, e.g., Classical Hebrew dāvār
'word', dəvar elohim 'word of God'; inflection for congruence may not however observe the principle. Like
inflection for qualifiers, in VO languages derivational affixes are commonly prefixed while in OV languages they are suffixed. Yet it must
be observed that morphological characteristics are highly conservative, and accordingly the patterning of affixes in any language at a
given time must be carefully interpreted. It may represent an archaic situation, or a characteristic which is being eliminated but is still
relatively widespread. English illustrates such situations. In the older period, especially in its most archaic materials, it maintains a
relatively rich system of suffixed inflections. These have steadily been reduced in the course of the history of English, until today the
remaining inflections are secondary in importance to the device of arrangement and to the use of function words.
As noted above, English has very few inflections, many fewer than did Old English. Hypotheses have been proposed
in attempts to account for their loss. Some scholars have ascribed it to phonological reasons, pointing to the introduction of a strong
initial stress accent in Proto-Germanic which in their view led to a consequent loss of inflectional suffixes. Others have advanced as
counterargument to this hypothesis the observation that new elements might have been introduced as the older inflectional suffixes were
It may also be observed that SVO languages by their basic structure do not require elements to identify the most
frequent cases, those for the subject and object. Such identification is achieved by position of the verb. Accordingly inflection
for case may well be unnecessary in SVO languages when the order of elements is fixed. Before it is fixed, however, affixes
are significant in indicating case forms and concord classes. Languages moving toward an SVO structure, like Classical Greek
and Latin, and to a lesser extent Old English, then tend to have a full set of affixes to indicate concord of descriptive
and limiting adjectives with nouns, and of nominal elements with verbs, as well as some cases.
In SOV and similarly in VSO languages, on the other hand, devices are necessary to distinguish subjects and
objects, or to distinguish sequences of two nouns, as is often done for genitive : noun sequences with a device like that illustrated
above for Classical Hebrew. Such distinction may be made with affixes, but also as in Japanese with particles. In OV languages these
particles are postposed; in VO languages they are preposed. Greenberg has advanced a universal that an SOV language "almost
always has a case system" (1966: 113 #41). As may be noted in the Japanese examples of Chapter 2, this universal is valid
if nouns plus postpositions are assumed to make up case systems; these then are semantic systems, not necessarily morphologically
marked. Under such assumption, then, case systems are important for both VSO and SOV languages; in VSO languages preposed
particles or prepositions may distinguish different case relationships as postposed elements do in SOV languages.
In English on the other hand case relationships may be unspecified, as with the frequently cited verbs which
permit a variety of semantic cases to be used without special marking, such as open.
||The custodian opened the door. (Subject = agent)
||The key opened the door. (Subject = instrument)
||The door opened. (Subject = target or object)
Moreover, clauses having verbs with an indirect object as well as a direct may distinguish these simply by means of arrangement.
||The attendant showed the visitors their room.
Inflection then, or even the expression of case relationships by means of particles, is not prominent in English.
In nouns all inflection for case has been lost with the exception of the genitive. Yet as noted above the
inflected genitive has also been replaced largely by phrases with the preposition of. Pronominal inflection is more conservative
in maintaining distinct object forms in six elements: I : me, he : him, she : her, we :
us, they : them, who : whom. Here too, however, the usage is observed less than in the past; especially
after prepositions the old nominative form is often used. Case inflection then has been receding in English, and is still.
Of the various verb qualifiers, apart from the participles only the past tense has retained a morphological
marker, generally by means of the D suffix: heed : heeded, hiss : hissed, heel : heeled, with
internal inflection yielding to it. The other qualifiers, as discussed above, are expressed through function words.
English then, as a characteristic SVO language, makes little use of inflection. The most prominent inflected
elements maintained are those for concord categories: plural number in the noun and third person singular in the verb. Having preserved
these inflections, English has not succeeded
to the state of Chinese, which has had SVO structure far longer. While loss of final elements as a result of strong initial
stress must be taken into account, English lends support to the hypothesis that SVO languages with fixed word order will tend
to give up inflection for case in the noun and for qualifiers in the verb.
The derivational processes of English are in great part conservative, for compounds are made in accordance with
OV patterning. Nouns and adjectives prepose the modifying element to the modified element, as in Cheshire Cat, queer-looking,
and so on. Moreover, suffixation is the primary derivational process in complex words, as in curiosity, remarkable,
Yet in the past two millennia prefixes have come to be prominent, whether in nouns, verbs, or other elements,
as in insolence, adjourn, aloud. These formations, as noted above, go counter to the OV constraint against prefixes.
Other OV patterns of the early period have been abandoned, such as the use of object-verb compounds, as in Old English yrfe-numa
'inheritance + taker = heir'. Nor have they been modified to the VO pattern of such compounds, which is prominent in Chinese and also in
Japanese borrowings based on Chinese, as in the well-known pair: (OV) hara-kiri 'stomach-cut', (VO)
seppuku 'cut-stomach' for a traditional Japanese form of suicide. The English verbs of this OV compounding
pattern, like baby-sit, are generally assumed to be back formations from adjectival compounds, such as baby-sitting.
Accordingly they are not productive formations of the OV pattern. The predominant patterns of derivation are then archaic residues from
the Proto-Indo-European and early dialect periods.
4.8.3. Morphophonemic Processes
Sandhi changes have for the most part been treated as processes of individual languages rather than as processes
to be associated with specific types of language. The lack of concern for general principles may be understood, for phonological processes
seem remote from patterns of arrangement related to expressions of meaning. Yet a general tendency has been proposed: OV languages
tend to have progressive assimilation if the appropriate phonological conditions are present, and VO languages to have regressive.
If appropriate conditions exist for vowels to be modified, OV languages then would have vowel harmony — defined as modification
of later vowels in a word by earlier vowels — and VO languages would have umlaut, that is, modification of earlier vowels by
later. Similar directions of modification would prevail in consonant assimilation.
Modern English shows no consistent direction of modification. In the major inflectional suffixes, such as the
suffixes in the past and past participle [əd t d], the assimilation is progressive. In most derivational
suffixes, however, the assimilation is regressive; t > š before a former palatal
j with -ious, e.g., vivacious, or t >
š/č? with -ion, e.g., action, and -ure,
e.g., posture, and so on. The progressive assimilation of the inflectional affixes involves the oldest morphological markers, yet
it would be hazardous to suggest that in contrast with that in derivation this assimilation should be related to the older OV structure
of pre-Old English. Phonological processes have not been extensively investigated with attention to the structure of their language.
When they are, the many variables involved in specific developments must be noted with regard to both specific languages and specific
phonological changes. On the basis of such investigations, more precise generalizations
may be proposed in the future. If English were to be characterized for phonological processes at present, these like its derivational
patterns would be said to reflect in great part its earlier OV structure, accompanied by phonological changes expected in VO languages.
4.9. Phonological Characteristics
English syllables show a wide range of structures, from simple vowels as in a to sequences opened and
closed by several consonants, as in sprints. While English shows such diverse syllabic structures, these can only tenuously be
related to language types. The most readily observable correlation is that between OV languages and sequences of open syllables. The
Japanese examples in Chapter 2 provide good illustrations, though similar observations could be cited from other OV languages, such as
the Dravidian or the Turkic. The early Germanic material also manifests such a structure, as in the frequently cited Gallehus inscription.
||'I Hlewagastir of Holt made the horn.'
When one notes that the first person pronoun ek
had lost a final a
vowel, and that syllables like
- and hor
- reflect vocalic resonants, the syllabic structure of Proto-Germanic from which English developed was virtually
as open as that of Japanese. On this basis we can account for the regularity of the first Germanic consonant shift, for virtually all
the shifted consonants stood in the same position in their syllables, either before syllables or before resonants.
The change in Modern English to closed syllables with final consonant clusters, as in guest versus
horn versus hor-na, is ascribed to losses of finals resulting from a heavy initial stress accent. Yet, as with the change to
little inflection in English, the relationship between change of language type and change of syllabic structure is intriguing. OV languages
are often agglutinative in morphology, and the suffixed syllables seem readily added if of a C(C)V structure, as in Japanese,
or in other OV languages, as the following Quechua verb form illustrates:
||'they finally fought each other'
(Bills et al. provide many further examples — 1969: 335.) In nonagglutinative languages, by contrast, there are no grounds for
such syllabic structure. The English syllabic patterning may then be characteristic of SVO languages, and accordingly may
contrast with a favored pattern for OV languages with their predominantly open syllables.
The current English suprasegmental system was established some time before the beginning of our era, but not so
much earlier that the final syllables were reduced by the time the Gallehus inscription was produced — about 350 A.D. When it was
established, a stress accent system was introduced for words or word-like groups, and a pitch system maintained for clause intonation
patterns. Earlier both word groups and clauses were characterized by pitch patterns, somewhat as in Japanese today. Sentence (1) may
be used to illustrate the two systems of the current language.
||Alice folded her hands.
||Word-grouping, based on stress groups:
ǽləs fówlded ərǽndz
||Clause grouping, based on pitch alignments:
2æləs fowlded ər3ændz1
As the indications above for strong stress (´) and high pitch (3
) indicate, the highest pitch of an English clause or
simple sentence coincides with a strong stress. Some uses of the resulting intonation patterns have been discussed above, in section 4.3,
examples (10) and (11).
Suprasegmental patterns have not been adequately studied in relation to language types, so that also with
reference to them any generalizations will have to wait for considerably further study. Yet stress systems, accompanied by reduction
of vowels, seem to be associated with VO languages, whether VSO or SVO, and pitch systems with OV languages. But the patterning and
relationship of possible systems with specific language types is imprecise. To judge from their distribution in specific areas of the
world, suprasegmental systems seem to be diffused among neighboring languages. Information on the basis and history of a suprasegmental
system in any given language must be known, as well as the system of neighboring languages, before any useful statements can be made
about its relationship with the structure of that language. For English and its earlier stages in any event, the suprasegmental systems
are quite clear, that for the stage preceding ca. 500 B.C. as well as that today.
English has a moderate number of consonant and vowel phonemes, however its segmental system is analyzed. The
figure of twenty-four consonants can be well supported; the vowels range in the neighborhood of fifteen, depending on the analyst's views.
The structure of the segmental portion of
phonological systems seems to have little relationship with the typological structure of a language. Yet OV languages commonly
have relatively small sets of vowels, as in Japanese and Proto-Indo-European. VSO languages, however, may also contain few
vowels, as does Arabic. While the sets of consonants and vowels seem to be the last formal elements which might be governed
by principles regulating other characteristics of a language, they too must be carefully studied, for possible relationship
with language types.
There seem to be no grounds for relating semantic structures with the syntactic, morphological, or phonological
structures of a language. To propose associating a numeral system, for example, a decimal or a quaternary, with any formal linguistic
structure is totally unwarranted in view of our information about languages. As another example the distribution of kinship
systems, like the Omaha, shows no relation with formal linguistic characteristics. Semantic systems must accordingly be treated
apart from typological patterns based, as here, on form.
In recent treatments of typological patterning, even many syntactic constructions have been excluded. One example
is the order of descriptive adjectives preceding nouns, as in the little old tumble-down houses. Their order seems determined more
by semantic than by formal criteria which are language specific.
Further study may disclose such relationships, and also significant patterns beyond the thirty dealt with above.
Investigation of additional languages will also clarify the relationships between functional, pragmatic, and syntactic forces. The three
following chapters exemplify procedures that may be pursued in such investigations. Yet English too, as the examples in this
chapter illustrate, shows the forces
at work in living language which modify the basic patterns to produce richness of communication without interfering with the
underlying principles that determine its basic structure.