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Linguistics 001: Linguistic Typology. Part II: Further aspects of Typology. Recall that. We are examining some the various ways in which languages differ In the background, the question is how these differences can be reconciled with the idea that there is an innate aspect of language

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Linguistics 001 linguistic typology l.jpg

Linguistics 001: Linguistic Typology

Part II: Further aspects of Typology

Recall that l.jpg
Recall that

  • We are examining some the various ways in which languages differ

  • In the background, the question is how these differences can be reconciled with the idea that there is an innate aspect of language

  • In our final examples from the last lecture, we began looking at syntactic typology and word order

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Review, cont.

  • We introduced in the abstract some different types of variation:

    • Whether a language has a fixed word-order or not

    • What the fixed word-order of the language is in the first place

    • Whether there have to be subject and object Noun Phrases in the first place

  • Our illustration concentrated on the first type, whether or not a language allows free word order

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Today’s topics

  • Word order typology, continued

  • Ergativity

  • Morphology: Templates…

Comparison l.jpg

  • English:

    • The man saw the vessel. (SVO)

  • Mapudungun:

    • All six possibilities of linear order are grammatical

  • The idea was that in Mapudungun, information about subject, object etc. is found in the verbal morphology

Word orders l.jpg
Word Orders

  • In addition to allowing SVO sentences, all of the other possible arrangements are grammatical as well:

    • INche metawe pefin. SOV

    • Metawe iNche pefin. OSV

    • Metawe pefin iNche OVS

    • Pefin metawe iNche VOS

    • Pefin iNche metawe VSO

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Agreement and Free Word Order

  • How are the grammatical roles of these noun phrases determined?

  • Above the verb is given as


  • This verb actually has a lot of information in it:



  • That is, the verb says that the subject is first person singular, and that there is a third person object.

  • Thus the different word orders can be understood as expressing the same basic proposition

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Free Word Order and Case

  • Another type of language that has free word order shows case morphology.

  • Consider the following forms of the noun femina ‘woman’ in Latin (the colon indicates vowel length):

    Singular Plural

    Nom. femina feminae

    Acc. feminam femina:s

    Dat. feminae femini:s

    Gen. feminae femina:rum

    Abl. femina: femini:s

  • Note that the ends of these words indicate the grammatical role. On nouns, such morphemes are called case morphemes

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Case, continued

  • This means that in Latin, where the word order is relatively free, the role that a particular NP plays is encoded on that that NP:

    • Femina canem videt.

      woman-NOM dog-ACC sees

      ‘The woman sees the dog’

    • Canem femina videt.

    • Videt canem femina.

    • ….

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Nouns and Verbs

  • Whatever order the words may appear in, the Nouns (NPs), as long as the case marking is the same the basic semantics is the same.

  • The information is not entirely marked in the verb, which conveys person, number, tense, but not the full message about the event

  • The verb here is see, marked for 3s and present tense. Both dog and woman are 3s…

  • Latin probably has a “basic” word order (SOV), but uses these variants freely to emphasize or deemphasize different parts of the sentence (Mapudungun too probably)

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Back to basic word orders

  • As we discussed above, there are some languages that do not allow free word order

  • Languages (of this type) tend to display a basic word order, which is used in unmarked circumstances

  • Among these, there are again differences in terms of what order is employed

Possibilities illustrations l.jpg

  • SVO:

    • English: The man ate the apple.

  • SOV (remember Hindi in the last class):

    • Turkish:

      • Hasan öküz-ü ald1.

        Hasan ox-ACC bought.

  • In these two types, what differs is the relative position of the verb and the object NP

  • Remember that a simple way of thinking of this was that the tree structures are the same, with the order of V and the NP object reversed

Remember l.jpg



Rahul VP Aux

NP V “had”

the book read

This is the Hindi version. Look carefully at what has changed.

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  • Basic VOS Word Order:

    • Malagasy (spoken in Madagascar)

      • Nahita ny mpianatra ny vehivavy

        saw the student the woman

        ‘The woman saw the student’

  • VOS doesn’t provide the same challenge as VSO, which we discussed last time (draw the tree…)

  • At the same time, it might be the case that this isn’t just the “subject mirror image” of SVO

Object initial l.jpg

  • While the above patterns are clearly attested, orders in which the object appears first are hard to find

  • One example of OVS:

    • Hixkaryana (Carib, N. Brazil)

      • Toto yahosIye kamara.

        man grab jaguar

        ‘The jaguar grabbed the man’

  • In many cases the situation is complicated because of what it means to have a ‘basic’ word order in the first place (e.g. you can get OVS order in lots of languages; the question is, is this “basic” or not)

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  • Some studies take samples of languages and count the percentages of these types (e.g. Mallinson and Blake 1981):

    • SOV: 41%

    • SVO: 35%

    • VSO: 9%

    • VOS: 2%

    • OVS: 1%

    • OSV: ??

  • While such numbers give us an idea of what’s out there, it is not clear what else we can learn from them, given that the samples are reflections of non-linguistic factors (history)

Verb initial orders vso l.jpg
Verb-initial orders: VSO

  • VSO:

    • Welsh:

      • Lladdodd y ddraig y dyn.

        killed the dragon the man

        ‘The dragon killed the man.’

  • Question: Can this be derived as straight-forwardly as SVO/SOV, where we just change the order of the VP?

Questions l.jpg

  • Specifically: can we “relinearize” the SVO tree to yield the VSO tree?

  • Answer: Not without “crossing lines”

  • If we do not want to cross lines, then something additional must be happening in VSO languages.

That is l.jpg
That is…

  • Consider:


    NP VP

    The man V NP

    killed the dragon

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English questions…

  • Remember, English is

    • S (AUX) V O

    • John didn’t eat the apples

  • But in questions, the AUX is moved to a position that precedes the subject:

    • Didn’t John t eat eat apples?

  • The same type of solution can be applied to Welsh (and VSO generally)

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Ergativity: An Introduction

  • We’ve seen cases like “Nominative” and “Accusative”; e.g.

    • I saw him.

      • I = nominative case form of 1st singular

      • Him = accusative case form of 3rd singular

  • Even in English, where we don’t see it very often (only in pronouns), we have the following pattern:

    • Subject: Nominative case

    • Object: Accusative case

  • Then we can talk about what is wrong with

    • *Me saw he.

    • *Us ate.

More case l.jpg
More Case

  • As we saw earlier, some languages like Latin mark their nouns for different cases more thoroughly

  • Reviewing, note that we can have

    • Femina poetam videt.

      woman-NOM poet-ACC see-3s

      ‘The woman sees the soldier’

  • Any order of these words means the same thing

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A simple point

  • Here’s an additional point about English and Latin:

    • The subject of an intransitive verb is marked with the same case as the subject of a transitive verb:

      • I ate/I saw him.

      • Femina poetam videt/Femina cantat

        (as on previous) woman-NOM sings

Continuing l.jpg

  • Although English has relatively little morphology, on pronouns, there are distinctions:

    • I saw him; *Me saw him.

    • *He saw I; He saw me.

    • I ran; *Me ran

  • Notice that the subject of an intransitive and the subject of a transitive are identical; objects of transitives are distinct

  • Obvious, right? Not really, because not all languages work that way.

Illustration l.jpg

  • Dyirbal (spoken in Australia):

    • Intransitive

      • Numa banaga-nYu

        father-ABS return-NONFUT

        ‘father returned’

    • Transitive:

      • yabu-Ngu numa bura-n

        mother-ERG father-ABS see-NONFUT

        ‘Mother saw father’

      • Compare:

        • Numa-Ngu Yabu bura-n `father saw mother’

  • Important point:numa ‘father’ is in the same case in the first two examples

  • Follow up: The “special” case in the transitive is on yabu ‘mother’

Terminology l.jpg

  • The cases in languages like Dyirbal (there are many) have different names from ‘nominative’ and ‘accusative’:

    • Subject of Intrans/Object of Trans: Absolutive

    • Subject of Transitive: Ergative

  • This kind of case pattern is often referred to as Ergative(-Absolutive)

Pattern l.jpg

  • One way of visualizing this is as follows

    • Abbreviations:

      • NOM = nominative

      • ACC = accusative

      • ERG = ergative

      • ABS = absolutive

  • Two types:

    Type 1 Type 2

    Subj/Trans NOM ERG

    Subj/Intrans NOMABS

    Obj/Trans ACC ABS

So type 1 = “nominative-accusative language, type 2 = ergative-absolutive language

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Morphological Patterns

  • Recall that in our discussion of morphology we examined cases in which discrete pieces are added to words:

    I walk he/she/it walk-s

    John walk-ed to the store

    I have walk-ed a lot this week.

The range of the pattern l.jpg
The range of the pattern

  • In languages like English, adding morphemes like this performs many different functions

    Example: write

    write write-s writ-er

    writ-ing writ-ing-s

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At the same time

  • We also find cases where there is no overt additional affix:

    Past tense: wrote

  • This is the pattern in other cases

    Sing sang sung

    Ring rang rung

Stem changing l.jpg

  • The non-affixal morphological patterns that we see in English are restricted in scope

  • For the most part, they involve a change to the vowel found in the stem: sing, sang

  • Otherwise, there is no complex rearrangement of the stem form

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Example: Templatic morphology

  • In other languages- we will illustrate with Arabic below- the patterns of stem-changing are quite complex

  • Arabic uses abstract sequences of consonants and vowels to express morphological differences

  • These changes function in conjunction with prefixes and suffixes

Examples l.jpg

  • The basic unit in Arabic (and other Semitic languages) is a root that consists of three consonants:

    ktb ‘write’

  • The basic, active form of verbs shows the following template:


  • In general, a template is an abstract pattern that guides a particular formation or operation

  • There are many such templates

Examples34 l.jpg

  • In addition to knowing the consonants ktb for this Root, the vowels differ by Tense (and active vs. passive)

  • The past:

    katab-tu ‘i wrote’

    katab-a ‘he wrote’

    katab-at ‘she wrote

    katab-uu ‘they(m) wrote’

    katab-na ‘they(f) wrote’

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Further examples

  • While the active (perfective) above has the form CVCVC, another type, the imperfective, has the form


  • So:

    ‘-aktub-u ‘I write’

    y-aktub-u ‘he writes’

    t-aktub-u ‘she writes’