Philippine "topic-third" languages sought

Norvin W Richards norvin at MIT.EDU
Mon May 19 03:04:11 UTC 2014

Thanks, Wolfgang!

Just to be clear, what I'm wondering about is really about the word order after the verb.  In Tagalog, for example, you can also say

Ibinigay ng doktor sa bata ang gamot
gave           doctor      child       medicine

…and I've read that there are languages where the post-verbal word order isn't as free as it is in Tagalog.  Cebuano is one of the languages I'd heard that about--but local Cebuano speakers seem to disagree, which may just mean that there are multiple dialects of Cebuano, or that the language is in the process of change, of course.

From: Wolfgang Sperlich [wsperlich at]
Sent: Sunday, May 18, 2014 8:47 PM
To: Norvin W Richards; an-lang at
Subject: RE: [An-lang] Philippine "topic-third" languages sought

Hi Norvin

according to my Philippino colleague who speaks Cebuano, the verb-intial sentence structure is also unmarked in Cebuano, hence your sample sentence would be something like

Gihatog sa  doktor ang tambal    sa bata.
gave       by doctor  of   medicine to child

My area of speciality, the language of Niue, is also verb-intial.


Wolfgang Sperlich
wsperlich at<mailto:wsperlich at>

From: norvin at
To: an-lang at
Date: Sun, 18 May 2014 21:11:51 +0000
Subject: [An-lang] Philippine "topic-third" languages sought

Hello, everybody--

I've read descriptions of the word order of Kalagan, a language of the Philippines, which claim that its word order is 'topic-third'; its clauses are verb-initial, with what Schachter called the 'actor' in second position, and then the 'topic' (or 'trigger', or 'subject', or 'absolutive nominal', or whatever--the argument that's picked out by the verbal morphology that's sometimes called "Philippine-type voice").  In other words, Kalagan is described as a language in which the Tagalog word order in (1) would be acceptable, but any other order of the post-verbal nominals would be out:

(1)  Ibinigay ng doktor ang gamot sa bata
      gave          doctor       medicine  child
 'The doctor gave the medicine to the child'

Does anybody know of other languages of the Philippines with this property?  Happy to post a summary, if it's warranted and of interest.

--Norvin Richards

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