Japanese (historical and dialectal) word order(development)

Tom Givon tgivon at uoregon.edu
Sun Jul 10 16:34:34 UTC 2005

Dear Bittor,

One could make a few methodological suggestions about how to approach the problem(s) you raised:

1. Synchronic morphology is most often the best guide for reconstructing older syntax. There is not a single shred of evidence in Japanese morphology indicating anything but SOV syntax (see Givon 1971, 1979, 1983 ed., 2001, inter alia).

2. In general, SOV is the oldest attested word-order in human language. Most natural (non-contact induced) drift is, as far as I know, always away from SOV, not toward it (Givon 1979; Ruhlen & Gell-Man, forthcoming).

3. All natural languages with 'rigid' word-order have much free-er word-order in actual natural (oral) communication, with much pramatically-determined variation. Put another way, rigid WO is relative, never absolute.

These are all old hats, by the way, so much so that I feel somewhat embarrassed to re-state them (again...).

Best regards,  TG


Bittor Hidalgo wrote:

> It is everywhere rigidly claimed that Japanese is (always) a rigid verb final language. But has always been so? I have no reference about Japanese historical and dialectal word order development and variation, and I would thank any.
> My concern would be to know if Japanese has always and everywhere been so a rigid-verb-final language? Or on the contrary, as it is the case of other characteristics (cf. Gottlieb, 2005), verb rigid finality is also a claime, more or less born or rigidly developed at the last century, with the general standardization process of Japanese? Beside, I would definitely want to know if even current Japanese spontaneous (oral) word order is so rigidly verb final as claimed? Because between some other, at least P.M. Clancy (1982) or Matsumoto (2003) claim that Japanese spoken word order is not so rigid (as Matsumoto says, 4: Japanese spoken discourse consists not only of basic canonical SOV word order constructions involving pre-predicate elements, but also of marked word order constructions involving post-predicate elements). And Shibamoto (1985, ap. Gottlieb 2005, 14) «found that women often reverse the normal word order, putting the subject after the predicate», where predicate seems to
> include the verb). Then, what is Japanese rigid verb final condition, a description or a desideratum? And if Japanese is so a rigid verb final language how can the current Japanese hearer or listener manage to easily understand verb final long (very long) sentences, as those with verbs of thinking or saying? Maybe, it is necessary for them to start reading (not listening, of couse, they can not) by the end to understand sentences, as it is usually recommended for foreigners («Sometimes it is good to start from the end of the sentence and work your way to the beginning. In that way you will learn the most important info first (the verb) and move to what is made to happen and who does it.»). Because cognitive processement constrictions seem to be more or less similar for humankind, ... And by the same way, how does children language work? Is it also so rigid verb final always?
> ---------------------------------------------
> Bittor Hidalgo Eizagirre /Victor/
> k/ Intxaurrondo, 54, 4. A
> 20015 Donostia (Euskal Herria)
> (Espainia gainezarpenez)
> Tfnoa eta faxa: 943-273748 // 655728290
> posta-e: bittorhidalgo at euskalnet.net

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