SOV vs SVO word order

Richard Parker richardparker01 at YAHOO.COM
Sat Jul 5 07:01:46 UTC 2008

PNAS has published an apparently clever experiment that suggests the natural human instinct is to think in SOV order, while about 50% of languages actually use SVO order.
For a blog explaining the paper, see:
and for the paper itself:
The experimenters tested gestural order amongst English, Spanish, Chinese (presumably Mandarin) and Turkish. English and Spanish are SVO, as is Chinese (although it seems to be undergoing a change) but Turkish is strictly SOV. All of them tended mostly to 'act out' simple sentences in SOV order, quite counter-intuitively.
The researchers also found that in 'non-schooled' sign languages this is the preferred order.
I would be very interested in hearing reactions to this from professionals, especially to the questions raised by the researchers themselves:
1) Do the earliest languages in a family follow SOV order?
2) Why on earth should they change to another order? (Except, of course, if they come across someone else who has already done it, but then the explanation is required for the 'someone else' doing it).
3) Does language really reflect thinking processes? Sapir-Whorf, anyone?
Austronesian Counting now up at:
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