query: left-right asymmetry in order variation

Matthew S Dryer dryer at ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU
Sat Mar 7 09:00:05 UTC 1998

In response to some of Jon Aske's remarks

>I really do not think that you can say, for example, that in
>some languages [Adv DO V] is preferred, whereas in others [DO Adv V] is
>preferred.  First of all, what is meant by "preferred"?  Statistical
While I agree that it is important to investigate the factors
governing alternations of this sort (something many of us are
actively investigating in many languages), the preference in
many languages is essentially a syntactic requirement.
Furthermore, I think Jon Aske misses the point.  Regardless
of what factors underly these preferences in different
languages, the fact remains that there is an asymmetry here,
that we find both types of OV languages but not both types of
VO languages.

>Is the adverb a setting adverbial (as temporals and
>locatives typically are), or a focal adverbial (as manner adverbials
>typically are). Or is it neither setting nor focus, as adverbs sometimes
These generalizations are specifically based on manner
adverbials, though similar generalizations obtain for
adverbials that are not setting adverbials.

>Very few (VO) languages are probably as adamant as English
>about having the object in immediately postverbal position.
It is quite obvious looking at textual data for many VO languages
that contrary to what Jon Aske suggests, many if not the
majority of VO languages are as "adamant as English about
having the object in immediately postverbal position".  We
must be careful not to overgeneralize from European

>But even for that, I'm sure
>that there is a reason (not just a formal generalization).
It is important not to confuse a descriptive generalization
from a formal generalization offered as a (pseudo-)
explanation.  Nobody is suggesting that the descriptive
generalization that there is the asymmetry here between OV
and VO languages is an explanation.  Of course, there has to
be a reason, but one virtue of much work in typology in
contrast to formal theoretical work is that it seeks to
discover descriptive generalizations by examining enough
languages rather than rushing prematurely to attempted
explanation.  We can't explain generalizations without first
finding them.  Too much formal theoretical work attempts to
explain putative generalizations that turn out to be
artifacts of a very small number of languages examined.

Matthew Dryer

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