drift from OV to VO

bingfu bingfu at USC.EDU
Tue May 26 16:27:19 UTC 1998

Dear Netters,

 On Sat, 24 Jan 1998, Frederick Newmeyer wrote:

  Matthew Dryer has shown that, once we correct for areal and genetic
  the 'preference' for OV order is greater than that for VO order in the
  world's languages. But interestingly, I have seen it claimed in a
  of places that attested (or uncontroversially reconstructed) word order
  changes from OV to VO are far more common than those from VO to OV.

  My first question is how widely accepted is such a claim among
  linguists and typologists? Is there much support for such an idea and
  implication of an overall general 'drift' from OV to VO?

  If this claim seems well motivated, the conjunction of the 'preference'
  for OV and the 'drift' to VO is very curious, no? One might even
  that the OV preference is a remnant of a 'proto-world' OV (caused by
  what?), which functional forces (but what functional forces?) are
  gradually to VO. And, indeed, linguists coming from a variety of
  directions(Venneman, Givon, Bichakjian, and others) have concluded
  something very much along those lines.

  I'm curious what thoughts FUNKNET subscribers might have on this
  I'll summarize if there is enough interest.

Fritz  <fjn at u.washington.edu>

I regard Newmeyer's query very interesting and theoretically
significant.  It seems to be
a pity that responses to his query have been far from enough so far.
To solicit more discussion on the issue,
I venture to posting my tentative opinions below.

There may be several reasons for proto-languages to tend be OV rather than

For instance, OV and SV are harmonious.  Both O and S are dependents of
the head V.
Languages prefer OV over VO just like they prefer SV over VS.

Proto-languages are expected to be simple in terms of nominal expressions.
However, along with the developing of NP internal structure and
 the extension of the size of NP, the pressure to move large NP
 to the end of sentence increases too.  Between S and O, O is
more likely to be heavy.  That is why O, but not S, tend to postpone.

Matthew Dryer 1980's  "The Positional Tendencies of
Sentential Noun Phrases in Universal Grammar."
(Canadian Journal of Linguistics 25: 12-195)
argues that postposing of sentential NPs is overall
preferred over preposing.  Languages only resort to preposing when
postposing would violate the rigid V-final order.

3. In addition, a heavy O is normally a piece of new information.
New information tends to appear later
in the sentence. Therefore, everything else being equal, a heavy
O tends postpone rather than prepose.

4. On the other hand, if a language starts with SVO order, there seems
no obvious motivation to drift to SOV, unless O is a pronominal or

In short, the drift from OV to VO is motivated by the processing ease.

Based on the above conjectures, I think now the issue is why
some verb-final languages are so stubborn to resist O proposing rather
than why O postpose.
According to Steele's "word order variation" (1978), half of SOV
languages (nonrigid OV pattern) allow SVO orders.
I wonder are there some common typological features shared by
all rigid OV languages?

Bingfu Lu

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