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Word Order and Case Endings

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viedums
Hexaglot
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 Message 1 of 13
23 September 2013 at 5:53am | IP Logged 
Word Order and Case Endings

The second half of this article presents an interesting generalization about SVO and SOV languages. Apparently SOV languages are more likely to have case endings than SVO languages are. Of course, there are plenty of SVO languages that do have case endings, including many from Europe – this is only a bias or tendency, not an absolute universal.

I like how the writer connects this tendency with human psychology/perception. The final point is worth thinking about too: “You might wonder why SOV languages exist at all, particularly since they typically make you learn all those annoying word endings.”


Edited by viedums on 23 September 2013 at 5:55am

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Cabaire
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 Message 2 of 13
23 September 2013 at 12:32pm | IP Logged 
Quote:
You might wonder why SOV languages exist at all, particularly since they typically make you learn all those annoying word endings

This sounds more like a victim of a Latin Grammar School than a serious thinker.

Edited by Cabaire on 23 September 2013 at 12:33pm

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vonPeterhof
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 Message 3 of 13
23 September 2013 at 5:47pm | IP Logged 
Quote:
In contrast, Japanese, like most SOV languages (languages where the typical word order is Subject, Object, Verb) does mark case, with -wa added to subjects and -o added to direct objects. “Yasu saw the bird” is translated as “Yasu-wa tori-o mita” and “The bird saw Yasu” is translated as “Tori-wa Yasu-o mita.”
Grrrr... urge to nitpick... rising....
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Aquila123
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 Message 4 of 13
13 October 2013 at 4:16pm | IP Logged 
The languages that are least likely to have case endings and postpositions are VSO-languages. But even here case endings can exists, for example in classical Arabic which has 3 cases.

Modern Uralic languages are mostly SVO and they are among the most case-rich languages on earth.

Finnish has 15-20 cases, depending on what you count as case forms, Hungarian has over 20. The Finnish case forms are more latin-like, more genuine case forms, though, with agreement of attributes.

Edited by Aquila123 on 13 October 2013 at 4:16pm

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Chung
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 Message 5 of 13
13 October 2013 at 6:43pm | IP Logged 
From the languages that I know, I'm not so sure if I can take this bias that seriously.

From what I know of the Uralic languages, it's suspected that Proto-Uralic sentences tended to be SOV or rather Topic-Focus-Verb (roughly speaking the topic is a single noun or a noun phrase, the focused element can be anything including adverbs or adverbial phrases in addition to the topic itself). However Estonian, Finnish, and the Saamic languages show a lot of instances of SVO and these probably reflect influence from the Indo-European languages used in neighbouring territories. Mordvin and Hungarian are a bit harder to define since they operate more on a principle that the sentence's focused element precedes the verb. This can easily lead to idiomatic or "natural" sentences where the topic or subject follows the verb. The Uralic languages to the east though do tend to be SOV, but I don't know if these sequences reflect continuation of Proto-Uralic's characteristics or influence from other languages (e.g. Turkic).

Even within Uralic languages, the number of cases varies widely. In addition to Finnish and Hungarian which do have at least 15 widely-acknowledged cases, Veps and one of the Komi dialects have 24 cases each. On the other hand, Obdorsk Khanty tends to be SOV but has 3 cases. Northern Saami which tends to be SVO has 6 or 7 cases depending on how you count them.

When it comes to Turkic languages, matters appear less divergent with a strong bias to SOV but the number of cases can be tricky to ascertain (e.g. Turkish has 6 cases, but Uyghur can have between 6 and 10 depending on how you count them).

Another thing that came to mind is when does one say that the number of case endings seems high so that one can start looking for relationships with other typological traits? Although it may seem forbidding to someone that Hungarian has at least 16 cases, what does one do with Slovenian, for example, which has 6 cases (more cases than Obdorsk Khanty and the same number as in Turkish) and tends to be SVO, but Slovenian cases account for grammatical gender and number. When one identifies a genitive ending in Slovenian, is it for masculine, feminine or neuter, and then is it for singular, dual or plural? A Hungarian case ending as a rule corresponds to its case alone and stand as an independent affix as attached but grammatical gender is not marked.

e.g.

ember "person" (nominative singular)
emberek "people" (nominative plural)
embereket "people" (accusative plural)
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viedums
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 Message 6 of 13
14 October 2013 at 7:29am | IP Logged 
Thanks for the thoughtful responses, Aquila and Chung. Indeed, I found this generalization (SOV languages are more likely to have case endings than SVO languages) interesting exactly because it seems counter-intuitive when you look at the Indo-European family. If Finno-Ugric doesn’t conform either, we might wonder what data it’s based on.

However, when we look at some of the major languages of Asia, it actually holds up rather well. On the SVO side, Mandarin and other Sinitic languages, Thai/Lao (and languages of that family generally), Khmer and Vietnamese do not have case endings. Japanese, Korean, Burmese and Tibetan, which are SOV languages, do have case endings. Most languages of South Asia (Sanskrit for instance) are also SOV and have case marking, whether they are Indo-European or belong to other families, as far as I know.

Personally it was kind of a shock to me when I studied Burmese (after doing Mandarin and Thai) and discovered this. The verb-final word order and the endings both definitely added to the difficulty of the language. Clumsy once pointed out a general similarity between Burmese and Japanese – now I think that at the time I didn’t give this idea enough credit.

If we think about the rationale for this again, I don’t think it matters so much *how many* cases a language has – what’s more important is whether it has them or not. Especially whether subject and object are marked (because this would help speakers differentiate these functions even when word order and context do not.) By the way, I don’t think genitive marking (like ‘Bob’s car’ in English) would count, because its primary function is actually within noun phrases, not in the sentence word order. That means English would fit as SVO and without case endings, even though it does have genitive marking.

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michaelyus
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 Message 7 of 13
14 October 2013 at 12:07pm | IP Logged 
The language of Urarina, from northern Peru, is (mainly) OVS. It is a nominative-accusative language, but with position marking this instead of case endings or case prefixes.

I'd like to know how this intersects with other morphosyntactic alignments: does ergativity promote case-marking agent/patient roles; does the Austronesian alignment prevent case marking for the agent/patient roles?

A trawl through WALS might help.


Edited by michaelyus on 14 October 2013 at 12:08pm

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tarvos
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 Message 8 of 13
14 October 2013 at 1:43pm | IP Logged 
viedums wrote:
Thanks for the thoughtful responses, Aquila and Chung. Indeed, I
found this generalization (SOV languages are more likely to have case endings than SVO
languages) interesting exactly because it seems counter-intuitive when you look at the
Indo-European family. If Finno-Ugric doesn’t conform either, we might wonder what data
it’s based on.

However, when we look at some of the major languages of Asia, it actually holds up
rather well. On the SVO side, Mandarin and other Sinitic languages, Thai/Lao (and
languages of that family generally), Khmer and Vietnamese do not have case endings.
Japanese, Korean, Burmese and Tibetan, which are SOV languages, do have case endings.
Most languages of South Asia (Sanskrit for instance) are also SOV and have case
marking, whether they are Indo-European or belong to other families, as far as I know.

Personally it was kind of a shock to me when I studied Burmese (after doing Mandarin
and Thai) and discovered this. The verb-final word order and the endings both
definitely added to the difficulty of the language. Clumsy once pointed out a general
similarity between Burmese and Japanese – now I think that at the time I didn’t give
this idea enough credit.

If we think about the rationale for this again, I don’t think it matters so much *how
many* cases a language has – what’s more important is whether it has them or not.
Especially whether subject and object are marked (because this would help speakers
differentiate these functions even when word order and context do not.) By the way, I
don’t think genitive marking (like ‘Bob’s car’ in English) would count, because its
primary function is actually within noun phrases, not in the sentence word order. That
means English would fit as SVO and without case endings, even though it does have
genitive marking.


Do you consider topic, subject and object marking particles (that are often dropped in
speech) cases? Because to me Korean doesn't have cases. What it has are sentence
function markers and these are not the same as cases to me.


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