Head-directionality parameter

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In linguistics, the head directionality parameter is a proposed parameter that classifies word order according to the placement of heads in phrases. Head directionality is also understood in terms of the direction of branching.


In head-directionality parameter, one distinguishes between two major types of phrases:

  • Head-initial (= right-branching) phrases: Heads precede their dependents.
  • Head-final (= left-branching) phrases: Heads follow their dependents.

This assumes the language has a fixed word order in that part of its grammar to begin with. English and Romance languages are often given as examples of head-initial languages, whereas Japanese and Basque are often given as examples of head-final languages, meaning that these languages have a consistent word order across all areas of their grammar. For example, English, German, and Japanese each construct verb phrases in different ways:

English (head-initial): Kim has put the book on the table.
German (head-final): Kim hat das Buch auf den Tisch gelegt, dt.: [Kim-has the-book on-the-table put].
Japanese (head-final): Kimu wa tēburu no ue ni hon o oita (キムはテーブルの上に本を置いた), dt.: [Kim [topic] table [of (as in possessing the)] top [onto] book [object] put]

However, this simple dichotomy runs into a major problem when used to classify entire languages in this way. Many languages, even considering only those with relatively fixed word orders, are not consistently either head-initial or head-final across different areas of their grammar. This fact means that it is hardly possible to classify languages as entirely head-initial or entirely head-final. Even languages that are considered strongly head-initial (such as French) contain certain head-final phrases, and vice versa: even languages that are considered strongly head-final (such as Japanese) contain certain head-initial phrases.


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See also[edit]


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Works cited[edit]

  • Baker, M. (2001) The Atoms of Language
  • Radford, A. (1997) Syntax. A Minimalist Introduction

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