Object–verb–subject

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In linguistic typology, object–verb–subject (OVS) or object–verb–agent (OVA) is a rare permutation of word order. OVS denotes the sequence objectverbsubject in unmarked expressions: Oranges ate Sam, Thorns have roses. While the passive voice in English may appear to be in the OVS order, this is not an accurate description. In an active voice sentence, for example Sam ate the oranges, the grammatical subject, Sam, is the 'agent', who is acting on the 'patient,' the oranges, which are the object of the verb ate. In the passive voice, The oranges were eaten by Sam, the order is reversed so that patient is followed by verb, followed by agent. However, the oranges become the subject of the verb were eaten which is modified by the prepositional phrase by Sam which expresses the agent, maintaining the usual subject–verb–(object) order. OVS sentences in English can be parsed when pronouns mark the case (Him like I.) But such a sentence is nonstandard. This sort of reversed order can also be used in English when relating an adjective to a noun (i.e. "cold is Alaska"), although here cold is a predicative adjective, not an object. A rare example of a valid, if idiomatic, English use of this typology is the poetic hyperbaton 'Answer gave he none.'

Classification[edit]

Word
order
English
equivalent
Proportion
of languages
Example
languages
SOV "She him loves." 45% 45
 
Pashto, Latin, Japanese, Afrikaans
SVO "She loves him." 42% 42
 
English, Hausa, Mandarin, Russian
VSO "Loves she him." 9% 9
 
Biblical Hebrew, Irish, Zapotec, Tuareg
VOS "Loves him she." 3% 3
 
Malagasy, Baure
OVS "Him loves she." 1% 1
 
Apalaí?, Hixkaryana?
OSV "Him she loves." 0% Warao

Frequency distribution of word order in languages
surveyed by Russell S. Tomlin in 1980s.[1][2]

OVS is a class of languages used in the classification of languages according to the dominant sequence of these constituents. In this case the sequence of the constituents is object–verb–subject. This sequence is the rarest of the six possible orderings of subject, verb, and object. Examples of languages that use it include Guarijio, Hixkaryana, Urarina and to some extent also Tapirapé.

Syntax sequence uses[edit]

Although not dominant, this sequence is also possible when the object is stressed in languages that have relatively free word order due to case marking. Arabic, Romanian, Croatian, Basque, Esperanto, Hungarian, Finnish, Russian and, to some extent, German and Dutch, are examples. Some languages, such as Swedish and Norwegian, which normally lack any extensive case marking, allow such structures when pronouns (which are marked for case) are involved, or when the roles are clear from context. In these languages it is fairly often used when the object is already marked as the topic of a discourse and new information is added about the object. OVS is also frequent when there has been a discussion or question about the nature or identity of the object and that question is answered.

Some Norwegian examples of using this word order for object emphasis: Det tror jeg ikke (That believe I not) – I do not believe THAT. Tom så jeg i går (Tom saw I yesterday) – I saw TOM yesterday. Fisk liker katten (fish likes the cat) – The cat likes FISH. In the last example it is highly unlikely that "fish" is the subject, and hence that word order can be used.

In some languages, auxiliary rules of word order can provide enough disambiguation for an emphatic use of OVS. For example, declarative statements in Danish are ordinarily SVnO, where "n" is the position of negating or modal adverbs. However, OVSn can be used to emphasize the object when there is no ambiguity. Thus, "Susanne elsker ikke Omar" (lit. Susanne loves not Omar: Susanne does not love Omar) versus "Omar elsker Susanne ikke" (lit. Omar loves Susanne not: Omar is someone whom Susanne doesn't love) where neither "Omar" nor "Susanne" have case.

The flexibility of word order in Russian also allows for OVS sentences, generally to emphasize the subject. For example: "Я закончил задание" (lit. I finished task/mission: I finished the task/mission) versus "Задание закончил я" (lit. Task/mission finished I: It was I who finished the task/mission).

In constructed languages[edit]

The object–verb–subject sequence also occurs in Interlingua, although the Interlingua Grammar makes no mention of it accepting passive voice. Thomas Breinstrup, editor in chief of Panorama in Interlingua, sometimes uses the sequence in articles written for Panorama.

This sequence was chosen for the artificial language Klingon, a language spoken by the extraterrestrial Klingon race in the fictional universe of the Star Trek series, in order to make the language sound deliberately alien and counterintuitive. Thus, Klingon uses the rarest permutation of expression, which is expected given the designer's goals.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Introducing English Linguistics International Student Edition by Charles F. Meyer
  2. ^ Russell Tomlin, "Basic Word Order: Functional Principles", Croom Helm, London, 1986, page 22