V2 word order
In syntax, verb-second (V2) word order is the most distinctive principle of word order in Germanic languages. The only exception here is English, which has predominantly SVO instead of V2 order, although certain vestiges of the V2 phenomenon can also be found in English. The V2 principle requires that the finite verb (= inflected verb) appear in second position of a declarative main clause, whereby the first position is occupied by a single major constituent that functions as the clause topic. Germanic languages differ with respect to word order in embedded clauses. German and Dutch, for instance, abandon the V2 principle in embedded clauses and replace it with VF (verb final) order, whereas other Germanic languages, e.g. Yiddish and Icelandic, maintain V2 in all clauses, main and embedded.
The following examples from German illustrate the V2 principle:
a. Die Kinder spielen Fussball vor der Schule im Park. the kids play football before school in the park . b. Fussball spielen die Kinder vor der Schule im Park. 'Football play the kids before school in the park.' c. Vor der Schule spielen die Kinder Fussball im Park. 'Before school, play the kids football in the park.' d. Im Park spielen die Kinder vor der Schule Fussball. 'In the park, play the kids before school football.' . e. *Vor der Schule Fussball spielen die Kinder im Park. 'Before school football play the kids in the park.' f. *Fussball die Kinder spielen vor der Schule im Park. 'Football the kids play before school in the park.'
(The asterisk * is the standard means employed in linguistics to indicate that the example is grammatically unacceptable.) The sentences a–d, which are all perfectly acceptable, have the finite verb spielen in second position, whereby the major constituent that appears in the first position varies. The e and f sentences are bad because the finite verb no longer appears in second position there, but rather it has been pushed to the third position. The V2 principle allows any major constituent to occupy the first position as long as the second position is occupied by the finite verb.
The following examples from Dutch illustrate the V2 principle further:
a. De kinderen spelen voetbal voor school in het park. the kids play football before school in the park . b. Voetbal spelen de kinderen voor school in het park. 'Football play the kids before school in the park.' c. Voor school spelen de kinderen voetbal in het park. 'Before school, play the kids football in the park.' d. In het park spelen de kinderen voor school voetbal. 'In the park, play the kids before school football.' . e. *Voor school voetbal spelen de kinderen in het park. 'Before school football play the kids in the park.' f. *Voetbal de kinderen spelen voor school in het park. 'Football the kids play before school in the park.'
We again see in sentence a–d that as long as the finite verb (here spelen) is in second position, the major constituent in first position is variable. When two (or more) major constituents appear before the finite verb as in sentences e and f, the V2 principle is violated and the sentence is bad. Data similar to these examples from German and Dutch could easily be produced for the other Germanic languages.
Non-finite verbs and embedded clauses
The V2 principle regulates the position of finite verbs only; its influence on non-finite verbs (infinitives, participles, etc.) is thus indirect. Non-finite verbs in V2 languages appear in varying positions depending on the language at hand. In German and Dutch, for instance, non-finite verbs appear after the object (if one is present) in clause final position in main clauses, which means OV (object-verb) order is present in a sense. Swedish and Icelandic, in contrast, position non-finite verbs after the finite verb but before the object (if one is present), which means VO (verb-object) order is present. In this regard, it is important to understand that the V2 principle focuses on the finite verb only.
The V2 principle may or may not be in force in embedded clauses depending on the (Germanic) language at hand. German and Dutch, for instance, have VF (verb final) order in all subordinate clauses that are introduced by a subordinator (= subordinate conjunction), whereas other Germanic languages, e.g. Icelandic and Yiddish, maintain V2 order in embedded clauses, as the following examples from Icelandic demonstrate:
a. Þú veist að ég las bókina í dag. You know that I read the book today. b. Þú veist að í dag las ég bókina. You know that today read I the book.
Sentence a contains normal word order, whereas in sentence b the adverbial í dag 'today' has been fronted for emphasis within the embedded object clause. The V2 phenomenon is apparent in sentence b, where the adverbial precedes the finite verb las at the same time that the subject follows the finite verb.
V2 in English
The following two subsections consider the extent to which English has the V2 word order as well. V2 was present in earlier stages of English, and it is still present with specific constructions in modern English.
V2 in earlier stages of English
a. on twam þingum hæfde God þæs mannes sawle gedodod in two things had God the man's soul endowed .... 'With two things God had endowed man's soul.'
b. þa foron hie mid þrim scipum ut then sailed they with three ships out .... 'Then they sailed out with three ships.'
c. Ne sceal he naht unaliefedes don not shall he nothing unlawful do .... 'He shall not do anything unlawful.'
And the following examples are from Middle English:
d. On þis gær wolde þe king Stephne tæcen Rodbert in this year wanted the king Stephen seize Robert .... 'During this year king Stephen wanted to seize Robert.'
e. Nu loke euerich man toward himseluen now look every man to himself .... 'Now it's for every man to look to himself.'
f. oþir labur sal þai do other labour shall they do .... 'They must do other labour.'
Each of the examples just produced illustrates V2 order insofar as the there is a single non-subject constituent that precedes the finite verb at the same time that the subject follows the finite verb.
Vestiges of V2 in modern English
Some vestiges of the former V2 structure surface in a number of varying constructions in modern English. Many instances of subject-auxiliary inversion, for instance, can be analyzed as V2 structures. Some examples of V2 constructions in English are given next:
- a. Sam is watching the cup games.
- b. Which games is Sam watching? - V2 order with the subject-auxiliary inversion of a constituent question
- a. He will drink schnapps at no point.
- b. At no point will he drink schnapps. -V2 order with negative inversion
- a. Many photographers sat behind the goal.
- b. Behind the goal sat many photographers. - V2 order with locative inversion
- a. No aspect of the game was unexpected.
- b. Unexpected was no aspect of the game. - V2 order with copular inversion
- a. The boy cried, "Wolf! Wolf!"
- b. "Wolf! Wolf!" cried the boy. - V2 order in narrative speaker-labeling
Since the finite verb is preceded by a single non-subject major constituent in each of these sentences, these constructions can be interpreted as obeying the V2 principle.
V2 in Old French
Modern French is a Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) language, derived like other Romance languages, from Latin, which is a Subject-Object-Verb (SOV) language. However, there are more instances of V2 constructions in Old French than in other early Romance language texts. It has been suggested that this may be due to influence from the Germanic Frankish language. The following sentences have been identified as possible examples of V2 syntax:
a. Old French Longetemps fu ly roys Elinas en la montaigne Modern French Longtemps fut le roi Elinas dans la montagne .... 'Pendant Longtemps le roi Elinas a été dans les montagnes.' English For a long time was the king Elinas in the mountain ... 'King Elinas was in the mountains for a long time.'
b. Old French Iteuses paroles distrent li frere de Lancelot Modern French Telles paroles dirent les frères de Lancelot .... 'Les frères de Lancelot ont dit ces paroles' English Such words uttered the brothers of Lancelot .... 'Lancelot's brothers spoke these words.'
c. Old French Atant regarda contreval la mer Modern French Alors regarda en bas la mer .... 'Alors Il a regardé la mer plus bas.' English Then looked at downward the sea .... 'Then he looked down at the sea.' (Elision of subject pronoun, contrary to the general rule in other Old French clause structures.)
V2 behavior poses a problem for many theories of syntax. In particular, the set V2 position of the finite verb is difficult to accommodate if the theory acknowledges a finite verb phrase constituent. Chomskyan phrase structure grammars seek to overcome this difficulty by stipulating various movement procedures. For instance, if the theory assumes that all sentence structure is derived from SVO or SOV order, then one must posit two distinct instances of movement. The finite verb must first move in front of the subject, to be followed then by a second instance of movement that places the topic in front of the finite verb.
The V2 phenomenon is less problematic if a finite verb phrase is absent. In this respect, dependency grammar (DG), since it acknowledges no finite VP constituent, can accommodate the V2 phenomenon. DG stipulates that one and only one constituent can be a predependent of the finite verb (i.e. a dependent that precedes its head) in declarative (matrix) clauses. On this account, the V2 principle is violated if the finite verb has more than one predependent or no predependent at all. The following DG structures of the first four German sentences above illustrate the analysis (the sentence means 'The kids play soccer in the park before school'):
The finite verb spielen is the root of all clause structure. The V2 principle requires that this root have a single predependent, which it does in each of the four sentences.
The four English sentences above involving the V2 phenomenon receive the following analyses:
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V2 word order occurs outside of Germanic, for instance in Kashmiri.  Declarative main clauses as well as embedded object clauses in Kashmiri have V2 word order, but relative clauses have the VF order, e.g.
- Basic sentence
- mye per yi kyitāb az.
- I read this book today.
- With fronted adverb
- az per mye yi kyitāb.
- Today read I this book.
- Subordinate clause
- mye von zyi mye per yi kyitāb az.
- I said that I read this book today.
- Subordinate clause with fronted adverb
- mye von zyi az per mye yi kyitāb.
- I said that today read I this book.
- Relative clause
- yi chi swa kyitāb ywas mye rāth per.
- This is the book which I yesterday read.
- Relative clause with embedded subordinate clause
- yi chi swa kyitāb ywas mye az veny zyi mye per rāth.
- This is the book which I today said that I read yesterday.
Kashmiri differs from the V2 languages of Europe in that in all clause types Kashmiri exhibits the characteristics of SOV languages. It has postpositions (not prepositions), objects before the main verb (not after - unless the main verb itself is in position 2), and auxiliaries after main verbs (unless the auxiliary itself is in position 2) [example from 'saaykal' by Ratan Lal Shant]:
- khaar oos rinyoomut Tyuub lemy-lemy Tayr-i manz-i nyebar keD-yith tshun-aan.
- mechanic was worn.out tube pulling-pulling tire-Abl inside-Abl out take.out-Ger THROW-ing
- 'The mechanic was pulling the worn-out tube out of the tire.'
The postposition manzi 'from inside' follows its object Tayri. The direct object Tyuub precedes its verb keD- 'take out'. The compound verb auxiliary tshun- THROW follows the main verb keD-.
- For discussions of the V2 principle, see Borsley (1996:220f.), Ouhalla (1994:284ff.), Fromkin et al. (2000:341ff.), Adger (2003:329ff.), Carnie (2007:281f.).
- Concerning V2 order in embedded clauses in Yiddish, see Ouhalla (1994:287).
- See Fischer et al. (2000: 114ff.) for discussion of examples like those here from Old English and Middle English.
- Concerning vestiges of V2 in English, see Ouhalla (1994:289).
- see Rowlett (2007:4)
- see Posner (1996:248)
- For movement-type analyses of the V2 phenomenon, see for instance Emonds (1976:25), van Riemsdijk and Williams (1986:52), Ouhalla (1994:109ff.), Carnie (2007:281f.).
- That DG denies the existence of a finite VP constituent is apparent with most any DG representation of sentence structure; finite VP is never shown as a complete subtree (=constituent). See for instance the trees in the essays on DG in Ágel et al. (2003/2006) in this regard. Concerning the strict denial of a finite VP constituent, see especially Tesnière (1959:103-105).
- For an example of a DG analysis of the V2 principle, see Osborne (2005:260).
- Concerning Kashmiri as a V2 language, see Hook (1976: 133ff).
- Adger, D. 2003. Core syntax: A minimalist approach. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
- Ágel, V., L. Eichinger, H.-W. Eroms, P. Hellwig, H. Heringer, and H. Lobin (eds.) 2003/6. Dependency and valency: An international handbook of contemporary research. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.
- Borsley, R. 1996. Modern phrase structure grammar. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers.
- Carnie, A. 2007. Syntax: A generative introduction, 2nd edition. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
- Emonds, J. 1976. A transformational approach to English syntax: Root, structure-preserving, and local transformations. New York: Academic Press.
- Fischer, O., A. van Kermenade, W. Koopman, and W. van der Wurff 2000. The Syntax of Early English. Cambridge University Press.
- Fromkin, V. et al. 2000. Linguistics: An introduction to linguistic theory. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.
- Hook, P.E. 1976. Is Kashmiri an SVO Language? Indian Linguistics 37: 133-142.
- Osborne T. 2005. Coherence: A dependency grammar analysis. SKY Journal of Linguistics 18, 223-286.
- Ouhalla, J. 1994. Transformational grammar: From rules to principles and parameters. London: Edward Arnold.
- Posner, R. 1996. The Romance languages. Cambridge University Press.
- Rowlett, P. 2007. The Syntax of French. Cambridge University Press.
- van Riemsdijk, H. and E. Williams. 1986. Introduction to the theory of grammar. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
- Tesnière, L. 1959. Éleménts de syntaxe structurale. Paris: Klincksieck.