|SOV||"She him loves."||45%||Proto-Indo-European, Sanskrit, Hindi, Ancient Greek, Latin, Japanese, Korean|
|SVO||"She loves him."||42%||Cantonese, English, Hausa, Italian, Malay, Mandarin, Russian|
|VSO||"Loves she him."||9%||Biblical Hebrew, Classical Arabic, Irish, Filipino, Tuareg-Berber, Welsh|
|VOS||"Loves him she."||3%||Malagasy, Baure, Proto-Austronesian|
|OVS||"Him loves she."||1%||Apalaí, Hixkaryana|
|OSV||"Him she loves."||0%||Warao|
In linguistic typology, a Verb–object–subject or Verb–object–agent language – commonly abbreviated VOS or VOA – is one in which the most-typical sentences arrange their elements in that order which would (in English) equate to something like "Ate oranges Sam."
VOS word order is fourth most common among the world's languages, and is considered to have verb-initial word order, like VSO. Very few languages have a fixed VOS word order, most primarily coming from Austronesian and Mayan language families. Many verb-initial languages exhibit flexible word order (such as St'át'imcets, Chamorro, and Tongan), alternating between VOS and VSO. VOS and VSO word orders are usually classified as verb-initial because they share many similar properties, such as the absence of the verb "have" and predicate-initial grammar.
Though not as universal, many verb-initial languages also have ergative clauses. For instance, most Mayan languages have an ergative-absolutive system of verb agreement and most Austronesian languages have an ergative-absolutive system of case marking.
There is ongoing debate as to how VOS clauses are derived, however there is significant evidence for verb-phrase-raising. Kayne's theory of antisymmetry suggests that VOS clauses are derived from SVO structure via leftward movement of a VP constituent that contains a verb and object. The Principles and Parameters theory sets VOS and SVO clause structure as syntactically identical, but the theory does not account for why SVO is typologically more common than VOS structure. According to the Principles and Parameters theory, the difference between SVO and VOS clauses lies in the direction in which parameters are set for projection of a T category's specifier. When the parameter is to the right of T(ense)'s specifier, VOS is realized, and when it is to the left, SVO is realized.
The motivation for movement from SVO to VOS structure is still undetermined, as some languages show inconsistencies with SVO underlying structure and an absence of VP-raising (such as Chamorro and Tzotzil). In verb-initial languages, the extended projection principle causes overt specifier movement due to either strong tense [T], verb [V], or predicate [Pred] features .
Chung proposes a syntactic profile for verb-initial languages that are derived through VP-raising:
- VP coordination is allowed
- The subject and other constituents outside of the verb phrase can be extracted
- The subject has narrow scope over sentential elements
|Parts||Verb||(Indirect) Object||(Direct) Object||Subject|
This sentence show the possibility of relativizing surface subjects:
The following sentence shows how extraction from within the VP is ungrammatical (*):
The empty spaces (___) are the extraction sites and the square brackets indicate the VP phrase.
Halkomelem shares the same basic characteristics of all Salish languages in that it is inherently Verb-subject-object (VSO). However, Verb-object-subject (VOS) is also possible in certain scenarios. While some speakers do not accept VOS as grammatical, others do permit the order depending on the context. VOS can occur when there are two direct NPs are present in a clause, and the object is inanimate.
Tzotzil, like almost all Mayan languages with the exception of Ch'orti', is a verb-initial word order language. It is predominantly VOS but has been shown to readily permit Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) word order. In Tzotzil, the subject is not assumed to raise (in overt syntax) to the specifier of the clausal head, unlike Italian which is a special case.
Simply put, VP-raising, as expressed in the previous section, cannot account for Tzotzil's VOS word order. If VP-raising had occurred, any further movement of direct objects or PPs would be rendered inaccessible. Aissen, however, shows that Tzotzil can and does allow direct objects to be extracted, evidenced via their eligibility for wh-movement in the example below:
Tzotzil also allows any PPs that surface to the left of the subject and all within a VP to undergo wh-movement. Additionally, an interrogative phrase of a transitive verb must entirely be pied-piped or otherwise, ungrammaticality will occur.
This evidence concludes that VOS clauses found in Tzotzil cannot be derived by VP raising. Chung proposes then that languages without VP raising are assumed to be in their base syntax VOS, instead of SVO.
Italian (special case)
Italian is most commonly a Subject-verb-object (SVO) structure language. However, it also has free subject inversion. This means that if a subject can appear before a verb, it can also appear following the verb. This allows for sentences in both VSO and VOS order, though these—especially in VOS—are notably rare.
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