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Greenberg's Word Order Universals

From:Marcus Smith <smithma@...>
Date:Thursday, September 14, 2000, 3:20
Here are Greenberg's Word Order Universals from his book Universals of

1. In declarative sentences with nominal subject and object, the dominant
is almost always one in which the subject precedes the object.

2. In languages with prepositions, the genitive almost always follows the
governing noun, while in languages with postpositions it almost always

3. Languages with dominant VSO order are always prepositional.

4. With overwhelmingly greater than chance frequency, languages with normal
order are postpositional.

5. If a language had dominant SOV order and the genitive follows the governing
noun, then the adjective likewise follows the noun.

6. All languages with dominant VSO order have SVO as an alternative or as the
only alternative basic order.

7. If in a language with dominant SOV order there is no alternative basic
order, or only OSV as the alternative, then all the adverbial modifiers of the
verb likewise precede the verb.

8. When a yes-no question is differentiated from the corresponding
assertion by
an intonational pattern, the distinctive intonational features of each of the
patterns is reckoned from the end of the sentence rather than the beginning.

9. With well more than chance frequency, when question particles or affixes
specified in position by reference to the sentence as a whole, if initial,
elements are found in prepositional languages and, if final, in

10. Question particles or affixes, specified in position by reference to a
particular word in the sentence, almost always follow that word.  Such
particles do not occur in languages with dominant order VSO.

11. Inversion of statement order so that verb precedes subject occurs only in
languages where the question word or phrase is normally initial.  This same
inversion occurs in yes-no questions only if it also occurs in interrogative
word questions.

12. If a language has dominant order VSO in declarative sentences, it always
puts interrogative words or phrases first in interrogative word questions; if
it has dominant order SOV in declarative sentences, there is never such an
invariant rule.

13. If the nominal object always precedes the verb, then verb forms
to the main verb also precede it.

14. In conditional statements, the conditional clause precedes the conclusion
as the normal order in all languages.

15. In expressions of volition and purpose, a subordinate verbal form always
follows the main verb as the normal order except in those languages in which
the nominal object always precedes the verb.

16. In languages with dominant order VSO, an inflected auxiliary always
precedes the main verb. In language with dominant order SOV, an inflected
auxiliary always follows the main verb.

17. With overwhelmingly more than chance frequency, languages with dominant
order VSO have the adjective after the noun.

18. When the descriptive adjective precedes the noun, the demonstrative and
numeral, with overwhelmingly more than chance frequency, do likewise.

19. When the eneral rule is that the descriptive adjective follows, there may
be a minority of adjectives which usually precede, but when the general
rule is
that descriptive adjective precede, there are no exceptions.

20. When any or all of the items -- demonstratives, numeral, and descriptive
adjective -- precede the noun, they are always found in that order.  If they
follow, the order is either the same or its exact opposite.

21. If some or all adverbs follow the adjective they modify, then the language
is one in which the qualifying adjective follows the noun and the verb
its nominal object as the dominant order.

22. If in comparisons of superiority the only order or one of the alternative
orders is standard-marker-adjective, then the language is postpositional.
overwhelmingly more than chance frequency, if the only order is
adjective-marker-standard, the language is prepositional.

23. If in apposition the proper noun usually precedes the common noun, then
language is one in which the governing noun precedes its dependent genitive.
With much more than chance frequency, if the common noun usually precedes the
proper noun, the dependent genitive precedes its governing noun.

24.  If the relative expression precedes the noun either as the only
construction or as an alternative construction, either the language is
postpositional or the adjective precedes the noun or both.

25. If the pronominal object follows the verb, so does the nominal object.

26. If a language has discontinuous affixes, it always either prefixing or
suffixing or both.

27. If a language is exclusively suffixing, it is postpositional; if it is
exclusively prefixing, it is prepositional.

28. If both the derivation and inflection follow the root, or they both
the root, the derivation is always between the root and the inflection.

29. If a language has inflection, it always has derivation.

30. If the verb has categories of person-number or if it has categories of
gender, it always has tense-mode categories.

31. If either the subject or object noun agrees with the verb in gender, then
the adjective always agrees with the noun in gender.

32. Whenever the verb agrees wih a nominal subject or nominal object in
it also agrees in number.

33. When number agreement between the noun and verb is suspended and the rule
is based on order, the case is always one in which the verb is in the

34. No language has a trial number unless is has a dual.  No language has a
dual unless it has a plural.

35. There is no language in which the plural does not have some nonzero
allomorphs, whereas there are languages in which the singular is expressed
by zero. The dual and the trial are almost never expressed by zero.

36. If a language has the category of gender, it always has the category of

37. A language never has more gender categories in nonsingular numbers that in
the singular.

38. Where there is a case system, the only case which ever has only zero
allomorphs is the one which includes among its meanings that of the subject of
the intrasitive verbs.

39. Where morphemes of both number and case are present and both follow or
precede the noun base, the expression of number almost always comes between
noun base and the expression of case.

40. When the adjective follows the noun, the adjective expresses all the
inflectional categories of the noun. In such cases the noun may lack overt
expression of one or all of these categories.

41. If in a language the verb follows both the nominal subject and nominal
object as the dominant order, the language almost always has a case system.

42. All languages have pronominal categories involving at least three persons
and two numbers.

43. If a language has gender distinctions in the noun, it has gender
in the pronoun.

44. If a language has gender distinctions in the first person, it always has
gender distinctions in the second or third or in both.

45. If there are any gender distinctions in the plural of the pronoun, there
are some gender distinctions in the singular also.


Marcus Smith
AIM:  Anaakoot
"When you lose a language, it's like
dropping a bomb on a museum."
  -- Kenneth Hale