Author Topic: Word order language vs inflection language  (Read 269 times)

Offline markelle98

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Word order language vs inflection language
« on: September 25, 2017, 04:13:02 PM »
Hello,
I am a new student in a linguistics course, and was given the assignment to compare and contrast two different languages.  It asks me to determine whether each language is a word order language or an inflection language. Could any one please elaborate on the difference between them and some examples of each? Thank you!

Offline Daniel

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Re: Word order language vs inflection language
« Reply #1 on: September 25, 2017, 04:35:40 PM »
Not to make things too confusing, but that contrast is somewhat artificial. All languages have word order (though some are more flexible than others), although some languages do not have inflection (isolating/analytic languages with no morphology). But many languages have both. And some languages without inflection also do not have very strict word order. There is a functional tradeoff between the two at least for some languages, but it's not a rule, and there's no way to clearly identify a "boundary" between these two types, as if all languages neatly fit into one category or the other. The extreme cases of either could be easily classified however.

In other words, the only way to "correctly" answer this is to follow the instructions for your assignment based on the examples given by your instructor or in your textbook.

As some brief comments to get you started:

1. I assume this is about case marking, or identifying what role nouns take in a sentence. If ask you to combine "dog", "cat" and "bite" in a sentence, the first question you would ask me is "who did what to whom?" Did the cat bite the dog or did the dog bite the cat? Word order and/or inflection can be used to clarify that.

2a. Word order sets an order like SVO (subject-object-verb) as in English, so we always know the subject is before the verb and object goes after. "The dog bit the cat" is clear, and it means the opposite of "The cat bit the dog." English uses word order for this, and not case. (Except in pronouns, like who vs. whom.)

2b. Case inflection can also do this. Latin is the common example of this. The nominative case is used for subjects, and the accusative case is used for objects. "boy" in the nominative case is "puer", and "girl" in the accusative is "puellam". That right there is enough information to know who did what to whom (the boy is the subject=nominative, and the girl is the object=accusative). Add the word for loves "amat", and you can combine those three words in any order you'd like: SVO "puer amat puellam" ("boy loves girl" like English), SOV "puer puellam amat" (the most common order in Latin), VOS "amat puellam puer", and so forth. Latin has "free word order" (or "scrambling") for these combinations of major sentence parts. But Latin doesn't have completely free word order because, for example, prepositions still must precede their nouns (Like English "at home", never "home at", etc.).
(There are some other ways this can be done, such as marking agreement on the verb, as a type of head-marking rather than the case-marking as a dependent-marking strategy above. But most often this contrast is discussed in relation to case marking.)

Note as I said above that some languages may have both or neither of those strategies (although having neither, not in any way is very rare, but may certainly happen in some circumstances).
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Offline markelle98

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Re: Word order language vs inflection language
« Reply #2 on: September 26, 2017, 07:11:41 AM »
Thank you so much! What would be another language that the majority of the sentences are structured by inflection?

Offline Daniel

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Re: Word order language vs inflection language
« Reply #3 on: September 26, 2017, 02:30:55 PM »
Since this is a homework assignment, I am happy to talk about the general ideas and illustrate them, but I think you can find more examples on your own.
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