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 is the fourth-most common word order among the world’s languages, after SOV (as in Hindi and Japanese), SVO (as in English and Mandarin) and VSO (as in Filipino and Irish). However, it only accounts for 3% of the word’s languages.
Families where all or many of the languages are VOS include the following:
- the Alogonquian family (including Ojibwa)
- the neighbouring families of the Oregon Coast (including Alsea, Suislaw, Hanis Coos and Miluk Coos)
- the Arawakan family (including Baure)
- the Austronesian family (including Malagasy, Toba Batak, Belauan, Gibetese, Fijian and Tsou)
- the Chumash family (including Inoseño Chumash)
- the Mayan family (including Huastec, Yucatec, Mopán, Lacondón, Chol, Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Chuj, Tojolabal, Quiché, Cakchiquel, Tzutujil, Sacapultec, Pocomam, Pocomchí and Kekchi)
- the Otomanguean family (including Mezquital Otomi and Highland Otomi)
- the Salishan family (including Coeur d’Alene and Twana)
- 1 Properties
- 2 Occurrence
- 2.1 Malagasy
- 2.2 Halkomelem
- 2.3 Tzotzil
- 2.4 Italian (special case)
- 2.5 Arabic (special cases)
- 2.6 Cantonese (special cases)
- 2.7 Mandarin (special cases)
- 2.8 Modern Greek (special cases)
- 2.9 Baure
- 2.10 Alsea
- 2.11 Chinook
- 2.12 Kaiwa
- 2.13 Kaqchikel
- 2.14 Kairiri
- 2.15 Seediq
- 3 See also
- 4 References
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.
|SOV||"She him loves."||45%||Ancient Greek, Bengali, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Persian Sanskrit|
|SVO||"She loves him."||42%||Chinese, English, French, Hausa, Italian, Malay, Russian, Spanish, Thai|
|VSO||"Loves she him."||9%||Biblical Hebrew, Arabic, Irish, Filipino, Tuareg-Berber, Welsh|
|VOS||"Loves him she."||3%||Malagasy, Baure, Car|
|OVS||"Him loves she."||1%||Apalaí, Hixkaryana, Klingon|
|OSV||"Him she loves."||0%||Warao|
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.
While it is possible that VOS structure is derived from SVO, others suggested that verb-initial languages (V1 languages) are
The Subject-Only Restriction (SOR) exists in most if not all Austronesian languages, and it follows from the VP-Raising account of VOS order.
In a given clause, only one argument such as the external arguments, the subjects (or the sentence's most prominent argument) are attainable for "extraction" to undergo movements, which includes any A bar movements such as wh-movement, topicalization, relativization. No other arguments, such as the internal arguments or VP adjuncts, are eligible to such movement. Since SOR restricts any internal arguments and VP adjuncts from undergoing any movements, these VP-internal or low adjuncts are not qualified to behave like they are stranded by VP-Raising. As a result, VOS orders are retained in these languages.
Examples in Seediq
VP-external constituents are the only accessible constituents when structures require movements (e.g. relative clauses or topicalization). In other words, structures requiring movements can only access constituents that are external to VP; any movements regarding the VP-internal or adjuncts constituents fails to satisfy the Subject-Only Restriction.
|Translation||Where did Ape buy books?|
|Translation||*Where did Ape buy books?|
Since we can see that in Seediq, movements with respect to internal arguments and VP adjuncts are not allowed, and that only VP-external movement is possible (unless the predicate undergo a change in voice morphology), only a VOS order is grammatical.
|Sentence||Na’a||tamate’i||‘e||T ̄evita||‘a||K ̄olaiate.|
|Translation||"David killed Goliath."|
|Sentence||Na'e||tamate’i||'a||K ̄olaiate||‘e||T ̄evita|
|Translation||‘David killed Goliath.’|
The 2 sentences listed above are identical in every way aside from two things:
- 'a' versus 'e' difference in the past tense indicator (Na'a vs. Na'e)
- Ergative versus absolutative order difference
One may conclude that the subtle change in the suffix of the Past tense indicator results in the switching of ergative and absolutive words, but more data is needed to affirm this hypothesis.
VOS occurs in many languages, including Austronesian languages (such as Malagasy, Old Javanese, Toba Batak, Dusun and Fijian), Mayan languages (such as Kaqchikel and Tzotzil) and even Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, as it has a very free word order with inversions.
|Translation||I helped him out|
|Parts||Verb||(Indirect) Object||(Direct) Object||Subject|
|Translation||'I offered the rice to the guests.'|
This sentence show the possibility of relativizing surface subjects:
|Sentence||ny||zazavavy||[CP izay||[VP manasa||ny||lamba]||< ___ > ]|
|Translation||'the girl that washed the clothes …'|
The following sentence shows how extraction from within the VP is ungrammatical (*):
|Sentence||*ny||lamba||[CP izay||[VP manasa||< ___ > ]||ny||zazavavy ]|
|Translation||Intended: 'the clothes that the girl washed …'|
The empty spaces (___) are the extraction sites and the square brackets indicate the VP phrase.
Halkomelem, an aboriginal language in British Columbia, has the same basic characteristics of all Salish languages in that it is inherently VSO. However, VOS is also sometimes possible. While some speakers do not accept VOS as grammatical, others do permit the order depending on the context. VOS can occur if there are two direct noun phrases present in a clause and the object is inanimate.
Simply put, VP-raising, as expressed in the previous section, cannot account for Tzotzil's normal word order. If VP-raising had occurred, any further movement of direct objects or prepositional phrases would have been made inaccessible. Aissen, however, showed that Tzotzil allows direct objects to be extracted, as wh-movement occurs:
Tzotzil also allows propositional phrases that surface to the left of the subject and all within a verb phrases to undergo wh-movement. Also, an interrogative phrase of a transitive verb must entirely be pied-piped to be grammatical .
VOS clauses found in Tzotzil cannot thus be derived by VP-raising. Chung proposes that languages without VP-raising can be assumed to have their basic order to be VOS, instead of SVO.
Italian (special case)Edit
If the subject can appear before the verb, it can also appear after the verb. VSO and VOS order, however, are notably rare, especially the latter.
Arabic (special cases)Edit
Cantonese (special cases)Edit
Unlike English (which places relative clauses after the head noun that it modifies), Cantonese is very unusual among SVO languages in placing relative clauses before the head nouns, or having prenominal RCs, which yields a VOS word order, as seen in most subject-gapped RCs. Object-gapped RCs do not follow a VOS word order.
Subject-gapped RCs vs Object-gapped RCs in English:
|Head Noun and RC Gap||Head noun||Relative Clause|
We see that the head noun, mouse, is placed before the relative clause (postnominal RC) in a subject-gapped RC in English. We do not see this in Cantonese and or Mandarin, as the head nouns are always placed after the RC (prenominal RC).
|Head Noun and RC Gap||Head noun||Relative Clause|
For object-gapped RC, the object is placed before the relative clause in English.
|Romanization||sek3||gung1 gai1||go2||zek3||lou5 syu2|
|Head Noun and RC Gap||Relative Clause||Head Noun|
|Translation||The mouse that kisses the chicken.|
Subject-gapped RC behaves differently in Cantonese than English, as the relative clause is placed after the head noun (prenominal RC), which always yield a VOS order.
It is considered extremely rare that a SVO language can adopt such pre-nominal RC structure. In a sample of 756 languages, only 5 languages have this VOS combination (which is less than 0.01%). Cantonese belong in such subset.
In casual speech, Cantonese speakers often produce a VOS sentence when answering a question.
Below is a typical response for a question such as "你食左飯未呀?" which translates to "did you eat yet?" in English.
|Translation||I ate rice.|
Unlike English, which places head nouns before relative clauses, Chinese Mandarin places head nouns after relative clauses. As a result, subject-gapped relative clauses in Mandarin, just like Cantonese, result in a VOS order.
|Romanization||qīn||gōng jī||dí||lǎo shǔ|
|Head Noun and RC Gap||Relative Clause||Head Noun|
|Translation||The mouse that kisses the chicken.|
It is considered extremely rare that a SVO language can adopt such pre-nominal RC structure. In a sample of 756 languages, only 5 languages have this VOS combination (which is less than 0.01%). Mandarin belong in such subset.
Modern Greek (special cases)Edit
|Translation||John ate the cake.|
Georgiafentis and Sfakianaki provide claims of four different researchers who focus on how prosody affects the generated VOS order in the Greek language:
Alexiadou suggests that the prominent constituent in VOS is the DP-subject. The DP-object moves over the DP-subject into a specifier position of VoiceP to derive the VOS order. The object movement to the specifier position is a result of scrambled objects and manner adverbs wanting to both move to VoiceP. Thus, the main stress is given to the DP-subject.
Philippakki-Warburton’s claim is that there are two intonation patterns which render the VOS order in Greek:
- The prominent constituent is something other than the DP-subject, such as the verb or DP-object. Therefore, the DP-subject is unstressed.
- VOS order produced by p-movement (prosodic movement), either from the DP-subject being emphatically stressed or stressed via Chomsky and Halle’s Nuclear Stress Rule (NSR)
Haidou proposes the VOS order has two possible intonations: whether a pause or not precedes the DP-subject will change the focus of the sentence. If there is a preceding pause (indicated with a comma intonation), the DP-subject does not possess the main focus. The focus is on the object instead, as demonstrated in the table below.
|Translation||He at the soup, John.|
Georgiafentis argues that subject focusing in VOS is derived from three intonational situations.
- The main stress is acquired by a constituent other than the DP-subject (same discussion as Philippaki-Warbuton)
- DP-subject acquires main stress through NSR
- DP-subject is contrastively focused
Below is an example of contrastively focused DP-subject in Greek (capitalized words indicate contrastive focus):
|Translation||JOHN ate the cake (not Thanassis).|
Georgiafentis states that the second and third situations given above are both derived from p-movement.
Baure is an Arawakan language that also follows the verb-initial word order. One of the primary features of Baure emphasized on is the importance in agreement of phi features. The example below illustrates not just the verb-object-subject order, but the immense number of affixes for each verb.
|Gloss||2SG = take = 3SG.F||river-LOC||2SG=bath-APPL||dem1.F||child|
|Translation||Take her to the river and bathe the child.|
Kaqchikel is an ergative and head-marking Mayan language used in Guatemala. There is no case-marking on the subjects or objects. Instead, the verb classifies the person and numeric (plural or singular) agreement of the subjects and objects.
Although Kaqchikel's basic structure is VOS, the language allows for grammatical word orders such as SVO. Since the language is head-marking, a sentence will have focus on the subect if it is positioned before the verb.
A sentence can be represented as either VOS or VSO if switching the subject and object semantically disrupts the meaning, but VOS is favoured more. An example is shown in the table below:
|Sentence||X-∅-u-chöy||ri||chäj / ajanel||ri||ajanel / chäj|
|Gloss||CP-ABS3sg-ERG3sg-cut||DET||pine.tree / carpenter||DET||carpenter / pine.tree|
|Parts||Verb||Object / Subject||Subject / Object|
|Translation||The carpenter cut the pine tree.|
Seediq is an Atayalic language is a VOS language, spoken by Taiwanese indigenous people in Northern Taiwan and the Taroko. Only the subject, which is always fixed in its clause-final position, can correspond to an argument with an absolutive case. No other clause-internal constituents can have an absolutive DP in Seediq.
|Translation||Ape gave the child a treat|
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