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It seems to me that the most languages have either complicated morphology or very strict word order. Are there languages with simple morphology and free word order (for instance, indicating relationships of words mostly with prepositions)?

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    Although I don't know counter examples and also not whether this is an actual universal, your observation is indeed correct: When few distinction by morphological marking is available, languages need to indicate grammatic relations by other means instead, which then boils down to word order. Conversely, if the grammatical relationships are already clear from the morphology anyway, there is no need to restrict one's word order too much. – lemontree Jul 20 '16 at 9:28
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    There are languages which have both a "complicated morphology" and a "very strict word order". An example is classical Arabic. – fdb Jul 20 '16 at 12:04
  • @Dennis I would say Latin has too much inflectional morphology to count as an isolating language. It's not highly agglutinative or so, but at least fusional. – lemontree Jul 21 '16 at 10:13
  • @Dennis Latin uses cases to indicate grammatical relations. It has rich morphology and no "complicated syntactic constructions" - syntax trees in Latin are quite flat. – Atamiri Jul 21 '16 at 13:08
  • @Dennis Latin has complicated morphology and inflections. – Anixx Jul 21 '16 at 13:10
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Chinook Jargon is such a language. It is a pidgin with elements from English, French, Athabaskan and other Native American languages. But the morphology is isolating, like Chinese. The word order may be SOV with prepositions, just like English, or it may be head final like other languages, depending on speaker's preference and background.

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    When the choice of word order is rather free, is a clear meaning guaranteed, or are such expressions ambiguous or vague, as happens often in pidgin languages? – lemontree Jul 20 '16 at 9:30
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    Such expressions are ambiguous. You can say naika tumtum kopa klootzman (word-for-word, that's "I think about [a] woman"). My Chinook Jargon is rusty so I am specualting about this particular sentence but I guess it could also be parsed as "I heart in [am] female", to mean "I am a woman at heart". – OmarL Jul 20 '16 at 11:48
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Yes, there are. Head-marking languages generally allow for free word order in case the language is caseless. Macedonian pops to mind, a language without cases on nouns but with free word order. Grammatical relations are indicated by clitics attached to the verb. Likewise, Northwest Caucasian languages have free word order and little morphology. In Circassian, only specific NPs are marked for case; Abkhaz lacks cases altogether.

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  • case << morphology. Macedonian/Bulgarian/Torlakian is not a good example because it still has morphology, verbal morphology, and there is optional pronoun doubling to further disambiguate. It is therefore almost the same as Italian or Spanish and given what language was spoken there before Slavic that is not too surprising. – Adam Bittlingmayer Sep 18 '16 at 14:45
  • Likewise, Abkhaz is an agglutinative language with arguably little case but plenty of morphology and it marks nominative case and person and number. – Adam Bittlingmayer Sep 18 '16 at 14:51
  • @A.M.Bittlingmayer No, Abkhaz doesn't mark nominative case. – Atamiri Sep 18 '16 at 15:30
  • I find conflicting interpretations, but the subject is marked (through the verb). Anyway it has more than simple morphology, because, again, there is morphology beyond case. – Adam Bittlingmayer Sep 19 '16 at 6:14

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