Consider the sentence,
The boy hit the ball out of the yard.
If we think of the words which make up the sentence, we realize that none of them have much inflectional possibility. The conjugation of hit is so uniform that one wonders why the third person singular even varies from the rest. (I hit, you hit, he hits, we hit, you all hit, they hit.) The nouns only inflect to show whether they are singular or plural. (Boy, boys, ball, balls, yard, yards).
It would seem that word order takes over all these functions. Word order shows us that boy is the subject, the one doing the hitting, not ball or yard. It also shows us that ball is the object, as opposed to yard, and that yard is part of a prepositional phrase.
How did the English language come to rely on word order instead of inflection? Are there any advantages to this system that enabled it to spread? Is it safe to say that Indo-European languages start out being more inflected, and then become less inflected over time?
I suppose I am asking two questions, really.
- Why is English this way?
- Is there a trend of Indo-European languages becoming less inflected over time? If so, why?