Is it true that has a rule, a language where subject and object aren't explicately marked will always have SVO or OVS order? I've been thinking that it may be possible to get away with having no marking for subject/direct object in a verb-final language. Well, one that relies heavily on coverbs anyway.

Just to demonstrate my point, I was thinking of a 'primitive' conlang that had a lot of unusual features. One of them being complete lack of any sort of abstract 'grammatical' particles. Every verb in the language is a coverb that can only take ONE argument (typically a direct object). A 'subject' may stand alone at the start of a sentence, though some intransitives can take an agent as its only object (the language has ergative alignment).

Of course, my conlang isn't meant to be spoken by modern people. Its my own speculation on what an early proto-language may have looked like. I figured a language like this would be the next stage after an 'improvised' grammar that relied solely on an agentivity heirarchy (like a direct-inverse language) to differentiate subject from object. Simply a single hominid may realize that it could guess which role an object performed in an event based purely on what it is. It wouldn't be 100% reliable of course, but it would serve some benefit that individual to be able to decipher everyone else's babbling with some amount of certainty.

Anyway, I diverged a bit. But I was wondering if there was any known language that demonstrated zero-marking with either a verb final or verb initial order?

1 Answer 1


Yes there are.

Using WALS with a combined view of "Order of Subject, Object and Verb" with "Number of Cases" gives 10 VSO languages without case marking, including Welsh, Chamorro, and Tagalog. Malagasy is VOS without case marking. There are alos some verb-final languages without case marking.

  • It seems the underlying word order of Welsh is disputed, however, with some arguing that it may be VSO (kind of like how German is commonly analyzed as having underlying SOV word order, with verb-second order in finite clauses derived from this by some kind of process). Nov 28, 2017 at 15:23
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    It seems somewhat weird to classify Tagalog as a language without case marking, considering its notoriously complicated case system... Probably the Austronesian particles don't count as cases because of the way the WALS values were defined, but I doubt it's an example of what the OP has in mind... Nov 29, 2017 at 8:47
  • @WavesWashSands The WALS survey focusses on morphological case in its case count. Other means of expressing case (pre- or postpositions, indpendent particles) don't count. Nov 29, 2017 at 10:56
  • I noticed several languages (I've never even heard of some of the others) in the SOV list have poly-personal agreement. And besides, there's languages like Swahili which have no case marking ON THEIR NOUNS, but case is still typically marked on the verb. And Swahili of course has a rather large noun-class system.
    – user19661
    Nov 30, 2017 at 0:12

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