I'm trying to grok ASL's grammar. There seems to be a lot of folk grammar and the professional liguists haven't been studying it for very long so there is a lot of contradictory statments about what the basic word orders are in ASL.

Okay, if we have a language that is topic-comment, then the patient and the agent can be fronted and it seems like

1) A (agent) hit B (patient) ->  A (topic), (omitted agent) hit B
2) A (agent) hit B (patient) ->  B (topic), A hit (omitted object)

But the topic-comment versions of 1) & 2) look just like SVO and OSV.

What diagnostics tests are used to figure out the basic word orders (basic morphosyntactic alignment)?

  • In the case you describe, you can simply say that the language has both SVO and OSV orders. There's no reason to call one or the other 'basic' based on this data. (Btw, morphosyntactic alignment is a completely different thing from word order.)
    – TKR
    Feb 4, 2014 at 18:29
  • Oh, I see your point. I guess distinguishing AVB and BVA in a language without (much) that looks like morphology would be more problematic. Feb 4, 2014 at 18:44

1 Answer 1


Try to use idioms. If we assume that idioms start as a one constituents, they may show underlined wordorder. you can also look at more unmarked word order.

  • actually you can also use theta roles. if you can find en example when the theta role role of subject for same verb changes according to the theta role of the object you can say that tne underlined word order is SVO. İf you can find clear judgments you can also use scope to identify the posution, but for this you should also support your findings by WCO
    – Dariya
    Dec 5, 2012 at 15:06

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