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Is it easier for speakers of SOV languages to learn SOV/VSO syntax or vice versa?

I've been reading about constructed languages recently, specifically the ones intended to be easy to learn such as Esperanto and Ido or trivial to learn but not very expressive such as Toki Pona. These languages or vaguely-language-like-things are basically head initial and have SVO as their dominant word order. I'm curious as to whether this is the "best" choice if the goal is to be as friendly as possible to L2 learners.

OV and VO languages are approximately equally common, although things might be different if we counted languages by number of speakers.

So, I'm curious which order is easier to learn for native speakers of languages using the other order... or if perhaps word order is totally insignificant when it comes to L2 acquisition and ease or difficulty is dominated by other factors.

So far, I've seen a couple of works about L2 acquisition of specific features in specific languages by English speakers and some theoretical things such as this paper that seek to explain the presence of case-marking in SOV languages.

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    An interesting question. One thing to keep in mind -- there are strong known similarities among agglutinative OV languages -- which are the majority -- whereas VO languages vary much more widely. It has long been known that even unrelated, separated SOV languages like Japanese, Tamil, and Turkish can usually be translated morpheme by morpheme. On the other hand, most conlangs I'm familiar with are SVO, as you point out; if they were really international, they'd be SOV. – jlawler Jul 10 '19 at 18:58
  • @jlawler on the other hand, there might be more internal diversity within the SVO languages because they’re easier to learn and therefore less constrained. Contact languages and creoles tend to be SVO and they’ve gone through a real life L2-bottleneck of sorts. I can think of arguments for both learnability directions being the easier one. – Gregory Nisbet Jul 11 '19 at 2:00
  • Degree of constrainedness has no known connection to ease of learning. Individual variation in language learning abilities is a much more prominent cause of success or failure than any grammatical properties of a language. – jlawler Jul 11 '19 at 2:54
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Many SOV languages are head final. Korean and Japanese are famous examples. In head final languages, sentences that begin with a subordinate clause are temporarily ambiguous. In other words, the listener or reader cannot be certain if the words encountered belong to the main clause or the subordinate clause.

For example,

"The book that we bought yesterday in town fell on the floor."

At no point in the sentence is there any ambiguity.

The same sentence in a head final SOV language would be,

"We town in yesterday bought that the book the floor on fell."

Here there is initial ambiguity about whether constituents such as "we", "town in", and "yesterday" belong to the main clause or to the relative clause. In fact, even when one gets to "the book" there is nothing that assures the decoder that he or she is now in the main clause. One could be at the beginning of another embedded relative clause. The ambiguity is not resolved until the main verb at the end of the sentence is reached.

Intuitively it can be assumed that this structural ambiguity causes significant cognitive load. Eye tracking experiments have shown that indeed this is the case, suggesting that SOV languages are harder for SVO language speakers to learn than SVO languages are for speakers of an SOV language.

See "COGNITIVE AND LINGUISTIC FACTORS AFFECTING SUBJECT/OBJECT ASYMMETRY: AN EYE-TRACKING STUDY OF PRENOMINAL RELATIVE CLAUSES IN KOREAN" Language Vol. 86, No. 3 (SEPTEMBER 2010), pp. 546-582 (37 pages) Published by: Linguistic Society of America.

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