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I'm wondering how generative grammar handles VSO languages

It seems to me that the subject splits up the verb phrase, and so you're going to have to have some sort of movement going on and a different underlying word order (likely SVO or SOV). It doesn't seem especially plausible to me that almost 10% of the world's languages have a default word order different from their underlying order, especially as this word order appears to be reasonably stable (I'd expect there to be a reasonably powerful pressure towards using the underlying word order as your default)

Is there something else going on, and there is a more direct way to accommodate languages with default VSO, or have I understood this position correctly and just judge its plausibility differently?

  • By "generative grammar", do you mean current Minimalism? – user6726 Sep 14 at 15:34
  • VSO languages are very similar typologically to SVO languages like English. Generative grammar can handle the distinction rather easily. Indeed, there's a famous article by Jim McCawley called "English as a VSO Language". – jlawler Sep 14 at 16:49
  • @user6726 any of the frameworks set out by Chomsky over the years – Tristan Sep 15 at 8:56
  • @jlawler again, my question isn't whether they can be handled by generative grammar, but whether I've understood correctly that doing so requires movement. My contention is that it seems implausible that having movement from the underlying structure to the surface structure as the default in transitive sentences seems like it ought to be far less common, or stable than it is. As such, I'm wondering if I've misunderstood and there is a way of handling VSO without movement – Tristan Sep 15 at 8:58
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    @jlawler There are plenty of VSO languages with no case too, such as all the Insular Celtic languages. Several of these don’t even have subject/object distinctions in most pronouns (e.g. Irish bhuail muid sibh ‘we beat you’ vs bhuail sibh muid ‘you beat us’, and ambiguous relative clauses like an té a bhuail mé ‘the person who beat me’ or ‘the person whom I beat’). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 15 at 16:45

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