(I'm a language enthusiast, not a linguist, so the question is probably longer and contains more examples than it needs; maybe it could have been shorter if I had more techinical terminology at my disposal. But this is the point of the question, I'm searching for terminology and classification of a given feature I notice in comparing a few languages.)
Nonetheless, I'll try to be short:
My observation is that,
in Russian, it is relatively doable to do some word reordering in a sentence
- without breaking it at a grammatical level
- and keeping the original meaning
in English, it is relatively doable to do some word reordering in a sentence
- withoiut breaking it at a grammatical level
- even though the original meaning is often totally lost, in favour of a new one
in Italian, reordering seems to be almost entirely obstructed by the grammar: even changing a word for a synonym makes it impossible for simple sentences to stay grammatically meaningful upon word reordering:
- Il polizzioto sparò al criminale can easily be reordered to Il criminale sparò al poliziotto, still grammatically meaningful, with a different meaning
- but La guardia sparò al criminale can't become Il criminale sparò alla guardia by simple word reordering, because that requires "dismembering" al into a + il, reordering, and finally fusing a+ la into alla.
Does this property of a language have a name?
In English you can easilty reorder the words of a sentence and still obtain a meaningful sentence, thought often with a different meaning:
The cop shot the thief
The thief shot the cop
Whereas in languages like russian, the order is almost irrelevant, i.e. you can reorder the words of a sentence and still obtain a meaningful sentence, with the same meaning:
эту девушку увидел Антон
Антон увидел эту девушку
But in either case you can (often) reorder the words and still get a meaningful sentence. In a way, even if in Eglish the meaning of a sentence is (often) built into the order of the words and in russian it is not (often? Or at all?) built into the order of the words, in both these languages the order of the words is (often) not built into the words themselves.
Now, I'm not a russian speaker (just started to learn it a bit), but I speak English everyday and, so I can speak about it. In my claim above I've included (often) because I know the statement is not entirely true in English:
- I can't chage John stabs you with a pen to you stab John with a pen by just word reordering, but as soon as the verbs in a sentence are all future tenses (any) and past tenses (except past continuous) things will work in this respect, as you can move them freely from subject to subject; plus verbs just don't vary with the gender of the subject;
- I can't change I love you to you love me without changing I to me, but this means that as soon as I limit myself to sentences using names rather than pronouns, I'm good to go;
- and not much more comes to my mind right now,
but my point is that it is very easy to be able to change the order of the words, and still get to a meaningful, possibly silly sentence: but the order is to be able to change the point of my words that is very silly, and still get it to a meaningful, possibly easy sentence.
To rephrase the above a bit, my observation is that
- in Russian, you have a certain degree of freedom in moving some words around without altering the meaning of the sentence, fundamentally because words bring with them the role they play in the sentence; clearly there are cases where the ambiguities can arise (as shown in a comment);
- in English, you have a certain degree of freedom in moving some words around without compromising the grammatical meaningfulness of the sentence and often altering the meaning of the sentence, fundamentally because words don't bring with them the role they have in the sentence, neither they are in number-or-gender agreement with surrounding words; clearly there are exceptions (I is subject, but changes to me when it is not; at present tense verbs do express whether they are 3rd person or not, and some verbs like to be change also across the other persons a bit).
But consider now Italian, my mother tongue. The order is almost cemented in every single part of the sentence:
- verbs have full-fledged conjugations, by which I mean that they change almost always across the 6 persons (yeah, che io voglia e che tu voglia, but it's not at all comparable to I/you/he/she/we/they wanted); so the only way to be able to move them around is that all possible subjects have the same person; and in some cases even the gender percolates into the verb: Giovanni (male) è andato vs Sara (female) è andata
- articles generally take on gender and number of what they refer to, they are different depending on the leading part of it, and they often fuse with simple prepositions into a single token: we can't change l'inchiostro della penna è nel tubo to il tuo dell'inchiostro è nella penna.