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What is the language with the freest syntax/word order?

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What is the language with the freest syntax/word order?

Postby atticusg » Tue Feb 10, 2009 2:04 am

Thank you all for answering my last question about Greek so well, but now I just have one more question if you would please care to answer..... again, thank you all :). This is a question which has been floating around in my mind, so to speak, for some time now and, although it doesn't "directly" address the Greek language, I thought that this forum would still be the best place to pose such a question.
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Re: What is the language with the freest syntax/word order?

Postby Lex » Tue Feb 10, 2009 4:33 am

A quick exercise of "Google-fu" on my part would seem to suggest that some Australian aboriginal languages are very free in word order.

But I think you would also have to distinguish between normal spoken language or prose and poetry. I believe that Greek, at least, is freer in poetry than in normal speech. In the first two lines of the Iliad, f'r'instance, the noun μῆνιν (wrath, anger) and the adjective οὐλομένην (accursed) that modifies it are separated by an entire line. I could be wrong, but I don't get the idea that this is normal in ancient Greek prose.
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Re: What is the language with the freest syntax/word order?

Postby annis » Tue Feb 10, 2009 1:33 pm

The technical phrase you're looking for is "non-configurational" word order (or syntax). Even better, classical Greek and some of those Australian languages, like Warlpiri, are called radically non-configurational.

But two points.

First, as Lex has said, genre matters in synthetic languages (i.e., those with lots of clear case markers and agreement). Perfectly common noun/adjective distraction in verse may be much less common in normal speech. Verse is all about verbal acrobatics.

Second, the word order is only "free" with respect to isolating or isolating-tending languages like English and most of the Romance languages. In classical Greek or Warlpiri the word order is jiggered to organize communication, to draw attention to the most important part of a phrase, etc., etc. So, the word order still matters — it's just being used to do something different from what we expect of word order.
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