Within linguistics, the study of word order falls under the syntactical structure of the language. A simple sentence has three parts to it (in no particular order):

In most languages, the order of the words in the sentence determines their location. Consider the English sentence:

  • Bob (subject) hit (verb) the ball (object).
This sentence is quite different than:
  • The ball (subject) hit (verb) Bob (object).
Even though all the same words are used. This is compared to a language such as Esperanto where all the following sentences are the same:
  • Mi vin amas
  • Mi amas vin
  • Vin mi amas
  • Vin amas mi
  • Amas mi vin
  • Amas vin mi
In each of the above examples for Esperanto, the direct object vi (the pronoun for "you") has the suffix '-n' appended to it. Thus, in any sentence, the subject (typically ending in '-o' or '-oj', though pronouns end in '-i'), the verb (ending in -s) and the object (ending in '-n', typically following a '-o' or '-oj', though as mentioned before, the pronouns end in '-i').

This flexible word order is found in languages such as Old English, Estonian, and many others (paticularly those in Scandinavia). Chances are, that Old English and the modern Scandinavian languages are related to each other at some point in the past.

Latin offered a compromise between the free word order seen in Esperanto and the more familiar rigid word orders. Without any special endings, the word order of a sentence in Latin is Subject Object Verb. However, with various suffixes it was possible to mark certain words in the sentence as the subject, object or verb and then move them around. To an extent, this still exists in English:

  1. Bill hit me
  2. I was hit by Bill
The above sentences have the same meaning, however the second one uses markers in the form of other words to designate the object and subject. This is relatively recent in English (starting about 1500).

There are 6 possible ways to order sentences where position changes the sentence meaning (3! for those who want to do the math):

Subject Verb Object (SVO)
By far, the SVO method is the most well known in the western world with languages such as: All of these languages conform to the same basic sentence structure that we know and love and is used right here.
Subject Object Verb (SOV)
Along with unmarked Latin a number of languages from the orient are based on this structure:
Verb Subject Object (VSO)
The VSO languages appear in two main groups - that of ancient England and the ancient languages of the middle east.
Verb Object Subject (VOS)
Many of these languages appear in Mexico:
Object Subject Verb (OSV)
Along with its cousin - OVS - this is a rather rare set of language structure. Across many linguistics pages, I have only found one language that maps to this sentence structure:
Object Verb Subject (OVS)
The most well known "modern" language in this set of languages is that of the constructed language - Klingon. For examples of some translations of well known literature see The Lord's Prayer: Klingon and Jabberwocky Translations.

A 'real' (not constructed) language that fits this sentence structure is:

One document that I have found states that there are only 6 languages with this sentence structure aside from Klingon out of tens of thousands.

It should be noted that even though there is often a relationship between two sentences with the same word order this is not necessarily a causal one. There are only 6 choices (7 if you include those that are purely marked languages). English is no way related to Swahili in its ancestry; nor is Gaelic related to ancient Egyptian.

By no means are the lists above all inclusive - that would make this writeup scroll for pages and then still likely miss some.


Syn"tax (?), n. [L. syntaxis, Gr. , fr. to put together in order; with + to put in order; cf. F. syntaxe. See Syn-, and Tactics.]


Connected system or order; union of things; a number of things jointed together; organism.


They owe no other dependence to the first than what is common to the whole syntax of beings. Glanvill.


That part of grammar which treats of the construction of sentences; the due arrangement of words in sentences in their necessary relations, according to established usage in any language.


© Webster 1913.

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