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Ollia Hatto: Word Order



A quick look over the early primer lessons, as well as the grammar, will show that the standard Vaior word order is VSO. That is, the verb is usually first, followed by the subject, after which comes everything else: direct and indirect objects, as well as prepositional phrases. That same cursory glance will also show, however, that the word order often deviates from this strict VSO pattern, sometimes quite drastically. What's going on?

It is very important to keep in mind at all times that statements about normal Vaior word order refer only to strong tendencies, not to rules. There are competing tendencies for Vaior word order, and often the one that says "use VSO" will lose.

Some learners of Vaior, especially ones who know only modern Germanic or Romance languages, will find this great flexibility in word order a little alarming. If you keep in mind at all times that the role words play in sentences are encoded in their endings, not in word order, then you shouldn't go wrong often. A statement like van au rhon tuarai shouldn't cause much too much distress, though its word order is quite deviant. The meaning is perfectly clear from the case endings. Your job at this point is to try to figure out why this peculiar word order was used, and what information that communicates. I will explore that question in the rest of this document.

In the next few paragraphs I'll give examples of situations where the word order of "least energy", VSO, is ignored in favor of some other order, and the reasons for that. Then I'll discuss a few of the examples of true hard-and-fast rules, and end the discussion with a quick list of the tendencies of Vaior word order in summary.

In the discussions below I will use the word "deviant" and "deviance" to describe non-VSO word orders. I use these only to indicate that the order differs from the main VSO tendency. Do not take the word "deviant" to mean "dispreferred." Indeed, the deviant word order may be the preferred order in some situations.

Before starting in on the changes, here is the default word order in all its glory:

Verb Subject DirectObject IndirectObject Manner Time Place
Now, the changes...

Salience

The only truly strict rule of Vaior word order is that if some element of a clause is most salient, if it is the focus of the statement being made, then it will if at all possible shift to the head of the clause:

  • Tuarai a rhon van This man saw me.
  • A rhon tuarai van This man saw me.
  • Van tuarai a rhon This man saw me.

Related to this shifting to the front of the sentence is the additional tendency to further indicate the focus by using the enclitic particle ta. This may in some ways be considered a mere stylistic variant of the versions without ta, since it is extremely common in this situation:

  • A ta rhon tuarai van This man saw me.
  • Van ta tuarai a rhon This man saw me.

The use of ta within a phrase not at the head of a clause also indicates that preceding word or phrase-head is particularly salient:

  • Tuarai a ta rhon van This man saw me.
  • Tuarai a rhon van ta This man saw me.

However, this usage almost always occurs only when a preceding sentence or clause contains uri in the same position. So, both of the sentences above, standing as they do without previous context, are a little odd.

Clarity

The other major cause of word order adjustments is ambiguity avoidance. Especially in complex sentences and participle phrases, serious ambiguities can arise if you hold too closely to the VSO tendency. In general, there are two approaches to solving this problem. In the first approach, the heavy (wordy or ambiguous) phrase is shifted to the head of the sentence. In some ways this is related to the issue of salience: if you're going to the effort to precisely describe something, then it's probably fairly salient.

The other approach is to encapsulate the phrases causing ambiguity. This is most common with descriptive clauses, that is, relative clauses and participle phrases. When a non-subject noun is modified with a relative clause or participle ambiguities are less likely:

  • Lu lairho va nan rhonan thían tuaro sa an enass enthiarasse. I don't know the man whom you see in the restaurant.

It's fairly clear that the phrase an enass enthiarasse goes with tuaro not lairho, not least because of the meaning. However, it is very easy to construct trickier phrases:

  • Pentho na rhon thían tuaro sa an enass enthiarasse. The man whom you see sleeps in the restaurant or The man whom you see in the restaurant is sleeping?

In this case, from the strict VSO standpoint, the phrase an enass enthiarasse could go with either verb. Without some clarifying punctuation or vocal inflection it isn't clear. Most would probably assume it goes with the second verb.

Style

Finally, certain alterations of word order are common in certain uses of language. Poetry has its own preferred diction and word order is a servant to meter. There are other common stylistic practices, some idiomatic, which will prefer a certain word order, possibly quite far from the VSO order.

One very common trick is encapsulation. In this, an entire clause is bracketed between a noun phrase that would normally be unsplit. For example, I made a large change would normally be isai va hemsian vaman. One could of course focus on the large change part, and say hemsian (ta) vaman isai va. A more stylish way of doing the same thing though, is to front only the most relevant part of the large change, either hemsian isai va vaman, which emphasizes the change, or vaman isai va hemsian, which emphasizes the type of change.

Fixed Order

Now that we've looked at the main cases of sometimes quite deviant word order, I turn to a discussion of some of the word order tendencies of Vaior which most regularly take precedence. In all of these there are of course exceptions, most of which ultimately have to do with the unique properties of enclitics.

One of the strongest tendencies on Vaior is for a subject pronoun to follow the verb it goes with immediately if it follows at all. That is, if the subject pronoun has been lifted out to the front of a clause then it may well be separated from the verb. When the subject pronoun follows, then there is a very strong aversion to separating it from the verb. The only exception: an enclitic may stand between a verb and the subject pronoun. By far the most common enclitic to stand between is ta. Others can be used, but are often avoided, especially if they are multi-syllabic.

  • Tuarai va nan alailu. I saw her last night.
  • Acceptable: Va alailu tuarai nan.
  • Acceptable: Nan tuarai va alailu.
  • Not acceptable: *Tuarai alailu va nan because va must follow immediately.
  • Acceptable: Tuarai ta va nan. because ta, an enclitic, is allowed to separate the verb and subject pronoun
  • Acceptable: Nan ta tuarai va alailu

Please keep in mind that this aversion to separating the verb and a subject pronoun does not extend to subject nouns. Something like tuarai alailu a rhon nan this man saw her last night is bit odd, but still acceptable.

Summary

  • Default word order tendency: VSO.
  • But the focus of a statement shifts to the first position in the clause, often with ta or some other particle.
  • When the subject pronoun follows the verb, it must follow immediately, except for intervening enclitics.