We have a new video, explaining one of the key ideas about our project. We are studying different preferences we have for ordering the main parts of a clause or sentence, but what does this mean? In this video, we explain what word order is and why we are studying it.

Check out a map of how different orders are distributed across the world’s languages: https://wals.info/feature/81A#2/18.0/153.1  (from the World Atlas of Language Structures online)


Video transcript:

What is word order?

Well, when we speak –  or sign (if we’re using a sign language) –  we don’t just blurt out words out in a random order. Instead we tend to put the same kinds of things in the same position in a sentence.

So, for example, in English, I might say “Simon eats chocolate”. And there, we have a verb in the middle, eat. We have a subject, Simon, who is enacting the verb. And we have an object, the chocolate, which is affected by the verb.

And we can think of these 3 things – our subject, verb and object – as the building blocks of a sentence. And in English we tend to order these things as subject then verb then object, or S-V-O for short.

Do all languages use the same order?

No. So, if we think of these 3 building blocks, our S, our V and our O, there are actually 6 different ways we can combine them.

So some languages, like English, will prefer to use S-V-O order, but other languages will use different orders, like Japanese or Turkish, which prefer to use S-O-V order.

Are these different orders found in languages all over the world?

Yes, so we do see that each of these 6 orders is used by some languages around the world, but interestingly, not to the same extent.

So the majority of languages prefer to use either S-V-O or S-O-V order, and actually the other 4 orders are much less common.

Title text: Why would SVO and SOV be more common?

Well we don’t really know. But one of the goals of our research is to try and get a better understanding of how our preferences for different word orders might reflect how we learn language and how we communicate with other people.