Investigations of word order from a typological perspective




Harnisch, Marie Crevolin

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This paper, a review of the literature on word order typology, examines in detail a body of work (Comrie 1989; Comrie, Dryer, Gil, Haspelmath 2005; Dryer 1988, 1991, 1992, 2007; Greenberg 1966; Hawkins 1983; Lehmann 1973; Vennemann 1974) that made a major contribution to linguistics by introducing the subfield of typology and the study of word order across the world’s languages from a typological perspective. Greenberg’s (1966) seminal paper advanced an understanding of cross-linguistic tendencies that had been unknown at the time and which are still being investigated today, especially his three-way typology based on the relative position of V with respect to S and O. Lehmann (1973) and Vennemann (1974) pushed the VO/OV distinction which led to a reanalysis and diminishing of the role of S as an organizing parameter. Two theories, Vennemann’s Head-Dependent Theory and Hawkins’ Cross-Category Harmony, account for many attested correlation pairs, but neither is as strong as Dryer’s Branching Direction Theory in terms of explanatory adequacy, elegance, and adherence to observed cross-linguistic tendencies. As far as theoretical approaches, we note that generative grammar with its focus on single-language study cannot provide an account of the variations in the world’s languages, while the typological approach comes closer to describing universals of language based on empirical data. Finally, I present the idea that investigations of word order from a typological perspective can be successfully undertaken using a functionalist approach within the framework of Optimality Theory.




LCSH Subject Headings