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Summary Details

Query:   Word Order in Russian and Other Related Issues
Author:  Bingfu Lu
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Typology

Summary:   Regarding query:

One week ago, in a posting, I raised two question. One requests for
counterexamples to an assumed word order universal (the OV order implies TV
[time adverbial + V] order). The other asks whether the Russian uses TV or
VT as the canonical order.

I got 9 responses so far. No one provided counterexample to the assumed
universal. About the Russian word order, the stories are very different
among the responses.
3 For TV (Harold Schefski, Linda Apse, Dmitry Gerasimov)
3 for VT; (Evgenia Sokolinskaia, Marian Sloboda, Olga Zavitnevich-Beaulac)
2 not clear (Ora Matushansky,
1 the answer is irrelevant (Ora Matushansky: [by ‘time adverbials’, I mean
the definite time location, not frequency])

I guess the assumed word order universal is related to that the time
adverbial has a strong tendency to appear initially cross-linguistically.

Years ago, I did a rough investigation on the word order among adverbial:
(Time, Duration, Location (of place), Instrument, Manner). The following
was the result.

1: T D L I M V
(Japanese, Korean, Basque)

2: T L I M V D

3: T D M V I L

4: T D V M I L

5: T V M I L D

6: V M I L D T
English, Vietnamese, Portuguese, Yoruba, Thai

I generalized the variants into a unique ‘orbital structure’ as follows:
{{{{{{V}M}I}L}D}T}, where the {} represents the distance to the head verb,
linear order being irrelevant here. From these variants, it seems the time
adverbial tends to precede most. This may be relevant to the assumed I
mentioned here (OV implies VT). In fact, in English, T is frequently
fronted. It seems the easiest to be fronted among these adverbials.

According to the responses to my previous posting, Russian should be
replaced by Latvian. Now, I would like to solicit for the orders of these
adverbials in other languages. I will make a summary if the responses are
significant in number.

Bingfu Lu
Institute of Linguistics,
Shanghai Normal University

Appendix: (all responses to my previous posting)

Harold Schefski (California State University, Long Beach)

In Russian there is a rule about word order which says that the new
information comes last in the sentence. This means that variant number one
is the response to Kogda Vy ego videli? Ya videl ego vchera. Numbers two
and three are both possible for the question Kogo Vy vchera videli? Again
the new information coming last in the response to the interrogative. I
cannot say whether two or three is a better variant in this situation only
that they are both possible and sound fine. However, number four is totally
unnatural to Russian because time should precede the verb unless it is the
newest information in the sentence as in number one.
1. Я увидел его вчера.
2. Я вчера увидел его.
3. Вчера я увидел его.
4. *Я увидел вчера его .

Evgenia Sokolinskaia (Hamburg University)

I am a linguist of English but a Russian native speaker and I would also
think that the basic order in Russian, which is a SVO language, would be
Vt, at least time adverbial phrases will nearly always be placed after the
verb. The difficulty is presented by one-word adverbials and the relative
freedom of Russian word order which is in most cases conditioned by the
windowing of attention in a sentence (cp. Ya vídel ego vcherá = I saw him
YESTERDAY vs. Ya ego vcherá vídel = I SAW him yesterday).
English is surely SVO + Vt language.

Ora Matushansky

(1) Both orders are possible:
Masha chasto boleet
M often is.sick
-- default
Masha boleet chasto
-- focus on frequently

(2) In the exx. above, this has to do with the fact that the sentence-final
element is focussed.
Masha chasto govorit po telefonu
M frequently speaks on phone
-- default
Masha govorit chasto po telefonu
M speaks frequently on phone
-- marked, and I don't really know in what way (information structure)

If you front the object or do something else that makes the verb final
here, this is VERY marked (also from the pov of information structure),
and so the adverb ends up after the verb to make the word-order less marked
(I'm sorry I'm not speaking in the generative terms, but it's not like I
have an analysis, and the pure description might be easier). In this
case, putting the adverb after the verb is the default option:
Po telefonu Masha govorit chasto
As for using the phone, Masha does so frequently

Also, if the object becomes preverbal because it is a pronoun (there's
something like object shift in Russian then) or a quantifier like all
(a short one), the same effect comes into play - the adverb becomes final.

Ora Matushansky

My intuition is that if you have an adverbial that is longer than one word,
then all depends on how heavy other post-verbal elements are. It sort of
makes sense because the longer an element is, the more likely it is to be
new information/focalized. I believe you can find the same kind of effects
in Romance DP vis-a-vis the order of NP-complement, (right-branching)
adjectives and PPs:

Masha boleet chashche chem Petja
M is.sick more.often than P

Masha chashche chem Petja boleet
-- v marked, verum focus + contrastive topics on M and P, I think

Masha boleet korju chashche chem Petja
M is.sick with.mumps more.often than P
-- default (even though you can't be sick with mumps more than once, I
don't think)

Masha chashche chem Petja boleet korju
-- focus on mumps

Marian Sloboda

I do not have any statistics for you, but I think that the basic order
in Russian is VO, but Vt, although Russian, being a language with
relatively free word order, can have tV (as well as OV - for emphasis)
order. The position of t might also depend on the fact if there is an
object in the sentence or not, but I am not sure how that looks like
in quantitative terms.

Linda Apse

I am a native speaker of Latvian ( a balto-slavic language) and I speak
Russian too. In Latvian, which is a VO lanaguage, the canonical is tV
order, like in Es rit atnaksu ( I will tomorrow come) (future is
morphologically marked on the verb) A Vt order is a marked order.
As far as I am aware, the same is true of Russian.

Olga Kagan

I'd say that in Russian the standard order is Vt. Some examples are the

Dima prishol domoj v polovine sed'mogo.
Dima came home in half seventh
Dima came home at half past six.

Ja xozhu v klub po vtornikam.
I go to club on Tuesdays.

Lena byla u Petji na proshloj nedele.
Lena was at Petja on last week
Lena visited Petja last week.

Since Russian is a language with a rather free word order, other orders are
possible. However, the standard order seems to be as exemplified in the
sentences above.

Dmitry Gerasimov

I'd rather say both as a native speaker and as a linguist interested in
Russian aspectual composition, that your impression is right. Russian uses
both tV and Vt orders, and though I cannot provide you with any statistics,
tV order is apparently more frequent. Vt order is mostly used when the
temporal adverbial is focused. I can provide you with many examples if you
are interested.

Olga Zavitnevich-Beaulac

Russian is a discourse configurational language, which means the word
order is relatively free and as you rightly notice both tV and Vt orders are
attested in the language depending what information is more relevant in
discourse: topicalized and focused constituents tend to appear clause
initially at the left periphery. However, the basic neutral order is VO
and Vt.

LL Issue: 17.1024
Date Posted: 05-Apr-2006


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