The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Linguistic typology

Linguistic typology
Morphological typology
Analytic language
Synthetic language
Fusional language
Agglutinative language
Polysynthetic language
Morphosyntactic alignment
Theta role
Syntactic pivot
Nominative-accusative language
Nominative-absolutive language
Ergative-absolutive language
Tripartite language
Time Manner Place
Place Manner Time
Subject Verb Object
Subject Object Verb
Verb Subject Object
Verb Object Subject
Object Subject Verb
Object Verb Subject

Typology is the classification of languages by grammatical features. Typological classification contrasts with the more familiar genetic classification of languages into families that share an ancestor language (see historical linguistics). A genetic class is a language family, while a typological class is a language type. Research in typology, the ways in which languages vary, often overlaps with research in linguistic universals, the ways in which they don't vary.


Typological Systems

Subject, Verb, Object positioning

One set of types sometimes called just the "typology" of a language is the order of the subject, the verb, and the object:

These are usually abbreviated SVO, etc.

Some languages split verbs into an auxiliary and an infinitive or participle, and put the subject or object between them. For instance, German ("Im Wald habe ich einen Fuchs gesehen" - *"In-the wood have I a fox seen"), Dutch ("Hans vermoedde dat Jan Piet Marie zag leren zwemmen" - *"Hans suspected that Jan Piet Marie saw teach swim") and Welsh ("Mae'r gwirio sillafu wedi'i gwblhau" - *"Is the check spelling after to complete"). In this case, typology is based on the non-analytic tenses (i.e. those sentences in which the verb is not split) or the position of the auxiliary. German is thus SVO/VSO (without "im Wald" the subject would go first) in main clauses and Welsh is VSO (and O would go after the infinitive).

Both German and Dutch are often classified as V2 languages, as the verb invariantly occurs as the second element of a full clause.

Some languages (usually those which are heavily inflected) are difficult to classify in the SVO typological system, due to fact that virtually any ordering of verb, object and subject is possible and correct. Information conveyed by word order in non-inflected languages (e.g. which noun is the subject and which is the object) is instead conveyed by applying affixes to the noun to designate its grammatical role. One implication of this system is that fixed word order is not necessary to unambiguously determine meaning (though highly inflected languages sometimes also develop normative word orders). Such languages include Latin, Polish, and κοινη Greek.


Another common classification is whether the language is accusative or ergative. If the language has cases, this is determined by whether the subject of an intransitive verb has the same case as the subject or the object of a transitive verb. If it doesn't, but the order is SVO or OVS, this is determined by whether the subject of the intransitive verb is on the same side as the subject or the object of the transitive verb.

In many cases a language shows mixed accusative and ergative behaviour (e. g. ergative morphology marking the verb arguments, on top of an accusative syntax), or behaves ergatively only in some contexts (this is called split ergativity, and is usually based on the grammatical person of the arguments or in the tense/aspect of the verb).

External link

  • Association for Linguistic Typology

Last updated: 02-10-2005 20:55:41
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55