Linguistic typology

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Linguistic typology is a subfield of linguistics that studies and classifies languages according to their structural features. Its aim is to describe and explain the common properties and the structural diversity of the world's languages. It includes three subdisciplines: qualitative typology, which deals with the issue of comparing languages and within-language variance; quantitative typology, which deals with the distribution of structural patterns in the world’s languages; and theoretical typology, which explains these distributions.

Contents

Qualitative typology

Qualitative typology develops cross-linguistically viable notions or types which provide a framework for the description and comparison of individual languages. A few examples appear below.

Typological systems

Subject-Verb-Object positioning

One set of types reflects the basic order of subject, verb, and direct object in sentences:

These labels usually appear abbreviated as "SVO" and so forth, and may be called "typologies" of the languages to which they apply.

Some languages split verbs into an auxiliary and an infinitive or participle, and put the subject and/or object between them. For instance, German ("Ich habe einen Fuchs im Wald gesehen" - *"I have a fox in-the woods 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 checking spelling after its to complete"). In this case, linguists base the typology on the non-analytic tenses (i.e. those sentences in which the verb is not split) or on the position of the auxiliary. German is thus SVO in main clauses and Welsh is VSO (and preposition phrases would go after the infinitive).

Many typologists classify both German and Dutch as V2 languages, as the verb invariantly occurs as the second element of a full clause.

Some languages allow varying degrees of freedom in their constituent order that pose a problem for their classification within the subject/verb/object schema. To define a basic constituent order type in this case, one generally looks at frequency of different types in declarative affirmative main clauses in pragmatically neutral contexts, preferably with only old referents. Thus, for instance, Russian is widely considered an SVO language, as this is the most frequent constituent order under such conditions—all sorts of variations are possible, though, and occur in texts. In many inflected languages, such as Russian, Latin, and Greek, departures from the default word-orders are permissible but usually imply a shift in focus, an emphasis on the final element, or some special context. In the poetry of these languages, the word order may also shift freely to meet metrical demands. Additionally, freedom of word order may vary within the same language—for example, formal, literary, or archaizing varieties may have different, stricter, or more lenient constituent-order structures than an informal spoken variety of the same language.

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