On Mon, 10 Sep 2001, Jesse Bangs wrote:

> >     Anyway, I think I'm realizing my question here.  Is it feasible
> that
> > there could be a language with no preferred word order whatsoever since
> all
> > the information is encoded in the verb?
> Yes.  I have heard that Hungarian has no preferred word order (Frank
> Valoczy will verify this), and it isn't even as agglutinative as this.

The question of whether a language has a preferred word order or not is, I
think, misframed. The question should address what kind of
pragmatic/semantic functions the various word orders play.

To use a natlang example: Pima allows subjects and objects to occur on
either side of the verb, in either order relative to each other. The
various orders to logically equivalent in meaning, but have different
effects. For example, the initial word of the sentence often introduces a
new entity into the discourse. ("What did you buy?" "A book bought I".)
Post-verbal nouns usually correspond to information that has already been
introduced and has been backgrounded. As a complication, if two new
entities are being introduced into the discourse, only one can occur
initially (for obvious reasons), and the other is usually kicked into the
post-verbal area. There is no single preferred order, but a different
preferred order for each different type of sentence.

The most neutral pragmatic word order in my conlang Telek is SOV:

Jan-al bilty ke-fanna-'ni.
John-NOM salmon AsA-eat-PERF
'John ate the salmon'

If the object is the topic or focus of the sentence, then the word order
is OSV:

Bilty-yd Jan-al ke-fanna-'ni
salmon-ACC John-NOM AsA-eat-PERF
'The salmon, John ate.' (But he didn't eat the pie, for example.)

Verbs can be initial if the action of the sentence is under focus:

Ke-fanna-'ni Jan-al bilty-yd.
AsA-eat-PERF John-NOM salmon-ACC
'John ATE the salmon.' (He didn't throw it back.)

SVO order usually appears when the object clarifies an incorporated
element, almost like an afterthought (but not really). For example:

Jan-al ke-kiingi-fanna-'ni.
John-NOM AsA-fish-eat-PERF
'John ate fish.'

Jan-al ke-kiingi-fanna-'ni bilty-yd.
John-NOM AsA-fish-eat-PERF salmon-ACC
'John ate fish, salmon.'

Even an OVS order can be used, when the object is "generic", that is, when
the sentence does not refer to a specific example of the object, but to
the class in general. This also requires the verb to have focus over the

Bilty ke-fanna Jan-al.
salmon AsA-eat John-NOM
'Eat salmon, John does (regularly).' (As opposed to eating trout or
throwing salmon back after he catches it.)