--- Josh Roth wrote:
There's something weird about VSO, or something I don't understand
anyway. They told us in LIN 101 that a verb and its object form a verb phrase
together, which makes sense in SVO, SOV, VOS, and OVS languages, where the
object and the verb are actually next to each other (and therefore you don't
get ambiguities like the one above). But in VSO and OSV they're not, so I
don't know how they can make a phrase together if there's a subject in
between. I asked my prof and he either wasn't too sure or didn't want to get
into it, but he hinted that maybe there was a transformation going on... how
screwy though, to need a transformation for every sentence!
--- end of quote ---

Your prof knew, he just didn't want to get into it. VSO *is* derived by a transformation--the verb raises out of the verb phrase to a position above the subject. There are good empirical reasons for assuming this, but I don't really have time to get into them now. Ask me if you're curious.

As for the implausibility of having a transformation in every sentence: The fact is that transformational grammar (or rather, its descendants, Principles & Parameters and Minimalist syntax) have come a long way since the simplified early 80s vintage syntax which you probably learned in your 101 class. Over the last 20 years the theory has become ever more abstract in its attempt to deal with a greater and greater amount of data, and consequently transformations--specifically *movement* transformations--have acquired increasing importance in the theory, to the point where most linguists nowadays would assume that there are multiple transformations happening in every sentence in every language.

So either you like transformational-based theories or you don't (personally, I find that they explain the data more simply than non-transformational theories). But crucially, these theories don't treat VSO languages any differently from languages of other word order types.


Matt Pearson
Department of Linguistics
Reed College
3203 SE Woodstock Blvd
Portland, OR 97202 USA
ph:  503-771-1112 (x 7618)