Rob wrote:
> I was wondering if anyone knows whether a relationship exists between word-
> order and basic typology in languages.

Yes, there are in fact a number of interesting and theoretically
and descriptively important generalizations concerning wordorder
crosslinguistically.  The most important and most obvious were
those that had to do with branchedness among constituents -- that
languages will tend to have all constituents have an overt head
whose dependents branch off consistently into one direction, left
or right.  (There are exceptions to this:  English is a mostly
right-branching language, but it has adjectives and genitives
preceding NPs as the unmarked choice.) As a result of the interaction
of prosodic and syntactic markedness, left-branching languages will
weakly tend to favor the development of case systems from postpositions
and complex verb forms.

Sally was right in directing you to Greenberg, who might well
be called the father of linguistic typology.  However, many of
the particular typological generalizations have been greatly
refined since the 1960s. Now Bernard Comrie's and, better, Johanna
Nichols' work has reached an unprecedent level of statistical
sophistication.  After reading Comrie's text on typology and
universals, I'd suggest Nichols somewhat more technical _Linguistic
Diversity through Space and Time_, which won a major book award
some years back.

>  It seems to me that left-branching
> languages would tend to prefer ergative-absolutive, while right-branching
> languages would tend to prefer nominative-accusative.  That is, of course,
> if all other things are equal (which is never the case :P ).

If there is any connection between alignment and branchedness, it
would be very tenuous, but it would be connected to the above
comment about left-branching languages and complexity.  Nichols
found that ergative languages are the most consistently morphologically
complex of any alignment type, with neutral alignment unsurprisingly
being the least complex.  Ergativity also favors dependent marking
(e.g., ergative case rather than ergative head agreement), and,
apparently independently, common on nouns rather than verbs.

> I also think
> this relationship is due to the core argument that is closest to the verb -
> the object in left-branching languages and the subject in right-branching
> ones.

Except that, in an SVO language, both arguments are equally "close"
to the verb.  Locality does have an affect on various kinds of
agreement and case-marking, but not in the sense that you describe.

Thomas Wier	       "I find it useful to meet my subjects personally,
Dept. of Linguistics    because our secret police don't get it right
University of Chicago   half the time." -- octogenarian Sheikh Zayed of
1010 E. 59th Street     Abu Dhabi, to a French reporter.
Chicago, IL 60637