Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Word Order

Many of the concepts and examples in this article come from a chapter in a book written by Dirven and Radden, I have included the citation at the bottom of this article.
The word order of a sentence is crucial. "Loaf a store went of to the to bread I buy" doesn't make a lot of sense, even though you might be able to figure out that "I went to the store to buy a loaf of bread", it would certainly take you longer to understand when reading the former example. Other examples, such as "I want you to know" and "I want to know you" would need clarification if ever mixed up.

Sentences like "I came, I saw, I conquered" also rely on word order, so do "binary" examples (those that refer to two opposites) "give and take", "cause and effect"... "park and ride". Switching take and give, or cause and effect, do not sound right to a native speaker of English.

As mentioned before, word order defines the meaning of the sentence;
"Sam painted the green door".
"Sam painted the door green".
The word green, based on it's location in relation to the word "door" states the condition of the door before and after the event of the door being painted. You could of course include the state of the door before and after; "Sam painted the red door green".

Some languages can circumvent these rules, German is one of them; due to the existence of cases. In the sentence, "The boy threw the ball", both the words take thier respective cases; with the boy as the subject, and the ball as the object.
The boy threw the ball.
Der Junge warf den Ball.
Den ball warf der Junge.
Although the latter sentence would probably sound strange, the case of the word defines the subject, and object in German; not necessarily the position. 

Another concept that appears in language is that of the distance between words. Things which belong together conceptually tend to be put together linguistically, and vice-verse.
"A noisy group was hanging around the bar".
"A noisy group of youngsters were hanging around the bar".
Furthermore the difference between the sentences "I made her leave", and "I hoped that she would leave" is the influence of the noun on the situation. The sentence with the direct effect has a shorter distance between the subject and verb, the sentence with the least impact has a larger distance. The difference between "Romeo sent his girlfriend a valentine" and "Romeo sent a valentine to his girlfriend" is that the more direct sentence (the first one) suggests she received a valentine. However, if you change the sentences to say that "Romeo is sending..." then it is NOT assumed that she received the valentine! In this case, would there be anything different between the two sentences?

Dirven. "The Cognitive Basis of Language, Language and Thought." Cognitive Exploration of Language and Linguistics. Ed. Radden. 2004. 1-21. Print.

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