Work Papers of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, University of North Dakota Session




Derbyshire and Pullum (1979, this volume) report on the evidence they have accumulated during the past two years showing the likely existence of twelve languages with object-initial basic order (OVS or OSV). Such languages are contrary to what had been generally predicted in the literature on word order typology until 1977. All twelve languages are found in what might broadly be termed the Amazon basin of South America. Seven of the eight OVS languages belong to the Carib family.

This paper suggests a possible diachronic explanation for the emergence of OVS as a basic order in Carib languages. It takes account of, and modifies, two hypotheses recently proposed as an explanation of word order change (Hyman 1975 and Vennemann, 1975). It also makes a comparison with a totally unrelated language from a different part of the world, viz. Fijian for which a similar diachronic explanation of word order change has been suggested. The Carib languages from which I draw evidence in support of the explanation are the OVS languages Hixkaryana and Makusi, and the SOV language Carib (of Surniam).

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