Basic word order frequencies or manning/parker contra tomlin

Bert Peeters*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper is a reply to Manning and Parker's [Language Sciences 11. 43-65 (1989)] recent contribution in this journal on the basic word order frequency hierarchy for natural languages. It argues that Manning and Parker are wrong when they assume that the majority of previously offered explanations for the hierarchy are to be rejected because of a flavor of Lamarckianism, a theory of biological form which has been discarded by modern biologists. As language is not a type of biological form, there is nothing a priori wrong with an explanation which, rather like Lamarckianism, is based on functional principles. Manning and Parker's own explanation, based on the principles of figure/ground interpretation and on the idea that word order is a linear interpretation of semantic form, may seem convincing to the superficial reader, but implies that meaning exists independent of form. As it does not, their explanation must be abandoned. Moreover, the SOV > ... > OSV frequency hierarchy as it stands must be revised in the light of the findings of Tomlin [Basic Word Order: Functional Principles, London: Croom Helm (1986)]. SOV and SVO are numerically even, and so are VOS and OVS. The paper summarizes Tomlin's findings and argues that universal principles do not have to have the same cross-linguistic effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-88
Number of pages10
JournalLanguage Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1991


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