Workshop on Word Order in South Asian Languages

Oct. 8, 2001
As part of the XXIth South Asian Languages Analysis Roundtable meeting

Tanmoy Bhattacharya

An abundance of word order variation in south Asian languages makes it a fertile linguistic area to study issues arising out of word order in these languages. In particular, this workshop is inspired by the following set of questions raised in Kidwai (1995; revised and published as 2000):

  1. How is the absence of free word order to be captured by UG? Is the difference between languages that have a relatively free word order, and those that do not located at a parameter?
  2. Does all word order variation necessarily involve movement, or can some of it be base-generated?
  3. How is the syntactic movement in the word order variation to be described?
  4. What is the relationship between syntax and semantics/ pragmatics with respect to word order variation?
The underlying tension behind these questions are familiar and relate to the division of labour between the parameters and principles on the one hand and to the theoretical position of features as trigger for movement on the other. In short, the playing ground for studying word order variation is defined by the Linear Correspondence Axiom (LCA) of Kayne (1994) and the feature theory, in particular, features as triggers for movement, in Minimalism (Chomsky 1995).

As an answer to 1 Kidwai proposes to locate the difference not in a parameter but rather in the fact that Hindi/Urdu has a relatively free system of base-generated VP-adjunction plus the possibility of relatively free adjunction to IP and VP. So free word order basically is a conspiracy of these phenomena which leads to a richer typology of languages. In relation to scrambling, the question relates to the long held view that scrambling is most prolific in head-final languages. For example, in a mixed-headed language like Dutch, scrambling is observed in the verbal domain (head-final) but not in the nominal domain (head-initial) (Corver & Riemsdijk 1997).

 With respect to 2, word order variation is seen as a mixture of base-generated (for rightward scrambling) and syntactic movement approaches. Characterisation of scrambling as base-generated typically springs from the traditional view of scrambling as an optional movement. Thus in trying to answer 2, Kidwai comes  close to removing optionality from scrambling by suggesting that even in cases of pure adjunction (where movement is not motivated by a “null” focus operator)  adjunction lies outside the domains of the relevant economy principles. Although, in many ways, Mahajan's (1990) attempt to portray scrambling as a Case triggered movement implied the absence of optionality, it was not until Kidwai (1995) and more explicitly in Miyagawa (1997) that this issue was directly addressed.

 The fact that (short) scrambling escapes the WCO filter, resists reconstruction but on the other hand creates operator-variable structures like parasitic gaps led to the conclusion that scrambling exhibits properties of both A- and A'-movement. However, in connection with question 3 above, it is maintained that scrambling is neither A- or A’-movement but is a case of adjunction at VP/ IP. It is also different from either Wh or topicalisation related movement. However, the necessary feature-checking  in this view is only through adjunction and therefore must exploit the problematic construct of broadly L-related positions. Kidwai is forced to rule out long-distance scrambling (LDS) in general in H/U, maintaining that the language does not allow CP to be an intermediate adjunction site. It is generally believed that LDS is dependent upon the lexical property of the verb, e.g., in German, ECM verbs, raising verbs, and certain subject-control verbs, allow scrambling out of infinitival complements (Grewendorf and Sabel 1994).

 In responding to 4, Kidwai shows that her two different proposals regarding scrambling (scrambling as pure adjunction and scrambling as [focus] driven movement, the latter based on the original proposal in Jayaseelan 1995 for Malayalam) have different theoretical justifications in this connection. With respect to the first approach the semantic/ pragmatic consequences of scrambling are explained by the operations of discourse grammar and by the second approach they are seen as consequence of satisfaction of certain morphological/ syntactic features. This obviously relates to the observation in Corver & Riemsdijk 1997 that in Dutch both neutral scrambling for D-linked definite NPs and specific definite NPs and contrastive scrambling for NPs with a focus particle, exist.

As it is clear by now, the word order issue that most directly reflects the central theme of this workshop is the issue of scrambling in SA languages. In the generative tradition, one of the first works to look at the phenomenon in these languages was Mahajan (1990) who proposed that (short) scrambling targets the same landing sites as movement for Case and agreement. In the case where the verb is a non-(structural) Case assigner, the object must move overtly over the subject (which is lexically Case marked and therefore need not move) for structural Case assignment leading to a scrambled order. While the issue raised at that time seemed controversial (mainly due to the nature of the data presented ), in the course of time, it has come to identify the starting point for discussions related to scrambling in, at least, Indo Aryan SA languages.

However, Kidwai (1995) was the most comprehensive treatment of the phenomenon in Hindi/ Urdu. Moreover, the data presented in this work were not controversial. She showed that Mahajan's account is incorrect in various respects and that scrambling cannot be Case-dependent as nominative, accusative, and oblique DPs can scramble. Additionally scrambling does not affect the agreement patterns in the language. Instead, she makes two proposals to deal with scrambling in H/U which views this operation as adjunction to VP or IP in the overt syntax (Proposal I) and as movement due to feature-checking by a null focusing particle (Proposal II).

With Minimalism, one issue that calls for a rethinking in scrambling is the absence of optionality in grammar. So, although the classic proposals in the generative traditions treated scrambling as a purely optional, semantically vacuous process (see e.g. Saito (1989), Corver & Riemsdijk (1994)), a need for evaluation was called for. Boškovic´ and Takahashi (1998) therefore made the attempt to invert the view of scrambling. They deny the notion of scrambling altogether and view the "scrambled" elements as base-generated in their surface non-theta position and undergo obligatory LF lowering to their theta positions in the case of long-distance A' scrambling. In this view (un)scrambled clauses are not related derivationally. Apart from the problematic notion of lowering, this view relies on the assumption that theta-roles are former features, parametrised in strength. This view accounts for the facts that (a) Scrambling obligatorily reconstructs (b) extraction out of scrambled elements is acceptable, and (c) scrambling doesn't alter the scope relations.

However, the B&T approach, apart from being unusual, is problematic. One critique has come from Bailyn (2000) who show that in Russian it's simply not the case that there is no scope effects associated with the surface "scrambled" position (radical reconstruction). So, if "every boy" is extracted out of the sentence Someone wants that Boris saw every boy which has an unambiguous wide-scope interpretation for the existential quantifier, the scrambled version has an unambiguous wide-scope interpretation of the universal quantifier. On the other hand, Boeckx (2000) has observed that the B&T approach has both conceptual and empirical problems. Conceptually, it relies on Greed as driving movement and movement (lowering) does not leave a copy. Empirically, it cannot account for (a) object honorification in Japanese (b) absence of radical reconstruction in LDS involving NPI sika.

These critiques actually point towards the tension between minimalism and information structure theories on the status of word order. That is, on the one the hand it is clear that in certain languages, words and phrases always move for a reason (perhaps discourse), whereas optionality in scrambling is still a choice available in some languages. This workshop wishes to evaluate this tension and investigate the nature of this optionality. Is it the case that some languages (e.g. Russian) always move things for discourse reasons and some other languages (e.g. Dutch) don't? The debate also interestingly brings minimalism with its bar on optionality and Information Structure Theories of the Prague school closer.

Bailyn, John. 2000. "On Scrambling: A Reply to Boškovic´ and Takahashi", Ms. SUNY, Stony Brook.
Boškovic´, Želko and Daiko Takahashi. 1998. "Scrambling and Last Resort", Linguistic Inquiry 29: 347-366.

Boeckx, Cedric. 2000. "Hale's Correlation", Ms. UConn, Storrs.

Chomsky, Noam. 1995. The Minimalist Program. MIT Press, MA: Cambridge.

Corver, Norbert & Henk van Riemsdijk. 1994. Studies on Scrambling. Mouton: Berlin.

Corver, Norbert & Henk van Riemsdijk. 1997. "The position of the head and the domain of scrambling", Typology: prototypes, item orderings and universals. ed by B. Palek, 57-90, Charles University Press: Prague.

Grewendorf, Günther & Joachim Sabel. 1994. "Long scrambling and incorporation", Linguistic Inquiry 25: 263-308.

Jayaseelan, K. A. 1995. "Question word movement to focus in Malayalam", Ms: CIEFL, Hyderabad.

Kayne, Richard. 1994. Antisymmetry of Syntax. MIT Press, MA: Cambridge.

Kidwai, Ayesha. 1995. Binding and free word order phenomenon in Hindi and Urdu. PhD diss., Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Kidwai, Ayesha. 2000. XP Adjunction in Universal Grammar: Scrambling and Binding in Hindi/ Urdu. Oxford University Press: NY.

Mahajan, Anoop. 1990. The A/A-Bar Distinction and Movement Theory. PhD MIT

Miyagawa, Shigeru. 1997. "Against optional scrambling", Linguistic Inquiry28: 1-26.

Saito, Mamuro. 1989. "Scrambling as semantically vacouous A'-movement", Alternative Conceptions of Phrase Structure, ed by Mark Baltin & Anthony Kroch, 182-200.

Invited Speakers

Ayesha KIDWAI (not confirmed) (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)
K. A. Jayaseelan (CIEFL, Hyderabad) "Scrambling and the Grammar of the "Middle Field" in SOV langauges"
Cedric BOECKX (University of Connecticut, Storrs) "Scrambling: Base-generation or Movement?
Ruth KEMPSON (King's College, University of London) "On What Goes Left and What Goes Right"
Rajesh BHATT (University of Texas, Austin) "Incorporation, Word Order, and Long Distance Agreement"

For further information about this workshop, contact:

Tanmoy Bhattacharya at

For further information about the conference in general, contact:

Phone:+49 - 7531 - 88 26 80
 +49 - 7531 - 88 47 54
Fax:+49 - 7531 - 88 44 59