is a subfield of linguistics
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....
that studies and classifies languages according to their structural features. Its aim is to describe and explain the common properties and the structural diversity of the world's languages. It includes three subdisciplines: qualitative typology, which deals with the issue of comparing languages and within-language variance; quantitative typology, which deals with the distribution of structural patterns in the world’s languages; and theoretical typology, which explains these distributions.
Qualitative typology develops cross-linguistically viable notions or types which provide a framework for the description and comparison of individual languages. A few examples appear below.
One set of types reflects the basic order of subject
The subject is one of the two main constituents of a clause, according to a tradition that can be tracked back to Aristotle and that is associated with phrase structure grammars; the other constituent is the predicate. According to another tradition, i.e...
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...
, and direct object in sentences:
These labels usually appear abbreviated as "SVO" and so forth, and may be called "typologies" of the languages to which they apply.
Some languages split verbs into an auxiliary and an infinitive or participle, and put the subject and/or object between them. For instance, German ("Ich habe
einen Fuchs im Wald gesehen
" - *"I have a fox in-the woods seen"), Dutch ("Hans vermoedde
dat Jan Piet Marie zag leren zwemmen
" - *"Hans suspected that Jan Piet Marie saw teach swim") and Welsh ("Mae'
r gwirio sillafu wedi'i gwblhau
" - *"Is the checking spelling after its to complete"). In this case, linguists base the typology on the non-analytic tenses (i.e. those sentences in which the verb is not split) or on the position of the auxiliary. German is thus SVO in main clauses and Welsh is VSO (and preposition phrases would go after the infinitive).
Many typologists classify both German and Dutch as V2
In syntax, verb-second word order is the rule in some languages that the second constituent of declarative main clauses is always a verb, while this is not necessarily the case in other types of clauses.- V2 effect :...
languages, as the verb invariantly occurs as the second element of a full clause.
Some languages allow varying degrees of freedom in their constituent order that pose a problem for their classification within the subject–verb–object schema. To define a basic constituent order type in this case, one generally looks at frequency of different types in declarative affirmative main clauses in pragmatically neutral contexts, preferably with only old referents. Thus, for instance, Russian is widely considered an SVO language, as this is the most frequent constituent order under such conditions—all sorts of variations are possible, though, and occur in texts. In many inflected languages, such as Russian, Latin, and Greek, departures from the default word-orders are permissible but usually imply a shift in focus, an emphasis on the final element, or some special context. In the poetry of these languages, the word order may also shift freely to meet metrical demands. Additionally, freedom of word order may vary within the same language—for example, formal, literary, or archaizing varieties may have different, stricter, or more lenient constituent-order structures than an informal spoken variety of the same language.
On the other hand, when there is no clear preference under the described conditions, the language is considered to have "flexible constituent order" (a type unto itself).
An additional problem is that in languages without living speech communities, such as Latin, Hellenic Greek, and Old Church Slavonic, linguists have only written evidence, perhaps written in a poetic, formalizing, or archaic style that mischaracterizes the actual daily use of the language. The daily spoken language of a Sophocles
Sophocles is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides...
or a Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...
might have exhibited a different or much more regular syntax than their written legacy indicates.
Another common classification distinguishes nominative–accusative languages and ergative–absolutive ones. In a language with cases, the classification depends on whether the subject of an intransitive verb has the same case as the agent(A) or the patient(P) of a transitive verb. If a language has no cases, but the word order AVP or PVA, then a classification may reflect whether the subject of an intransitive verb appears on the same side as the agent or the patient of the transitive verb.
Many languages show mixed accusative and ergative behaviour (for example: ergative morphology marking the verb arguments, on top of an accusative syntax). Other languages (called "active languages") have two types of intransitive verbs—some of them ("active verbs") join the subject in the same case as the agent of a transitive verb, and the rest ("stative verbs") join the subject in the same case as the patient. Yet other languages behave ergatively only in some contexts (this "split ergativity
Split ergativity is shown by languages that have a partly ergative behaviour, but employ another syntax or morphology — usually accusative — in some contexts...
" is usually based on the grammatical person of the arguments or on the tense/aspect of the verb). For example, only some verbs in Georgian
Georgian is the native language of the Georgians and the official language of Georgia, a country in the Caucasus.Georgian is the primary language of about 4 million people in Georgia itself, and of another 500,000 abroad...
behave this way, and, as a rule, only while using the perfective (aorist).
Quantitative typology deals with the distribution and co-occurrence of structural patterns in the languages of the world. Two major types of non-chance distribution are preferences (for instance, absolute and implicational universals
A linguistic universal is a pattern that occurs systematically across natural languages, potentially true for all of them. For example, All languages have nouns and verbs, or If a language is spoken, it has consonants and vowels. Research in this area of linguistics is closely tied to the study of...
, semantic maps, hierarchies
Implicational hierarchy is a chain of implicational universals.A set of chained universals is schematically shown as in : A Implicational hierarchy is a chain of implicational universals....
) and correlations (for instance, areal patterns, such as with a Sprachbund
A Sprachbund – also known as a linguistic area, convergence area, diffusion area or language crossroads – is a group of languages that have become similar in some way because of geographical proximity and language contact. They may be genetically unrelated, or only distantly related...