German Word Order and Universal Grammar

  • Gisbert Fanselow
Part of the Studies in Linguistics and Philosophy book series (SLAP, volume 35)


Within early generative grammar as developed in the sixties, grammatical rules and principles were exclusively formulated in terms of constituent structure, and there was no reference at all to grammatical functions like subject and objects, these terms being defined as the NP immediately dominated by S and VP, respectively (cf. e.g. Chomsky 1965). This fundamental claim of early generative grammar had some important implications for the linear ordering of constituents and words, because tangled trees were banned. Consequently, the theory made the prediction that the sequence “Object-Subject-Verb” could not show up, at least as a base structure, as no element which is not dominated by the VP can be positioned between two constituents of the VP. Linguists were very well aware of the existence of languages showing a considerable degree of freeness of constituent order, that are nowadays called nonconfigurational, like Japanese, Turkish, Warlpiri, Hungarian or German. For these languages, a special transformational device was invented, viz. the well-known scrambling rule permuting the elements of a fixed base word order in some random fashion, or governed by thematic or other non-grammatical regularities. The most outstanding property of this treatment of free word order is its claim that there is no connection at all between grammar and linear order in non-configurational languages.


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Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gisbert Fanselow
    • 1
  1. 1.Lehrstuhl für Allgemeine SprachwissenschaftUniversität PassauGermany

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