My conlang is predominately head-initial (SVO, n-adj, mostly suffixing), but has postpositions because I'd though that the noun was the head of an adpositional phrase. Wikipedia, however, says that the adposition is the head.

So how unlikely is a language with postpositions that is otherwise head-initial?


Such languages are uncommon but not unattested. However, they are more common than prepositional SOV languages and are present in a number of unrelated families around the world.

This WALS map shows us that in general, the order of object and verb and adposition and noun phrase is very highly correlated. In the map, postpositional VO languages are the group with the third highest number of total languages, but they are less than a tenth as common as the most frequent types.

 Postposition / OV    472
 Preposition  / VO    454
 Postposition / VO     41

There are some parts of the world such as West Africa where there are many SVO languages with postpositions. There seems to be a cluster of them around Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana. I think the languages in question are proven or suspected to be Niger-Congo languages. The westernmost group of these languages has both VO and OV languages as well as some intermediate types like SOVX languages and postpositional VO languages.

Another example of a postpositional VO language is Finnish. I think Proto-Uralic is generally reconstructed as having verb-final word order. However, many of the modern groups of Uralic languages have SVO word order.

There are a few cases of languages with verb-initial word orders with postpositions. One such example is Yagua. Yagua is an interesting case because the verbs are very highly inflected, but the nouns are not.

  • I think I'll stick with postpositions then. That's not too rare for me to go to the trouble of changing it.
    – Andrew Ray
    May 16 '20 at 19:47

Are you aware of the World Atlas of Linugistic Structures (WALS)? Combining three chapters of WALS into this combined view I found 21 languages in the sample with the combination NA/SVO/Postpositions. Among the languages are Guarani and Ewe. On the other hand, NA/SVO/Prepositions has 229 languages in the sample, showing a strong typological tendency for consistence.

  • Thank you for reminding me of the combined view, but my language is SVO, not SOV.
    – Andrew Ray
    May 16 '20 at 19:45
  • Sorry, there was a typo, the number are for SVO languages. May 16 '20 at 20:22

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