Suppose person-conjugation leads the verb phrase and (if the subject is clear or is not the focus) the verb phrase may often come before any lexical subject, too. Although this puts the subject information before the verb in the verb phrase, such sentences would be analyzed as Verb-Subject, not as Subject-Verb?

E.g., here the object comes first for being surprising; we seem to know "Grandpa" already, so the subject need not be out front.

Grandpa turned down Hedy Lamarr.

Ya Hedy Lamarr le eŋamoc Grandpa.

ACC Hedy Lamarr 3ps.PST reject Grandpa.

I gather the "only word-specified subjects count" from this line in WALS

a language is considered SV if the single lexical argument in an intransitive verbal clause more commonly precedes the verb, but VS if such an argument more commonly follows the verb.

(I gave a transitive example rather than an intransitive.) This mostly comes up for third-person-like subjects, I reckon. SV or VS does not factor when you specify first-/second-person pronouns with a vocative phrase (You were right, Fred).

  • But "you were right" or "I was right" still puts the subject first; the pronoun is the subject, not the vocative.
    – Draconis
    Jul 3, 2023 at 4:59
  • Totally 'you' is the subject. I thought that's why I should bring it up. The "lexical subject" criterion WALS analyzes with here basically requires a third-person sentence, because even if you name the lexical subject of a first- or second-person sentence using a vocative, you've still got a pronomial subject?
    – Vir
    Jul 3, 2023 at 5:18
  • Side note: what would the word order be in "Hedy Lamarr rejected Grandpa" (i.e. with the subject emphasized instead of the object)? I've had to make some guesses to draw the tree.
    – Draconis
    Jul 3, 2023 at 5:23
  • @Draconis Thanks for your guesswork. I wasn't sure how much detail to go into. If the subject Lamarr is being emphasized in the sentence, then she should lead this sentence. Another reason to do S1 here would be if she and Grandpa have been alternating taking action, which could merit disambiguation. If narrating Grandpa's life is the speaker's main focus, it's possible he'll lead some subsequent lines as an object once Lamarr is no longer a surprise appearance. If "Grandpa was turned down by Hedy Lamarr," he'd be at the front to translate the construction's focus on patient/subject.
    – Vir
    Jul 3, 2023 at 6:22
  • Clarification because out of time to edit: If "Grandpa was turned down by Hedy Lamarr," it'd be an OS sentence to translate into active voice the English passive's focus on the patient.
    – Vir
    Jul 3, 2023 at 6:28

1 Answer 1


This looks like topic-fronting, when the topic (whether that's a subject, object, or something else) moves to the very beginning of the sentence. If the verb then comes first in the verb phrase, you get V2 word order, as found in many Germanic languages: exactly one phrase has to come before the verb, but what that phrase is varies. According to generativists, this topic moves to the specifier of the CP.

So knowing nothing else about your language, this is how I'd analyze your example sentence.

a tree of the given sentence

(Add in the small-v layer if you like; I left it out for simplicity. The gloss also doesn't show whether the object comes before or after the verb, if it doesn't get moved; I arbitrarily chose to put it after.)

In other words, yep, this language underlyingly has VS word order. It's just that the subject tends to get moved to the specifier of C, since it's usually the topic. But if something else is the topic instead, then you can see the underlying position of the subject: after the verb.

  • Thanks very much for this! I appreciate your time. I believe you're also confirming my reading that "Person-Conjugation Particle does not count as Subject." Topic-fronting is my intention, yes. The verb doesn't have to be second as in German. All else equal about newness and focus, verb proceeds object. So, if the subject is not changing sentence to sentence, the verb is often first. Is there something else I should tell you about my conlang that would further this analysis?
    – Vir
    Jul 3, 2023 at 5:34
  • @Vir Ah, so nothing needs to get fronted? Interesting! And yes, I would say that conjugation particle is a "T", in generative terms.
    – Draconis
    Jul 3, 2023 at 5:36
  • Cases can mark constituents, so nothing needs to be fronted. Since speakers have to pick some order, I suggest a priority to front the Subject when it might be ambiguous in context (I am delineating these in the grammar I am writing). Otherwise, the speaker can choose to communicate other nuances by fronting other things, or by always fronting the subject when it's clearly not ambiguous (this is communicates especial politeness toward the subject).
    – Vir
    Jul 3, 2023 at 5:44

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