About OVS word order

So recently I was reading up a bit on word orders in languages when I came across this Wikipedia article about OVS word order. Now, this is what the Wikipedia article says about OVS word order:

In linguistic topology, object-verb-subject (OVS) or object-verb-agent (OVA) is a rare permutation of word order. OVS denotes the sequence object-verb-subject in unmarked expressions: Oranges ate Sam, Thorns have roses. The passive voice in English may appear to be in OVS order, but that is not an accurate description.

The article then goes on to describe how the passive voice works in English and why it might seem like OVS word order (not really important but still). Now, in the table on the right hand side at the top, it shows different types of word order and gives a few examples of languages that generally use that word order. Here is that table, recreated to the best of my ability:

Word Order English equivalent Proportion of languages Example languages
SOV "Cows grass eat." 45% Ancient Greek, Bengali, Burmese, Hindi/Urdu, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Persian, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Turkish, etc
SVO "Cows eat grass." 42% Chinese, English, French, Hausa, Italian, Malay, Portuguese, Spanish, Swahili, Thai, Vietnamese, etc
VSO "Eat cows grass." 9% Biblical Hebrew, Classical Arabic, Filipino, Irish, Māori, Tuareg-Berber, Welsh
VOS "Eat grass cows." 3% Car, Fijan, Malagasy, Q'eqchi', Terêna
OVS "Grass eat cows." 1% Hixkaryana, Urarina
OSV "Grass cows eat." 0% Tobati, Warao

However, note that this is a table of the languages that normally use these word orders. As mentioned in the article, most languages allow for OVS word order due to case marking, those being noted are Classical Arabic, Romanian, Croatian, Basque, Esperanto, Hungarian, Finnish, Russian, and to an extent, German and Dutch.

The article also notes that even though Swedish and Norwegian do have case marking, those languages lack a more extensive form of case marking, however are still able to do OVS word order due to case marking with pronouns, making it fairly often that you'll hear somebody speaking Swedish or Norwegian with OVS word order due to being able to do case marking with pronouns. However, it seems that sentences with OVS word order are fairly short.

Example in Russian: Я закончил задание (lit. "I finish mission")

v.s. Задание закончил я (lit. "Mission finished I" - "It was I who finished the mission")

This example is showing an example of a sentence in Russian in the present progressive1 (with SVO word order) compared to the same sentence, but in the past affirmative (with OVS word order). However, in both cases, the sentences are relatively short.

About OSV word order

According to the Wikipedia article:

OSV is rarely used in unmarked sentences, which use a normal word order without emphasis. Most languages that use OSV as their default word order come from the Amazon Basin, such as Xavante, Jamamadi, Apurinã, Warao, Kayabí, and Nadëb. Here is an example from Apurinã:

anana nota apa

pineapple I fetch

Now here's the thing. While this is allowed in other languages, this only occurs in marked sentences, and those sentences are also really short, even in the languages where this is the default word order.

Why might this be?

Reason 1. Why this might be is because even though languages only sometime use OVS/OSV word order, those sentences are generally only describe something that is important to the speaker, such as in Mexican Spanish (another notable example, sorry I didn't mention this earlier), which uses OSV for these sentences.

Reason 2. Now you might be asking: Well, why isn't it just any sentence length when using OVS/OSV word order? The reason might be most people just aren't able to remember this great amount of info all at once. They might need to think about all of the details of what they are about to explain before formulating the sentence, and like I just mentioned, most people can't do that.

OVS word order in conlangs

Interlingua and Klingon, and a brief mention of Esperanto

As noted in the Wikipedia article about OVS word order, Interlingua is an example of a conlang that uses the aforementioned word order. Although there is no mention of it accepting the passive voice, however, the editor-in-chief of Panorama in Interlingua, Thomas Breinstrup, sometimes uses the sequence in articles written for that.

Another notable example of OVS word order is in the fantasy language used in Star Trek, Klingon. The OVS word order was chosen to make Klingon sound more extraterrestrial-like, since it is extremely rare in languages here on this planet.

Now, about Esperanto, I guess I really shouldn't be mentioning this, however, I am mentioning this because it does use OVS word order, but only because it has free word order in the language.

What would this mean for creating a conlang that uses OVS/OSV word order?

Now, I ask this because say somebody wanted to create a conlang that uses one of these word orders normally. Would it be more difficult, because there isn't a whole lot of info on widely spoken languages that generally use OSV/OVS word order, or would it have to do more with choosing a more well known word order that they are familiar with, maybe using OSV/OVS word order for some purpose, and then gradually shifting over to fully using OSV/OVS word order?

One more example

Note my (148 character long, will most likely need to be edited) question title. Now as we are on the topic of word order, this is the word order that I actually used to write the question title, just to show an example of how English has a somewhat free word order:

Since languages (subject) that use (verb) OSV/OVS word order (object) normally have (verb) short sentences (object), what would this mean (verb) for creating a conlang (subject) that uses (verb) OVS/OSV word order? (object)

Now here's the thing: Yes, it could be argued that technically this is a sentence that uses SVO word order with another verb and then an object, then being conjoined with the second part of the sentence using a verb and then using SVO word order, it could also technically be argued that yes, while the first part of the sentence is normal SVO(VO), the second part of the sentence is VS(VO) word order, and if I had somehow ended up with putting an object in the place of where the verb was, the second part of the sentence would have technically qualified for being considered VSO(V), which shows that English sort of does have free word order.1

To clarify

Sorry if any of my tags are wrong

1I'm probably wrong about this.

  • 3
    Fun Fact: Sentences are normally short in any language. Long sentences are rare and often the hallmark of an elaborated written register of the language. Specially, example sentences are short. They should show the point without presenting too much confounders,
    – Sir Cornflakes
    Jul 8, 2023 at 20:20


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