The Word Order of Estonian: Implications to Universal Language

Martin Ehala 1
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1Tallinn University

Copyright ⓒ 2016, Sejong University Language Research Institue. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Published Online: Jan 01, 2017


Estonian is most often considered a SVO language. However, in main clauses, SVX and XVS are equally frequent, which indicates that Estonian has the V2 phenomenon. In subordinate clauses, Estonian shows a quite high proportion of verb final order. The picture becomes more complex when the position of the auxiliary verb (I) in verbal complexes is taken into account: Estonian seems to have a SIOV order. Historically this order has been stable for several centuries. The results of the study cast a doubt on the generality of word order universals proposed in the literature. The article argues that instead of grammatical principles of word order, the rules of ordering given and new information are universal. It is proposed that V2 is the preferred constituent order for artificial languages and that the thematic roles rather than grammatical categories should be linguistically coded.

Keywords: word order; Estonian; syntactic universals; universal language



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