Why are French, Italian, Spanish etc. listed as SVO languages?

Linguistics Asked by iBug on November 27, 2020

In this Wikipedia article, French, Italian and Spanish are listed as SVO languages, along with English and Chinese. (However, Latin is listed as SOV.)

I am highly confused about such statement. In those languages, we say

Je te connais

(Yo) te conozco

(Io) ti conosco

(Eu) Ti-cunosc

In all above examples, the word order is SOV. It’s the same for, say:

Tu l’aimerais

(Tú) me gustas

(Io) gli dicevo

And then I came up with the question in the title.

I have no problem agreeing that English has SVO order, say

Is lovev youo

4 Answers

Sentences with pronominal arguments often behave differently from sentences with explicit arguments (in the Romance languages, these pronominal sentences follow the earlier default, SOV). Generally the form with explicit arguments is what's considered the basic order

As such, a sentence like "the horse is eating an apple" is a better one to use when testing for basic word order. In the same languages as in the question this is:

  • le cheval mange une pomme
  • el caballo come una manzana
  • il cavallo mangia una mela
  • calul mănâncă un măr

All of which are SVO (note though that Spanish allows most other word orders as well, and in particular VSO is pretty commonplace without much difference in nuance from SVO)

Answered by Tristan on November 27, 2020

French is the most strictly SVO language followed by Italian.

Spanish is extremely flexible in terms of word order - with VSO sentences being particularly common, possibly due to semitic influence. VSO sentences are totally forbidden in both Italian and French. Native Spanish speakers (such as myself) arguably use them more often than SVO.

Answered by Alex on November 27, 2020

French has all three patterns SVO if O is a noun, SOV if O is a pronoun or even OVS if O is a relative pronoun. ex: les émissions que regardent les gens, dont parlent les gens

Answered by Arnaud Fournet on November 27, 2020

French, Spanish and Italian use SVO in clauses with non-pronominal arguments. Many languages make use of more than one kind of word order; the "canonical" order used in simplistic categorizations of entire languages as "SVO" vs. "SOV" etc. has to be based on some particular subset of clauses in the language in cases like that. English isn't SVO in all circumstances either: "What do you want?" is either OSV or OVS, depending on whether "V" is interpreted as being the auxiliary or the lexical verb.

There are a few reasons for preferring to base categorizations on clauses with non-pronominal arguments:

a) pronominal arguments are often optional (in Romance, this is mainly the case with subjects, but I believe objects may be dropped in some other languages)

b) pronominal arguments are not uncommonly expressed as affixes (in fact, there are some arguments about whether French object, and even subject markers are more like prefixes than they are like separate words)

Answered by brass tacks on November 27, 2020

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