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Typology is the classification of languages by their features. Subareas of typology include morphological and syntactic (sometimes "morphosyntactic") and phonological typology. Typological classification contrasts with the more familiar genetic classification of languages into families that share an ancestor language (see historical linguistics). A genetic class is a language family, while a typological class is a language type. Research in typology, the ways in which languages vary, often overlaps with research in linguistic universals, the ways in which they don't vary.
One set of types sometimes called just the "typology" of a language is the order of the subject, the verb, and the object:
- Subject Verb Object
- Subject Object Verb
- Verb Subject Object
- Verb Object Subject
- Object Subject Verb
- Object Verb Subject
These are usually abbreviated SVO, etc.
Some languages split verbs into an auxiliary and an infinitive or participle, and put the subject or object between them. For instance, German ("Im Wald habe ich einen Fuchs gesehen" - *"In-the wood have I a fox seen"), Dutch ("Hans vermoedde dat Jan Piet Marie zag leren zwemmen" - *"Hans suspected that Jan Piet Marie saw teach swim") and Welsh ("Mae'r gwirio sillafu wedi'i gwblhau" - *"Is the check spelling after to complete"). In this case, typology is based on the non-analytic tenses (i.e. those sentences in which the verb is not split) or the position of the auxiliary. German is thus SVO/VSO (without "im Wald" the subject would go first) in main clauses and Welsh is VSO (and O would go after the infinitive).
Both German and Dutch are often classified as V2 languages, as the verb invariantly occurs as the second element of a full clause.
Some languages (usually those which are heavily inflected) are difficult to classify in the SVO typological system, due to fact that virtually any ordering of verb, object and subject is possible and correct. All we can do in such instances is finding out which word order is the most frequent. Information conveyed by word order in non-inflected languages (e.g. which noun is the subject and which is the object) is instead conveyed by applying affixes to the noun to designate its grammatical role. One implication of this system is that fixed word order is not necessary to unambiguously determine meaning (though highly inflected languages sometimes also develop normative word orders). Such languages include Latin, Polish, and κοινη Greek.
Another common classification is whether the language is accusative or ergative. If the language has cases, this is determined by whether the subject of an intransitive verb has the same case as the subject or the object of a transitive verb. If it doesn't, but the order is SVO or OVS, this is determined by whether the subject of the intransitive verb is on the same side as the subject or the object of the transitive verb.
In many cases languages show mixed accusative and ergative behaviour (e.g. ergative morphology marking the verb arguments, on top of an accusative syntax). Other languages (that are called "active languages") have two types of intransitive verbs - some of them ("active verbs") join the subject in the same case as the subject of a transitive verb, and the rest ("stative verbs") join the subject in the same case as the object. Yet other languages behave ergatively only in some contexts (this is called split ergativity, and is usually based on the grammatical person of the arguments or in the tense/aspect of the verb). Ex. only some verbs in Georgian behave this way, and, as a rule, only while the tense called aorist is used.
See also: morphosyntactic alignment.
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