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Word Order and Markedness in Kaqchikel

George Aaron Broadwell


Kaqchikel, a Mayan language spoken in Guatemala, generally shows an alternation between SVO and verb-initial word order in transitive clauses:

1) X-u-b'a ri tz'i' ri me's. 'The dog bit the cat.'

com-3sErg-bite the dog the cat

2) Ri tz'i' x-u-b'a ri me's. 'The dog bit the cat.'

the dog com-3sErg-bite the cat

The claim of this paper is that SVO order is a signal of markedness in Kaqchikel. The use of this word order is obligatory when a sentence shows either of two marked properties: indefinite transitive subjects or possessor antecedents. I argue that the verb-initial order corresponds to a flat, non-endocentric S, while the SVO order corresponds to an IP. Of these two structures, the IP is more highly marked because it involves the addition of more nodes.

Within the view of markedness presented in Aissen (1999), these facts can receive a natural explanation. Both inanimate subjects and possessor antecedents represent marked configurations, and language tends to signal marked configurations with additional (morphological/syntactic/intonational) structure.

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