Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Sylheti word order

I've been working on Sylheti - a highly divergent dialect of Bengali / language very closely related to Bengali spoken around Sylhet in northeastern Bangladesh - for my field methods class for a while. The particular point I'm focusing on at the moment is the positioning of complement clauses, which obeys a simple rule: if the complement clause has a separate subject, it follows the verb; otherwise, it precedes the verb. The language is otherwise SOV, I should note, so you get contrasts like:

ami exṭa apol sai.
I an apple want-1.
“I want an apple.”

ami exṭa apol xaitam sai.
I [an apple eat-COND-1] want-1.
“I want to eat an apple.”

ami sai he exṭa apol xaok.
I want-1 [he an apple eat-3-OPT].
“I want him to eat an apple.”

This doesn't fit my Japanese-based expectations of "proper" SOV languages (in Japanese, the subordinate clause would always precede the verb) but it turns out that German has basically the same word order (if you factor out the main-clause V2 order by having an initial complementizer). There are some obvious processing motivations for such an order, but it doesn't really fit the head-position parameter idea so well. I was wondering: has anyone seen similar patterns in other SOV languages?


David Marjanović said...

No idea about SOV languages. However, I can translate the examples to German:

I want an apple
ich will einen Apfel (independent sentence)
dass ich einen Apfel will ("that I want an apple", subordinate clause)

I want to eat an apple
ich will einen Apfel essen
dass ich einen Apfel essen will

I want him to eat an apple
ich will, dass er einen Apfel isst/esse*
dass ich will, dass er einen Apfel isst/esse*

Not terribly similar, is it?

* "Conjunctive I", includes optative functions. Wholly poetic in this place.

Lameen Souag said...

Why do you say not terribly similar? It's syntactically identical, apart from the complementizers:

dass ich einen Apfel will
that I an apple want-1.

dass ich [einen Apfel essen] will
that I [an apple eat-INF] want-1.

I want him to eat an apple
dass ich will, [dass er einen Apfel isst/esse*]
that I want-1 [that he an apple eat-3-INDIC/OPT]

Lameen Souag said...

Typo: that should be:


respectively in both languages. By contrast, English, for example, has:


and Arabic has:

both with consistent placement of the object, nominal or clausal.

David Marjanović said...

Oh. I see.

Asim Choudhury said...

Hi Buddy!

I was delighted to find that you are researching on sylheti languages. I am a sylheti from in India. I am longing for some pictures of sylhet. That's where my ancestors hail from. We migrated to Assam in India and ever since I could never go back to sylhet.

Could you please send me some pictures of sylhet. I am dying to see them. It will be a great help.

By the way I am a D.Phil scholar in Delhi University, India. You can access my research blog at

Hoping to hear from you soon. You can also mail me at



Anonymous said...

Oh my god.... Are you researching on bengali language or on Sylheti? You give an example:
ami exṭa apol sai.
I an apple want-1.
“I want an apple.” How do you translitterate “I want an apple’ in Bengali? Is that to say the “sai” ending the sentence is pure Sylheti? That it should me here “cai” in the so-called sadhu bhasa? Highly divergent? What are you studying? That’s the first question you should try to ask yourself….

isa morais said...

Please can someone tell me how to say the word "are" as soon as possible.

Thank you

Ziaul Haque said...

Hi, isa morais. Here's an example of this 'as soon as possible' in sylheti ---> Joto tara tari paro / joto joldi paro.

as soon as ---> tara tari / joldi.