This study explores continuous and discontinuous word order patterns of multi-word nominal expressions in flexible word order languages (traditionally referred to as “free word order” or “non-configurational” languages). Besides describing syntagmatic patterns, this paper seeks to identify any functional or other correlates that can be associated with different word orders. The languages under investigation are a number of Australian languages as well as Vedic Sanskrit, all of which have long been known for their syntagmatic flexibility. With respect to continuous order, evidence from several of these languages suggests that default ordering is primarily governed by functional templates. Deviations from default order, while maintaining continuity, can be attributed to different types of “focus” interpretations or heaviness effects. With respect to discontinuous order, I identify three sub-types. The most widespread one, “Left-Edge Discontinuity”, involves one element placed in or near utterance-initial position. It shows a clear, if not an absolute, correlation with different kinds of focus interpretations, similarly to deviations from the default order in continuity. The other two types of discontinuity are linked to the behaviour of specific function words. Besides teasing out cross-linguistic similarities, this paper also sheds light on language-specific characteristics that affect the forms and functions of complex (i.e. multi-word) nominal expressions in flexible word order languages, such as the nature of 2nd position (“Wackernagel”) elements.
This paper tackles the challenge of how to identify multi-word (or “complex”) nominal expressions in flexible word order languages including certain Australian languages and Vedic Sanskrit. In these languages, a weak or absent noun/adjective distinction in conjunction with flexible word order make it often hard to distinguish between complex nominal expressions, on the one hand, and cases where the nominals in question form independent expressions, on the other hand. Based on a discourse-based understanding of what it means to form a nominal expression, this paper surveys various cases where we are not dealing with multi-word nominal expressions. This involves, in particular, periphery-related phenomena such as use of nominals as free topics or afterthoughts, as well as various kinds of predicative uses. In the absence of clear morpho-syntactic evidence, all kinds of linguistic evidence are relied upon, including, in particular, information structure and prosody, but also derivational morphology and lexical semantics. In this way, it becomes frequently possible to distinguish between what are and what aren’t complex nominal expressions in these languages.