Head directionality parameter

The Head directionality parameter is a proposed parameter that classifies word order. It provides a choice between:

* Heads follow phrases in forming larger phrases (head final) and
* Heads precede phrases in forming larger phrases (head initial).

This assumes that the language has a fixed word order in that part of its grammar to begin with. English and Romance languages are often given as examples of "head initial" languages, whereas Japanese and Basque are often given as examples of "head final" languages, meaning that these languages have a consistent word order across all areas of their grammar.

However, this simple dichotomy runs into two problems when it is used to classify entire languages in this way: Many languages, even considering only those which have relatively fixed word orders, are not consistently either head initial or final across different areas of their grammar; and it is difficult find a definition of 'head' that is consistent across these different areas. For instance, either the subject or the verb may be considered the 'head' of the clause, yielding results as to which languages are considered to be head initial, or whether word order is consistent between, say, clauses and noun phrases, that are theory dependent rather than descriptive.

See also

* Antisymmetry
* Branching (linguistics)
* Principles and parameters
* Word order

References

* Baker, M. (2001) "The Atoms of Language"


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