Non-configurational language

In generative grammar, non-configurational languages are languages in which there is no verb phrase constituent (VP below). In configurational languages, the subject of a sentence is outside the VP (directly under S below) and the object is inside; in non-configurational languages, since there is no VP constituent, there is no structural difference between subject and object.


More generally, it has been proposed that non-configurational languages have the following characteristics:

  1. free (or more accurately, pragmatically determined) word order
  2. null anaphora
  3. syntactically discontinuous expressions

However, it is not clear that these properties all cluster together.

Languages that have been classified as non-configurational include Mohawk, Warlpiri, Nahuatl and O'odham (Papago).



The analysis of non-configurational languages has been very controversial in theoretical syntax. On the one hand, much recent work on these languages in Principles and Parameters has attempted to show that they are in fact configurational. On the other hand, it has been argued in Lexical Functional Grammar that these attempts are flawed, and that truly non-configurational languages exist. From the perspective of syntactic theory, the existence of non-configurational languages bears on the question of whether grammatical functions like subject and object are independent of structure. If they are not, no language can be truly non-configurational.


W-type languages have the following (Jelinek 1984):

  1. predicate-AUX complex that constitutes a finite sentence
  2. optional, non-argumental NPs
  3. split case-marking (on clitics and NPs)
  4. independent pronouns used for contrastive emphasis
  5. zero 3rd person marking
  6. adjoined clauses with two interpretations:
    1. temporal reading
    2. relative reading

External links


  • Austin, Peter and Joan Bresnan. (1996). Non-configurationality in Australian aboriginal languages." Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 14, 215–268.
  • Chomsky, Noam. (1981). Lectures on government and binding. Dordrecht: Foris Publications.
  • Chomsky, Noam. (1982). Some concepts and consequences of the theory of government and binding. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
  • Hale, Kenneth L. (1980). Remarks on Japanese phrase structure: Comments on the Papers on Japanese Syntax. In Y. Otsu & A. Farmer (Eds.), MIT working papers in linguistics (Vol. 2).
  • Hale, Kenneth L. (1981). On the position of Warlpiri in a typology of the base. Indiana University Linguistics Club, Bloomington.
  • Hale, Kenneth L. (1982). Preliminary remarks on configurationality. In J. Pustejovsky & P. Sells (Eds.), NELS 12 (pp. 86–96).
  • Hale, Kenneth L. (1983). Warlpiri and the grammar of non-configurational languages. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, 1, 5-47.
  • Hale, Kenneth L. (1989). On nonconfigurational structures. In L. Marácz & P. Muysken (Eds.), Configurationality: The typology of asymmetries (pp. 293–300). Dordrecht: Foris.
  • Jelinek, Eloise. (1984). Empty categories, case, and configurationality. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, 2, 39-76.
  • Marácz, L.; & Muysken, P. (Eds.). (1989). Configurationality: The typology of asymmetries. Dordrecht: Foris.
  • Nordlinger, Rachel. (1998). Constructive case: Evidence From Australian languages. Stanford, Calif.: CSLI Publications.