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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Random Linguistic Fact of the Day

Ever wonder why it's fairly common to create compound nouns from phrases (e.g. bird-watching, card-carrying), but in all these cases the object comes before the verb participle? Based on English word order it should be watching-bird, etc., yet it never is.

This is probably due to the fact that word order in Proto-Indo-European was very different than the word order used in English and most other Indo-European languages today. In particular, instead of the subject-verb-object order typically used today, PIE (along with more recent ones, like Latin) preferred the subject-object-verb word order. So you might say things like "Avem [bird] spectabam [I watched]" in Latin, which is exactly the order seen in the compounds.

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