Clause-initial position in four Australian languages

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Word order in Australian languages has frequently been described as “free” or subject to pragmatic or discourse constraints rather than governed by syntactic rules. This paper examines both the pragmatic and syntactic factors which motivate the placement of constituents in clause initial position. We find striking similarities across four languages – Warlpiri, Jiwarli, Nyangumarta and Garrwa – suggesting underlying principles for ordering that belie their description as “free word order” languages. Clause initial position is dominated by “prominent” constituents” – both those which are inherently prominent and thus obligatory in initial position, and those which are prominent by virtue of the discourse context.


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