Thursday, February 28, 2008

Verb oyfn tsveytn ort

Once again in response to Becca's insightful question:

There is a concept in Yiddish, and by extension, I assume, in several Germanic languages, of verb oyfn tsveytn ort, the verb takes the second syntactical position in a sentence, no matter what. Take the Yiddish sentence ikh bin gegangen in shul, where ikh is "I," bin is the verb literally meaning "am," gegangen is a particle meaning "gone," and in shul means "to school." These words come together to form the English sentence "I went to school" (although, by the way, in older English, you will observe the construction "I am gone to school," meaning the same thing but nearly identical in structure to the Yiddish).
1 | 2 | 3 | 4
Ikh | bin | gegangen | in shul|
In shul | bin | ikh | gegangen|
Gegangen | bin | ikh | in shul|


As you can see, bin (the verb) is always in the second syntactical position in the sentence, no matter how the sentence is laid out. Now in English this does not have to be the case.
I ate food yesterday
Food I ate yesterday
Yesterday I ate food.
As you can see, the position of "ate" is constantly changing.

You can still see vestiges of this grammatical feature in the English language. The example given by Becca works: "Never have I seen such audacity." Here, "have" is the verb in the second position. Other examples of this are, "Then did I say to him" (that's a bit more archaic) and "Only when I came home did I realize the truth." What caused this construction to become less common in the English language?

6 comments:

rebecca said...

Thanks for addressing my question, again!

I actually read this a long time ago but forgot to say thank you.

rebecca said...

I actually had to teach this structure in an advanced English class the other day! The book had these exercises where the students were supposed to invert normal sentences, but it turns out there are different rules according to if the sentence uses past or present perfect, or simple present or past. I figured maybe I'd gloss over the inversion exercises, all those rules seemed too complicated for the students...

Myrtone said...

Consider German, which would have "Ich bin in die Schule geganen" Dutch would be "Ik ben in de school gegaan." Note the word order, SOV with C2-V2 applied to finite verbs. Yiddish is SVO IP-V2, but I am not sure whether this applies only to finite verbs or whether the whole verb complex moves like (I believe) is the case with Nordic languages.

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