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Word order in the clause: Clause-initial position

The initial position of the clause is the position that precedes the first verb of a main clause, or precedes the complementiser or subordinator of a dependent clause. This position can be filled by one constituentonly. By default, the subject is the first constituent of a main clause, but through topicalisation, specific or wh-interrogative formation and the existential daar there construction, other elements can occupy the initial position, which will leave the subject in the middle field of the clause, usually immediately after the verb in second position. Typical options for the initial position of the main clause are illustrated in example (1).

a. Die mense het van die platteland af gekom.
[(SUB) die mense] [(V2) het] [(ADV) van die platteland af] [(VF) gekom]
the people have.AUX from the countryside off come.PST
The people came from the countryside.
[Subject in initial position]
b. Hemde het ons gedra.
[(DO) hemde] [(V2) het] [(SUB) ons] [(VF) gedra]
shirts have.AUX we wear.PST
Shirts we wore.
c. Wanneer het dit gebeur?
[(WH) wanneer] [(V2) het] [(SUB) dit] [(VF) gebeur]
when have.AUX it happen.PST
When did it happen?
[Specific interrogative]
d. Daar was drie baie uitstekende hotelle in die dorp.
[(EXPL) daar] [(V2) was] [(SUB) drie baie uitstekende hotelle] [(ADV) in die dorp]
there be.PRT three very excellent hotels in the town
There were three outstanding hotels in the town.
[Existential daar]

The initial position of a is the position preceding the complementiser or subordinator. In the case of relative clauses and wh-interrogative complement clauses, the relativiser or interrogative element comes first, but usually there is no overt complementiser. The exception occurs in a subset of wh-interrogative complement clauses that are infinitive, where the interrogative does precede the complementiser omin order/for. Otherwise, overt complementisers like dat that, of whether/if and om in order/for, are not preceded by any element of the dependent clause. In the case of clauses introduced by a subordinator, typically an adverbial clause, there is no material preceding the subordinator at all. The clause-initial options of the dependent clauses are illustrated by the examples in (2). The word order after the initial position, subordinator and/or complementiser is usually filled by the middle field, with all the verbs clustered together in the final position, with the exception of wh-interrogative complement clauses, illustrated by (2d), where two word order variants are attested, with a verb immediately after the wh-interrogative, or with all verbs in final position.

a. Voor ons Johannesburg toe gegaan het...
[(SUBORD) voor] [(MF) ons Johannesburg toe] [(VF) gegaan het]
before we Johannesburg towards go.PST have.AUX
Before we went to Johannesburg...
[Adverbial clause with initial subordinator]
b. Hulle gaan kyk [of hulle vir Ouma hangers kan kry in die dorp].
[(COMP) of] [(MF) hulle vir Ouma hangers] [(VF) kan kry] [(PV) in die dorp]
they go.LINK look.INF if.COMP they for Grandma hangers can.AUX.MOD get.INF in the town
They are going to see if they can get clothes hangers for Grandma in town.
[Complement clause with initial complementiser]
c. grond [wat aan my oupa se twee susters behoort het]
[(REL) wat] [(MF) aan my oupa se twee susters] [(VF) behoort het]
land that.REL to my grandpa PTCL.GEN two sisters belong.PST have.AUX
land that belonged to my grandpa's two sisters.
[Relative clause with initial relativiser]
d. Jy weet [hoe om vir jouself te sorg].
[(WH hoe] [(COMP) om] [(MF) vir jouself] [(VF) te sorg]
you know.PRS how for.COMP for yourself PTCL.INF care
You know how to take care of yourself.
[Infinitive wh-interrogative clause with initial wh-interrogative then complementiser]
d. Toe hy hoor [wat die plan was]...
when he hear.PRS what the plan be.PRT
When he heard what the plan was...
[(WH) wat] [(MF) die plan] [(VF) was]
[Finite wh-interrogative clause with initial wh-interrogative]
d.' ...om te hoor [wat sê hulle tog van Calvinia]...
COMP to hear.INF what say.PRS they anyway about Calvinia
...to hear what they say about Calvinia anyway.
[(WH) wat] [(V2) sê] [(MF) hulle tog van Calvinia]
[Finite wh-interrogative clause with initial wh-interrogative]

A number of main clauses have no constituent preceding the first verb. In these cases, the initial verb is followed by the middle field and there is no separate constituent in the clause-initial position. These main clause types include general interrogatives and imperatives, as illustrated by the examples in (3).

a. Kan ek 'n vriend saambring?
[(V1) kan] [(MF) ek 'n vriend] [(VF) saambring]
can.AUX.MOD I a friend along.bring.PST
Can I bring a friend along?
[Verb-first in general interrogative]
b. Kom maar in.
[(V1) kom] [(MF) maar] [(VF) in]
come.IMP but in
Do come in.
[Verb-first in imperative]

The three main types of possibilities for the initial position of the clause and the specific manifestations thereof are discussed in the following sections:

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