We can mess around, but we are pretty restricted to pronouns where case
endings have been retained.  And even then, we are clearly messing
around:  one would almost never say the alternative version except for
extreme emphasis.  (But that means it is valuable to have.)

But it won't work in the same way for nouns.  For example, "bit the collie
the spaniel" or "bit the spaniel the collie."  Who bit whom?  In German you
would know either way.

So to the extent you have shown flexible word order, it is due to the
remaining Germanic inflections we have for pronouns, in other words to
morphology rather than syntax.  That is, it is the inflections that allow the
messing around with syntax.  The minute you put it in normal word order
for modern English--"the spaniel bit the collie" or "the collie bit the spaniel"
--you no longer have options for meaning: it has been determined by
syntax.  Can you suggest examples that do not depend on inflections?

Date sent:              Sat, 11 Jan 2003 12:01:02 -0600
Send reply to:          "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
From:                   Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]>
Subject:                Re: Screw grammar/Apostrophe's
To:                     [log in to unmask]

Nancy Gish wrote:
> Dear Carrol,
> I'm confused.  Word order is syntax.  I am not clear on the antecedent
> for your "it."  Modern English is almost completely dependent on word
> order because we have lost the case endings to tell us what functions
> nouns have.  Old English, like modern German, had complicated
> inflections. Was that what you meant, or were you referring to
> Chinese--about which I know nothing?

We can mess around _some_ with word order in modern English (as
Marcia showed). I know nothing about Chinese either, but I think I
remember hearing that it was _completely_ (as opposed to "almost
completely") dependent upon word order. It might be pretty clumsy, but
English does allow us, for example, to say "hit I him," him hit I" et cet. My
understanding is that that would be impossible in Chinese

-- but unless someone on the list actually knows Chinese we aren't going
to find out. :-)