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zompist bboard • View topic - noun adjective order cross-linguistically

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PostPosted: Thu May 19, 2016 9:36 pm 
Lebom
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In English, the normal syntactic pattern is for adjectives to come before the noun they modify: "green dog", "loud motorcycle", etc. occasionally English *does* allow noun-adjective word order, but it is very marked, and mostly restricted to poetic or legal usage: "punishment divine", "the light fantastic", "time immemorial", etc. I learned that an attorney general was a type of attorney and not a type of general after I graduated high school and I am a native English speaker, and I would pluralize it as "attorney generals" not "attorneys general" without specific education otherwise.

The source of many of these constructions seems to be from other European languages that do have regular noun-adjective word order. specifically, English gets a lot of legal vocabulary from old French, which is where "attorney general" comes from, as well as other constructions like "court martial" (although, again, I want to analyze that as a single compound noun, pluralize it as "courtmartials", etc.). nonetheless, clearly noun-adjective word order is a syntactic phenomenon that occurs in English, albeit a marked one.

I'm specifically curious about other languages, and what kinds of variation in noun-adjective order they have. I know that in spanish there are cases when an adjective comes before its noun even though the unmarked order is the opposite: El Gran Silencio, etc. In Latin both types of adjective order were acceptable, and Latin poetry did all kinds of things with word order for the sake of meter. So at least some languages are like English in having one unmarked order and one marked one. On the other hand, I don't think Japanese allows an inverted noun-adjective order at all, something like *hana akai would be illegitimate even poetically as far as I am aware.

So mostly I'm curious about what sorts of cross-linguistic variation people are aware of with regard to allowing or disallowing marked noun-adjective word order.

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PostPosted: Thu May 19, 2016 10:49 pm 
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PostPosted: Fri May 20, 2016 2:57 am 
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I know that Welsh almost always has noun-adjective order, but there are some adjectives which come first:

Hen old; ambell occasional; pob every; gau closed; cryn considerable. There are others too. There's also "unig" which has different meanings depending on which side of the noun it appears on: unig plentyn an only child; plentyn unig a lonely child. (I think I got that right).

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PostPosted: Fri May 20, 2016 3:55 am 
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PostPosted: Fri May 20, 2016 5:47 am 
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Look at

I especially like the last one: "Only internally-headed relative clauses". Very much North-America.

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PostPosted: Fri May 20, 2016 8:17 am 
Smeric
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In Malayalam, adjectives (and, as in Japanese, complementizer phrases) generally go before the noun, but something different often happens with names of dishes or food preparations. For example, the most common fish dish traditionally eaten in Kerala is called [miːn ˈʋeːʋit͡ʃəd̪ɯ]. [miːn] means 'fish', and [ˈʋeːʋit͡ʃəd̪ɯ] literally means something like 'what [unspecified subject] cooked'. If I replaced [miːn] with e.g. [ɲaːn] 'I', though, that would mean 'what I cooked'. This pattern has even been extended into local Anglicized names of such dishes, e.g. fried (usually stir-fried, I think) chicken is called "chicken fry," not fried chicken, and similarly "beef fry" and "mutton fry" for fried beef and fried goat meat, respectively.


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PostPosted: Fri May 20, 2016 5:39 pm 
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PostPosted: Fri May 27, 2016 1:09 am 
Lebom
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PostPosted: Fri May 27, 2016 6:11 am 
Sumerul
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PostPosted: Fri May 27, 2016 7:12 am 
Sanci
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As Sumelic mentioned above, R.M.W. Dixon does indeed make the claim that all languages have at least one class of adjectives. The class or classes may be very small and closed, or large and open. The "core semantic types" associated with adjectives, according to Dixon, are: dimension, age, value and colour. In a very small adjective class, adjectives may be limited to some of these semantic types. The behaviour of adjectives may vary a lot between languages, though. In some languages, they may be very "verb-like" or very "noun-like". The verb-like adjectives are often referred to by other names in grammars, such as "stative verbs" or "descriptive verbs". However, Dixon claims that there is always at least one adjective class that is distinct from regular nouns and verbs in some way, even if the difference is very subtle. See "Adjective Classes: A Cross-linguistic Typology", especially p. 9 ff.

Dixon gives some criteria for distinguishing "verb-like" adjectives and verbs (p. 15):

"Where both adjectives and verbs can fill the intransitive predicate slot, criteria for distinguishing the two word classes include: (1) different possibilities within the predicate slot; (2) different transitivity possibilities; (3) different possibilities as modifiers within an NP; (4) different possibilities in comparative constructions; (5) different possibilities for forming adverbs (that is, modifiers to verbs)."

And for "noun-like" adjectives and nouns (p. 22):

"There are a number of kinds of criteria for distinguishing adjectives from nouns, where these share grammatical properties: (i) the internal syntax of NPs; (2) morphological possibilities; (3) the comparative construction; and (4) adverbal use."

Of course, you could still categorize adjectives as a subclass of verbs (and call them "descriptive verbs"), or a subclass of nouns, although Dixon seems reluctant to do so (p. 42 ff). Whether adjectives are a major word class or merely a subclass seems like a very theoretical question (or even just a terminological one), and it may not be that important.

The claim that all languages have a distinct adjective class is perhaps a little bold, it seems like there should be some exception. On the other hand, I think someone describing a language should try to look for subtle differences between adjectives and other word classes. Many authors are probably too quick to conclude that adjectives cannot be distinguished from nouns or verbs.


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PostPosted: Sun May 29, 2016 3:06 am 
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well, the grammar of Creek i'm reading appears to offer a counterexample to dixon's claim. there is no class of adjectives, not even a small closed class. typical adjectival functions or characteristics, like nominal modification or dixon's core property concepts, are either expressed by durative verbs or compounding nouns. there's no sense in which either type is syntactically distinct from verbs or nouns. i suppose there might be some "very subtle" difference between these verbs and nouns and non-modifying verbs and nouns, but in my mind this is venturing into unfalsifiability.

i guess the bigger question is how useful the idea of adjective as a universal syntactic category is (as distinct from a semantic category of modification or property-concepts). for many languages it's very useful to distinguish adjectives as a class from nouns and verbs. even languages like mandarin, in which "true" adjectives are a small, closed class, it does seem useful to talk about "adjectives." for languages like creek, though, distinguishing descriptive verbs from other verbs as a class of "adjectives" seems much more confusing than just calling them a sub-class of verb. any special syntactic properties such verbs have are probably due to things like real-world knowledge or pragmatic usage or semantic compatibility, not some essential syntactic difference. but maybe i'm biased by working in a theory where there are no lexical nouns, verbs or adjectives at all...

(in creek, numerals and some quantifiers that are typically a closed lexical class in other languages are pretty transparently verbal. verbs can do a lot of different things in creek, and a lot of things that other languages wouldn't consider particularly verby are expressed by verbs)


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PostPosted: Sun May 29, 2016 11:27 am 
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PostPosted: Sun May 29, 2016 3:09 pm 
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PostPosted: Sun May 29, 2016 4:31 pm 
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PostPosted: Sun May 29, 2016 7:37 pm 
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PostPosted: Mon May 30, 2016 1:32 am 
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PostPosted: Mon May 30, 2016 1:34 am 
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PostPosted: Mon May 30, 2016 7:01 am 
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PostPosted: Mon May 30, 2016 10:42 am 
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