A Cross-Linguistic Investigation of the Order of Attributive Adjectives


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis examines the order in which attributive adjectives are placed when appearing in a string modifying the same head noun. Noun phrases featuring more than one adjective are examined in six languages, all of which have modification patterns which exhibit distinctive patterns of syntax and morphology. Northern Sotho is a Bantu language with postnominal adjectives, agglutinative morphology and qualificative particles which link modifier and head; Welsh also has predominantly postnominal adjectives but less complex adjectival morphology. Polish and English adjectives typically appear before the noun, and the order in which they are sequenced is compared with Chinese, in which all modification appears before the noun, including relative clauses. I also examine the syntax of adjective strings in Tagalog, an Austronesian language in which adjectives can appear both before and after the noun, and in which the nature of lexical categories is particularly complex. The universality of the adjective class has generated considerable debate among linguists, with much discussion in the last decade with regard to whether adjectives constitute a independent lexical category across all languages. Chinese, Tagalog and Northern Sotho are all languages in which the nature of the adjectival category has been questioned, and this comparative analysis of a syntactic phenomenon which is an essential characteristic of adjectives adds a new dimension to the debate surrounding the universality of the adjective class. Based on a combination of corpus data and field-based methods, I analyse the patterns which appear across the languages in my sample. I evaluate the various explanations of the different factors which affect the order in which English adjectives are placed ahead of a noun, and relate my findings to equivalent structures in each of my focus languages, before proposing some conventions which appear to be consistent across a representative sample of languages.
Date of Award18 Jun 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorANTHONY GRANT (Director of Studies), DEBORAH CHIRREY (Supervisor) & CLIVE GREY (Supervisor)


  • adjective
  • order
  • cross-linguistic
  • universal
  • semantic
  • function
  • modifier
  • noun phrase

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