The Principle of Proximity in the Order of Adjectives

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Principle of Proximity in the Order of Attributive Adjectives

Among the most commonly used adjectives are attributive adjectives, which describe an inherent characteristic in a noun. Besides occurring before a noun, they are most often characterized by having no linking verb between them and the noun (Dirven, 1999). For instance, “John came home with a green card”. Green is an attributive adjective, describing the inherent nature of the card as green. They are distinguished from predicative verbs which besides occurring after a noun have a linking verb. “The boy is slow”. Slow is a predicative verb since it is linked to the noun boy by the verb is. Although the use of adjectives as attributive or predicative has existed for a very long time, there has been a growing emphasis in studying attributive adjectives. The studies arising from the need for ordering adjectives rightly are many. Out of these has arisen a general principle that adjectives which are more syntactically related to the noun should occur close to the noun while those that more objective be placed further from the noun. For instance, in “a beautiful plastic picture”, plastic is an inherent concept of the picture. Therefore, it is closer to the noun. Beautiful, in its part is rather objective and hence occurs further. This paper will examine the dilemma present in the placement of adjectives and the guidelines which have been followed by scholars to order adjectives. It will also examine the difficulties experienced in classifying these adjectives in terms of syntactic proximity or objectivity. The conclusion will give some possible recommendations to these challenges and further studies.

If two, or more, adjectives occur before a noun, there is some restrictive order in to which these adjectives occur. Some orders are more restrictive than others, while others are typically discretional. “Simple grammatical errors” is more acceptable as compared to “grammatical simple errors”. It is important to note that the orders suggested in this study as well as in any other are not binding rules but rather guidelines. However, there are models and sequences which are more grammatically acceptable than others, as well as those that are not acceptable at all (…).

Dirven (1999) suggests an ad hoc model which can be used to explain the order of adjectives a nominal phrase. The model divides the adjectives in to five general categories namely qualifying, descriptive, participle, provenance and relational. He argues that the adjectives describing participle, provenance and relationship are more conceptual and hence occur closer to the noun. Provenance and relational adjectives mostly serve an attributive role. On the contrary, qualifying adjectives can serve either attributively, predicatively or postpositively. Provenance and relational adjectives usually indicate the presence of a third party. That is, the adjective refers not just to the noun itself, but probably to an agent which affected the noun, or the origins of the noun (Dirven, 1999).

For instance, “a thatched house”. “” implies the dependence on a third party. That is, the house was thatched by somebody. This implies a relational aspect of the noun. He also adds that the dependence should be such that the noun was greatly affected by the agent. Similarly, “a bamboo” house implies a third agent, that of the source of the materials used to build the house (Dirven, 1999).

The same approach is followed by … who describes adjectives as denominal central, participial, or non-gradable. Denominal adjectives have some properties of nouns, whereas central adjectives are pure adjectives. He points out that more nominal adjectives occur closer to the noun, with the more adjectival occurring further.

For instance; “Young African women” requires that African, which has some nominal characteristics be placed close to the noun women while young, which is a central adjective be placed...
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