word order (was Re: Random DWJ discovery of the day)

Colin Fine colin at kindness.demon.co.uk
Mon Apr 4 18:58:23 EDT 2005


Judith Ridge wrote:

>On 4/4/05 9:33 AM, "Charles Butler" <hannibal at thegates.fsbusiness.co.uk>
>wrote:
>
>
>  
>
>>Then again: have I infringed a rule of English if I write 'The old little
>>man entered the brown big house?' It feels 'unnatural', but if it's wrong it
>>seems to be wrong in a different way from a sentence like 'Mat on the cat
>>sat the.' Is it that in English, at least, rules involving a semantic
>>element are more gainsayable than ones based on syntax alone?
>>
>>Charlie 
>>
>>    
>>
>
>I'm a plummeting apple, and regularly bewail my lack of formal grammatical
>education, so I will attempt to find a language for my thoughts on this!
>
>My first response to Charlie's example is, well, it feels "unnatural" or
>wrong, because we're simply not used to this order of words: "little old"
>(or "tired old" or "big bad" etc) is such a common expression that any
>syntactical change to it does sound unnatural. So then I wondered, why is
>this the natural order of these particular words? Is there a non-arbitrary
>reason for the order of adjectival categories Charlie cites (which I should
>add, brought great joy to this particular village where I work! My rustic
>editorial colleagues were most intrigued). In other words, does this order
>represent some way our brain works or something
>
As far as I know there is no evidence for a universal 'natural order', 
but as we've all observed, English has quite a strong preference for 
certain orders.

In response to Gili: When James Cooke Brown wrote a grammar of his 
artificial language Loglan, he added an appendix entitled "The fourteen 
meanings of 'pretty little girls school'". The point, of course, was 
that Loglan distinguished all fourteen (though actually I seem to 
remember that three of them were rather dubious and eleven might be a 
better count). He did distinguish (for example) "School for girls who 
are beautifully small" from "School for girls who are pretty and small".


Colin

>I'm not explaining this very well at all. My apple is badly bruised from all
>that unthinking plumetting!
>
>Judith
>
>
>
>Judith Ridge
>Editorial Staff
>The School Magazine
>PO Box 1928
>Macquarie Centre
>NSW 2113
>AUSTRALIA
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>
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