Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I've studied a few languages with varying degrees of success, I've taken courses in linguistics, so I've had the opportunity to think about how languages do things. At that, I am continually surprised by the complexities of English. When you really think about all the things we just naturally say and understand, and, more importantly, the things we recognize as "wrong," it's a marvel we learn the language at all.

John McIntyre has had a couple of posts up lately about rules, and, in one he wrote just a short time ago ("This is not a rule"), he points out something I hadn't really thought about before:
One example is the pattern or sequence of adjectives. When a string of adjectives precedes a noun, they follow this pattern:

article, opinion, size, age, shape, color, nationality or ethnicity, religion, material, purpose or qualifier.

You can talk or write about the old gray Presbyterian stone church without giving trouble to your audience, but a reference to the Presbyterian gray stone old church will be a problem. I suppose that you could call the sequence of adjectives a rule rather than a pattern or structure, but it is not anything that has to be taught to a native speaker.

Pretty interesting, and perhaps this is one reason I never quite got this down in French (except to replicate what we do in English, which I'm guessing, Mrs. Wright, was wrong some of the time).

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