Adjective ordering in Arabic: Post-nominal structure and subjectivity-based preferences

Zeinab Kachakeche, Gregory Scontras


Adults have a collective tendency to choose certain adjective orderings in nominals with multiple adjectives. For example, English-speaking adults prefer the order big blue box over blue big box; they are uncomfortable with the latter ordering, yet they are unable to articulate why. Scontras, Degen & Goodman (2017) showed that subjectivity is a robust predictor of adjective ordering preferences in English. That is, less subjective adjectives are preferred closer to the noun. In the example big blue box, big is more subjective than blue, so it is preferred farther from the noun. This paper investigates adjective ordering preferences in Arabic, a language with post-nominal adjectives (i.e., a language where adjectives occur after the noun they modify). We have found that native speakers of Arabic have adjective ordering preferences, and, like English, these preferences are predicted by subjectivity. In addition to establishing the preference baseline in monolingually-raised Arabic speakers, we also ask what happens to ordering preferences in heritage speakers: bilinguals who shifted their language dominance from Arabic to English early in childhood.


adjective ordering; subjectivity; Arabic; heritage speakers

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