The cognitive motivation for adjective sequences in attribution


  • René Dirven Duisburg University



Adjective sequences in attributive position tend to follow a fairly rigorous order, which was already observed in several structuralist approaches. Thanks to the insights of case grammar, iconicity studies and cognitive linguistics, these adjective sequences can now also be given a semantic, i.e. a conceptual basis. Adjective types that imply some semantic role such as agent, instrument, source, are conceptually and hence also syntactically in close proximity to the noun they modify. Next in proximity are the more “objective” adjective types denoting properties such as size, shape, age and colour. The internal sequence of these four properties can be explained by the principle of saliency, which is supported by observations in language acquisition and language typology research. More “subjective” qualifications such as nice, splendid, wonderful are least inherent to any entity denoted by the noun and consequently, iconically speaking, at the greatest distance from it.


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How to Cite

Dirven, R. (1999). The cognitive motivation for adjective sequences in attribution. Journal of English Studies, 1, 57–67.