@Lenciel

英文的形容词排序

其实也是中学的时候很困扰我的事情。当时是背老师说的口诀:“限描大形新,色地材用名”,也就是“限制性形容词>描述性形容词->大小->形状->新旧->颜色->地域->材料->用途”。

后来在大学里面听其他省的同学说,他们老师讲的是“限数描大形,新色国材名”或者是“总限观,大形令,色国才”什么的。

但其实做题的时候,硬背这些用处不大:一般读起来顺口的就是对的,所谓“语感”。

今天才知道,原来对于真正的英语国家的人,他们也是凭感觉在说的。《剑桥词典》是这样说的。 Mark Forsyth在The Elements of Eloquence里面却讲了另外一个顺序。

他说《魔戒》作者托尔金在7岁就写了自己人生第一个故事《a green great dragon》(绿色大龙),拿给他妈妈看。妈妈告诉他说:“绝不可以说green great drgon,只能说great green dragon(大的绿龙)。”

托尔金因为妈妈的话受了很大的打击,好些年都没有再写东西。

于是他接着写到:

...adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you'll sound like a maniac.

但很快就有人向作者质疑,比如虽然“lovely little boy”是对的而“little lovely boy”是错的,但“big bad wolf”却是对的而“bad big wolf”是错的。比如虽然“big old oak”一般是对的, 但Yosemite国家公园里面可就有一条路就叫“the Old Big Oak Flat Road”。

一路搜索很快就被导到Language Log的这篇文章,它列了好几个有趣的paper:

Richard Sproat和Chi-lin Shih合作的“The Cross-Linguistic Distribution of Adjective Ordering Restrictions

Alexandra Teodorescu写的“Adjective Ordering Restrictions Revisited

Stefanie Wulff写的“A multifactorial corpus analysis of adjective order in English

其中燕姿(燕姿是叫Stefanie么)的结论特别有意思:

This paper is concerned with the question of which factors govern prenominal adjective order (AO) in English. In particular, the analysis aims to overcome shortfalls of previous analyses by, firstly, adopting a multifactorial approach integrating all variables postulated in the literature, thereby doing justice to the well-established fact that cognitive and psychological processes are multivariate and complex. Secondly, the phenomenon is investigated on the basis of a large corpus, rendering the results obtained more representative and valid of naturally occurring language than those of previous studies. To this end, corpus-linguistic operationalizations of phonological, syntactic, semantic and pragmatic determinants of AO are devised and entered into a Linear Discriminant Analysis, which determines the relative influence of all variables (semantic variables being most important) and yields a classification accuracy of 78%. Moreover, by means of the operationalizations developed in this analysis, the ordering of yet unanalyzed adjective strings can be predicted with about equal accuracy (73.5%).

也就是说,在分析了大量的文本之后发现,两个相邻形容词符合固定排序(可以被算法命中)的概率只有73.5%:考虑到两个东西的顺序,随便定一个去猜也是50%的命中率,这基本上就说明没有什么固定的顺序嘛。

那为什么有些形容词的组合确实是固定的顺序呢?比如"bigger and better",比如"back and forth"。Copper和Ross写的"World Order“里面说:

In each of these cases, and in numerous others, the ordering of the two conjuncts is rigidly fixed in normal speech. We will refer to such cases as "freezes". Abraham (1950) and Malkiel (1959) have treated various aspects of this phenomenon. Our own study in this area has focused on two related problems: (1) the problem of trying to specify the types of linguistic environments in which freezes are apt to occur; and (2) the problem of specifying the rules that determine the linear order of two or more fixed conjuncts in particular frozen environments. Although our goal of solving these problems seemed manageable enough at first glance, we have been continually smitten since our initial attempts to tackle these questions by the enormity of the freezing phenomenon itself. Currently, we believe that the study of freezing touches rather directly on matters that extend to a variety of both linguistic and psychological issues. We report below our preliminary progress on this seemingly endless journey. which we hope will eventually culminate in a fairly explicit theory of freezing and its relation to the variety of mental factors we explore here.

啊哈,所以他们研究了半天是说:“本来各种顺序都在被使用,但是突然其中一种顺序就被freeze下来了。我们也不知道为什么有些组合固定下来了,这个跟语法没关系,也许是心理学范畴,希望有天我们会懂。”

本座觉得其实也不难懂。语言就是被用的多的就有生命力。本来哪种顺序都可以,因为一些有影响力的人或者地方用了其中的一种顺序,这种顺序就流行起来,别的顺序就渐渐消亡。就好像“喜庆祥和”和“祥和喜庆”估计都是可以的,但是你看了二十年春晚,当然就会觉得“祥和喜庆的夜晚”有些怪怪的。

现在有了互联网,这种现象应该会更厉害了吧。

也多亏了互联网,我们今天要弄明白一个东西,实在是比以前容易太多了。