From English to Hungarian to Mokilese, speakers exhibit strong ordering preferences in multi-adjective strings: “the small brown box” sounds far more natural than “the brown small box.” In this talk, Scontras will show that an adjective’s distance from the modified noun is predicted by the adjective’s meaning: less subjective adjectives occur closer to the nouns they modify. Subjectivity synthesizes—rather than supplants—many of the previous approaches to adjective ordering, incorporating notions like “inherentness” and “context dependence” into an intuitive psychological construct that readily operationalizes as a behavioral measure. After demonstrating the success of subjectivity in predicting adjective ordering preferences, Scontras will offer a proposal for understanding how adjective subjectivity interacts with the linguistic structure of modification and pressures toward successful communication, delivering the observed preferences: subjectivity-based ordering preferences maximize the probability of successfully resolving the intended referent. To conclude, Scontras will explore targeted predictions of this proposal regarding ordering preferences in the context of conjunction (e.g., “the brown and small box”). 

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