Subjectivity-based adjective ordering maximizes communicative success

AbstractAdjective ordering preferences (e.g., big brown bag vs. brown big bag) are robustly attested in English and many unrelated languages. Scontras et al. (2017) showed that adjective subjectivity is a robust predictor of ordering preferences in English: less subjective adjectives are preferred closer to the modified noun. In a follow-up to this empirical finding, Simonic (2018) and Scontras et al. (to appear) claim that pressures from successful reference resolution and the hierarchical structure of modification explain subjectivity-based ordering preferences. We provide further support for this claim using large-scale simulations of reference scenarios, together with an empirically-motivated adjective semantics. In the vast majority of cases, subjectivity-based adjective orderings yield a higher probability of successful reference resolution.

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