Size before shape, shape before color

The LCL features a guest speaker, Petra Mišmaš from the University of Nova Gorica, coming to present on adjective ordering at our next lab meeting on April 23rd at 10AM in APM4452.


The talk builds on an old observation that the order of attributive adjectives is universal (see for example Hetzron 1978, Sproat and Shih 1991, etc.). This also holds for adjectives for size, shape and color which seem to universally come in the order size > shape > color. One account of such adjective ordering restrictions was offered by the cartographic approach to syntax, see for example Cinque & Rizzi (2008) for an overview of the cartographic program. The core idea of this approach is that phrases consist from lexical heads which are dominated by hierarchies of functional projections. Crucially, the order of functional projections in the hierarchies is argued to be universal. This also holds for the noun phrase in which functional projections host, among other material, adjectives (Cinque 1994, Scott 2002). This means that the order of adjectives is universal because adjectives are hosted by functional projections which appear in a universal hierarchy. Based on this, the focus of the talk will be on the adjectives for size, shape and color as these adjectives will be used to investigate the possibility of a cognitive basis of the universal hierarchy of functional projections.

Following Cinque & Rizzi (2008) and Ramchand & Svenonius (2014), general cognition will be considered as a possible source of the universal hierarchy of functional projections. Specifically, I will report on a series of experiments which are a result of joint work with Rok Žaucer and Franc Lanko Marušič and are a part of an ongoing project Probing the cognitive basis of the cartographic hierarchy of functional projections in the noun phrase (J6-7282) financed by the Slovenian Research Agency and conducted at the University of Nova Gorica. These experiments were conducted to test the hypothesis that if the universal hierarchy is dictated by general-cognition restrictions, then the order of projections hosting adjectives should be reflected in various non-linguistic cognitive processes. In the talk, I will report on the results of these experiments as well as ongoing research.

Special Issue: Adjective order through a Germanic lens

The journal Linguistics just published a new Special Issue on adjective order in Germanic languages, edited by Andreas Trotzke and Eva Wittenberg:


  • Andreas Trotzke and Eva Wittenberg: Long-standing issues in adjective order and corpus evidence for a multifactorial approach
  • Elnora ten Wolde: Linear vs. hierarchical: Two accounts of premodification in the of-binominal noun phrase
  • Kristin Davidse and Tine Breban: A cognitive-functional approach to the order of adjectives in the English noun phrase
  • Ermenegildo Bidese, Andrea Padovan and Claudia Turolla: Adjective orders in Cimbrian DPs
  • Sven Kotowski and Holden Härtl: How real are adjective order constraints? Multiple prenominal adjectives at the grammatical interfaces

Definitely, maybe: New paper in Journal of Pragmatics

Judith Degen, Andreas Trotzke, Gregory Scontras, Eva Wittenberg, Noah D. Goodman (2019): Definitely, maybe: A new experimental paradigm for investigating the pragmatics of evidential devices across languages. Journal of Pragmatics 140, pp. 33-48.

Abstract: We present a new experimental paradigm for investigating lexical expressions that convey different strengths of speaker commitment. Specifically, we compare different evidential contexts for using modal devices, epistemic discourse particles, and statements with no evidential markers at all, examining the extent to which listeners’ interpretations of certain types of evidential words and their judgments about speaker commitment differ in strength. We also probe speakers’ production preferences for these different devices under varying evidential circumstances. The results of our experiments shed new light on distinctions and controversies that play a key role in the current theoretical literature on the semantics and pragmatics of modals and discourse particles. Our paradigm thus contributes to a domain of experimental research on evidential expressions that is only just taking shape at the crossroads of theoretical semantics/pragmatics and psycholinguistics; we provide a potential starting point for approaching theoretical debates on the nature of modal evidential expressions from an experimental and context-oriented perspective.


New Review Paper: Argument Structure Alternations and Event Construal

Hot off the presses! Eva has a new paper in Psychology of Learning and Motivation about the relationship between grammar and event construal.

The most fundamental function of language is to enable people to share mental models of their worlds. For a comprehender, the given mental model she is building will be shaped by the lexical items, and also by the syntactic structures, that a speaker is using. In this chapter, I review literature that unearths the mental models formed by comprehenders, based on the grammatical structure they encounter, as mutually informative for both linguistic theory and event and object cognition. This chapter uses the well-studied case of light verb constructions and reviews data from a range of experimental studies that investigated how linguistic structure shapes core aspects of mental models: the conceptualization of event participants, and temporal structure in events.

New paper in “Cognitive Science”!

Ziegler, J. , Snedeker, J. and Wittenberg, E. (2018), Event Structures Drive Semantic Structural Priming, Not Thematic Roles: Evidence From Idioms and Light Verbs. Cognitive Science. doi:10.1111/cogs.12687
What are the semantic representations that underlie language production? We use structural priming to distinguish between two competing theories. Thematic roles define semantic structure in terms of atomic units that specify event participants and are ordered with respect to each other through a hierarchy of roles. Event structures instead instantiate semantic structure as embedded sub‐predicates that impose an order on verbal arguments based on their relative positioning in these embeddings. Across two experiments, we found that priming for datives depended on the degree of overlap in event structures. Specifically, while all dative structures showed priming, due to common syntax, there was a boost for compositional datives priming other compositional datives. Here, the two syntactic forms have distinct event structures. In contrast, there was no boost in priming for dative light verbs, where the two forms map onto a single event representation. On the thematic roles hypothesis, we would have expected a similar degree of priming for the two cases. Thus, our results support event structural approaches to semantic representation and not thematic roles.