In the English, we say:
Red is an adjective. apple is a noun. Red tells us that, well, the apple is red.
In other languages, such as Arabic, it is the other way around. I.e.:
The word that looks like حمراء means red. The word that looks like تفاحة means (as you guessed it) apple. Now, you may say that isn't it the same order? خمراء (red) is appearing first before تفاحة (apple). The answer is no, because in Arabic you read from right to left (feel free to laugh for a few seconds, then come back when done).
Now, my question is: under which scenarios is which approach better? E.g.
- Why did the English-speaking people evolve in such a way to put the adjective before the noun? Were the English-speaking people initially righting from right to left, but one day woke up and read it from left-to-right, and thought that the adjective is the 1st?
- Or, the other way around, why did the Arabic-speaking people evolve to put the adjective second? Were the Arab-speaking people initially writing from left to right, but one day woke up and read it from right-to-left instead and thought that the adjective is the 1st?
- Can English and Arabic swap the order of adjectives in this example without changing the meaning? Hence achieving the best of two worlds?
What I've Done Thus Far (plus some side questions)
Information theoretically, I'd argue that the goal of language is to deliver information with highest bit rate per second (this also implies error detection and correction). So I guess it may relate to another question:
- Which approach allows for the transfer of a higher amount of information bits per second?
To answer that question, I'd argue that it depends on the probability model the reader has about the current state of the universe. E.g.
If the person thinks that most likely we are talking about apples, but he is unsure about its colour, then perhaps we better tell him first the adjective (red) then that it is an apple (because he already sort of knows with high probability that we are about an apple).
In this case the person in English says "red apple" and he achieves highest bit rate. While the person in Arabic says "تفاحة حمراء" and gets lower bit rate.
- Side question: is it possible to swap the order of adjectives in Arabic without changing the meaning here?
Of course, if the person is sure that we are talking about apples, and he is unsure about the colour, then we will just say "give me the red one", and drop the "apple" altogether. But in this case the person is not sure about it being an apple (he just thinks that most likely it is an apple, but not certainly, hence telling him hat it's an apple is still informative).
- Side question: can we say in English "give me the red", without "one", in case the person is sure it is all about apples? In Arabic we can "أعطني الحمراء", where word that looks like "أعطني" is "give me".
If the person thinks that most likely we are talking about red things, but he is unsure about which red one (e.g. red car? red pen? red apple?), then we better say the objective first (i.e. the apple), and then its colour (because he already sort of knows that we are talking about red things).
In this case, the common Arabic approach of saying "تفاحة حمراء" works optimally (reminder: don't forget to read from right to left), but the common English approach of saying "red apple" doesn't.
- Side question: Can English swap the order of adjectives without changing the meaning?
Similarly, if the person is 100% sure that it's about red stuff, but unsure which red one, he can just say "give me the apple". Arabic can do this too "أعطني التفاحة". But in this case the person is not 100% sure that it's about red stuff, only maybe 90% sure, so he still needs to mention that it is red, hence the order.
This takes me to these thoughts:
- I think the best language is one that allows swapping order of adjectives around depending on the probability model of the universe that the reader is expected to have. This way we can pick the optimum order per context. Can English do this? Can Arabic do this? I don't know.
- But if the language does not allow such flexibility of moving the adjective around, without changing the meaning, then I think it mentioning the noun first and the adjective 2nd is usually more optimum, because I think usually we are more interested in what the thing is (i.e. noun) as opposed to its adjective (e.g. colour). So I think putting the adjective 2nd would maximize the average bit rate.