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At the English Language and Usage Stackexchange site, the question was asked What is the rule for adjective order? and the answer boiled down to:

(article) + number + judgement/attitude + size + age + color + origin + material + purpose + noun

Presumably a similar situation of multiple independent modifiers arises in other languages, too. But is English so special that only it has such a specific ordering? Is it 'anything goes' in other languages, or do they follow a strict pattern but different, or is this pattern universal? Do the patterns that exist share any properties?

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Actually, there is supposed to be a universal ordering of adjectives. Oddly, languages either have the exact same ordering as English, or the exact opposite as English. And, nouns in various languages fall in some designated position between the string of adjectives -- in English it's at the end, in Romance languages it's somewhere in the middle, such that most adjectives follow the noun, but certain adjectives precede. Guglielmo Cinque is the big name here, who has written a book articulating this idea, called The Syntax of Adjectives (in addition to working on it in a number of papers)

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  • The book I mentioned actually is a rebuttal to Cinque's previous claims, which is what I was referring to in my comment. But, I think the generalization still holds -- adjectives order in the same way as English, or in the reverse order. – dustinalfonso Nov 9 '11 at 12:01
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There's a wealth of research on the ordering of adjectives (also notice that not in all languages nouns can be modified by more than one adjective): Dixon 1982, Sproat and Shih 1991, Bernsetin 1993, Bouchard 1998 (and other papers), Svenonius 1993 (and other papers), Scott 2002 to start with. Also, see some papers in Adjectives and Adverbs: Syntax, Semantics, and Discourse (2008), OUP.

e.g., Dixon 1982: Value-Dimension-Physical Property-Speed-Human Propensity-Age-Colour

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I have yet to find anything about adjective ordering in languages other than English, judging from the reference grammars (some twenty but few on IE languages) and papers I have read.

It might simply be that other languages do have an ordering but that there are so few linguists working on them that other interesting features of the language take precedence.

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