The order of degree word and adjective is more variable than orders of most other kinds of words. Only frequency adverbs (Chapter 11) show a similar variability across languages. Degree words (often called “degree adverbs”) are words like ‘very’, ‘a little’, ‘too’ or ‘more’ in adjective phrases. This chapter closely parallels Dryer’s (2005k) WALS chapter.
Some initial examples of degree words are given in (1) and (2).
There is a general preference for preposed degree words, but many languages have both preposed and postposed degree words.
|Degree word precedes adjective||32||35||67|
|Degree word follows adjective||8||35||43|
|Degree word precedes and follows adjective||0||1||1|
Only one language has a degree construction with both a preceding and a following word (value 3):
About half of the APiCS languages have only preposed degree words. This includes quite a few English-, French- and Ibero-Romance-based languages, and the position of the degree word in these languages is identical to the order in the lexifier. In many of these languages, the degree words are straightforwardly inherited from the lexifier.
Eight languages have only postposed degree words. Seven of them are spoken in Africa, e.g.
This areal concentration of obligatorily postposed degree words in Africa matches the worldwide trend (Dryer 2005k): Western and Central Africa has the strongest concentration of languages with postposed degree words. It is also interesting to note that the order of numeral and noun shows a similar areal picture, with a concentration of languages with postposed numerals in Africa (Chapter 6). Since degree words and numerals are both quantity modifiers, this word-order similarity is semantically sensible.
The only non-African language with exclusively postposed degree words is Tok Pisin, which is again not surprising because the indigenous languages of New Guinea overwhelmingly show postposed degree words.
Thirty-five languages have both preposed and postposed degree words, among them 15 English-based languages and 9 Portuguese-based languages. In almost all cases, this variation in order is due to several different degree words occurring in different positions, not to the order of an individual degree word being free. Thus, degree words form the least coherent word-class from a word-order perspective.
In the English-based languages, inherited degree words like very, too, more usually precede the adjective, while it is the degree words that do not derive from standard English that tend to follow the adjective (e.g. bad, too much, true, cf. also (2b) and (11)).
In Haitian Creole, too, the inherited degree word pi (from French plus) precedes, while the new word anpil (French en pile ‘in a pile’) follows the adjective:
Thus, we may speculate that in the Atlantic creoles and pidgins, the inherited degree words simply preserved the position they had in the lexifier, while the new degree words derive their position from the African substrates.
In a few languages such as Early Sranan and Nengee, the order of the degree word depends on the function of the adjective: If the adjective is attributive and precedes a noun, the degree word precedes it, but if it is predicative, the degree word follows it:
Berbice Dutch is somewhat similar. And in Jamaican, only predicative adjectives can be modified by a degree word. In Tok Pisin, prenominal adjectives can be modified by a degree word, but this cannot occur inside the adjective phrase and must be postposed: