Actually, English _does_ work just like Chinese. I don't have the right example at hand in Chinese, but anyway they're both 'insulating' languages.
The only common circumstances in English to change the word order are questions and paratactical clauses such as 'nor did I'. And this has a Chomskyan explanation through the moving of the costituents in the sentence, beginning from the CP down to the last NP/PP. And remember, this is typical of any language because it is caused by universal syntactic laws.
That is, the structure for questions is: do+you+know+it? CP contains an 'operator' that causes the raising of the verb. In English, the main verb cannot be put before the subject (because of the word-order rule), so the meaningless 'do' shows up, to fill in the empty place in the abstract syntactic structure. You see, in Italian, it would be: lo+sai+(tu)? (lo= it; sai= know; tu= you, but the subject is not compulsory because Italian has a different termination for each person in the conjugation of verbs). As you can see, 'tu' (the subject) would be put after the verb, and the operator's place would be empty again. But we can perceive its presence from the reversal order of the subj+verb structure. [do not mind 'lo': it's just a proclitic particle that can be made explicit through a dimostrative pronoun to be located after the verb, or the subject, if present.]
I could make other examples with French and Russian and Spanish...but they all work just like that. Perceptible 'operators' in English (causing the raising of the verb) are: so, no one, only, a few, nor, ecc.
Ex. So did John. / Few people could I trust.
Whenever there is a simple verb in English, auxiliary 'do' must be added -- because in English the main verb cannot be raised beyond the location of the subject.
Nancy Gish wrote:
> So
what is happening is that a modifier is added at any point you like
because all the words can take either an adverb or an adjective.
This is the very point. Indeed, a phrase such as 'the so-often-deplored invasion' is nothing else but determiner+pre-modifier+Noun. Pre-modifiers can be adjectives and adverbs but they CANNOT be whole clauses. That is why 'among Germans' could not be right in that position (sorry, Gunnar, I don't mean to underline the mistake -- just using it as an example). Pre-modifiers are often underlined to be thus by the adding of hyphens (as Marcia pointed out when suggesting to render 'so-often-deplored' as an adjectival phrase), to underline that they are separated from the noun phrase but always referred to it. Post-modifiers can be Prepositional Phrases and whole clauses (i.e. relative clauses) -- but they are evidently linked to the preceiding noun through a preposition or a relative pronoun.
So, the word order is fixed, whereas you can create endless series of pre-modifiers to a sentence, by means of making them adjectives. But adjectives in English are always put before the noun they refer to. And the result is always the same -- the word order is not flexible. And the reason is, of course, the loss of desinential terminations.
Sorry for the long post --
Sara --