Origin of nominalising morphology.

Guy Deutscher gd116 at HERMES.CAM.AC.UK
Sun Jun 15 18:07:32 UTC 2003

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Dear Histling-ers,

I have a question about the origin of nominalizing morphology, which I
hope someone can help with. What prompts the question is the wish to
understand how infinitives develop in language. Half of the answer to this
is well known. As Martin Haspelmath, for example, has shown, the markers
of infinitives often come from allative and purposive markers (as in
English 'to'). But there is another half. In order for those allative or
purposive markers to appear before a verb, the verb usually has to have
some nominalizing affix. In other words, to get the infinitive, we need to
start with some 'action nominal' or participle of some kind. But where
does the morphology which takes a verb and turns it into an 'action
nominal' come from in the first place? One would expect that it arises by
grammaticalization, and ultimately from some lexical source. But what are
these sources? In Indo-European, if I understand
correctly, the sources of various nominalizing suffixes are mostly
obscure. For the I-E participle in -wos/-us, for example, Szemerenyi
tentatively suggests that it may be derived from a verbal root *wes-
'stay'. But obviously, one cannot rely on such etymologies. Similarly, if
you take the English participle in -ing, then you can certainly go back
with it to a stage where it was still more nominal in nature (as it
still is in the German cognate -ung). But the actual etymology for the
suffix is not so clear. Do people know of examples where one can actually
observe the emergence of nominalizing morphology on verbs, or at least
reconstruct it transparently? There are, of course, plenty of clear
examples for the emergence of morphology that derives abstract nouns from
*other nouns*. (English suffixes in friend-ship or child-hood derive
originally from noun-noun compounds). In theory, therefore, one way for
nominalizing morphology to reach verbs would be by extension of such
affixes from nouns to verbs. But again, are there examples where one can
actually see such a process in action?

Many thanks, Guy Deutscher.

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