Origin of nominalising morphology.

XHighwire at aol.com XHighwire at aol.com
Tue Jun 17 16:11:57 UTC 2003

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
In a message dated 6/15/03 2:13:21 PM, gd116 at HERMES.CAM.AC.UK writes:
<< 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? >>

Just to get basic for a moment.  We might postulate a breakthrough moment
when verbs are turned into nouns or adjectives, i.e., when actions and processes
became abstracted enough to deserve "noun" or "adjective" status.  Up to some
point, "someone" was always eating and running.  Then it occurred to some
speakers that eating and running were ideas in themselves that could be referred
to independent of who and how many were acting and when, especially by making a
verb a noun.  And I suppose that this might be seen as a later development,
unless grammar fell full-blown into the human brain.

On the other hand, infinite verbs -- being without person, number, and mood
marked -- seem simpler and logically more likely to be closer to the core
forms, don't they?

And of course one obvious way to create a verbal is to just give the verb a
noun ending -- like the way nouns are commonly made into adjectives.  But
<amor> the substantive noun matches neither the participle or infinitive forms
<amare>, <amans> or even <amatus> (though it does match the 1st, ind, passive
voice, <amor>).  So it seems appropriate to conclude -- as everyone has -- that
there was often some less direct development of the infinitive in between.

But going back to one question mentioned above -- <<to get the infinitive, we
need to start with some 'action nominal' or participle of some kind>> -- why
would we need an infinitive, if we already had made a participle.  In fact,
why use infinitives in English at all when you can turn any verb into a
participle (and have lost the inflective infinitive ending from OE)?  "Allative
purposive" meaning can easily be injected into participle constructions without
making a infinitive.  He "runs to score" means he "runs in order to score"
which means "he runs so that he will score."

Perhaps the infinitive developed as some form of shorthand?

Do I say something different when I say "running is fun" versus "to run is
fun"?  Is some social nuance or ease of articulation or special usages in some
languages enough to explain the infinitive in light of participle?  Even
ellipses filled in with the typical infinitive in English can be filled with
it seems.  (Mary held the door open > Mary held the door [to keep it] open >
Mary held the door [keeping it] open).

(As far as I know, though the infinitive serves other functions than they do
in English, none could not be served just as well as by participle forms, in IE
 languages at least.  Going even farther, when Brian Joseph, e.g., notes the
striking change in Hellenistic Greek towards the "increased use of finite
complementation in place of infinitival forms" - my presumption is that this
change did not produce a reduction in expression or meaning.)

So, my (tangent) question is, why infinitives in the first place?

Steve Long

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