Open ended summary on nominalising morphology

Ben Wald bjwald at EARTHLINK.NET
Wed Jun 25 11:00:13 UTC 2003

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
on 6/23/03 6:58 AM, Guy Deutscher at gd116 at HERMES.CAM.AC.UK wrote:

> It seems, therefore, that in all these cases, affixes which had
> grammaticalised *somewhere else* are later extended to verbs. If this is
> universally valid, then it is an interesting point in itself. But it then
> raises a deeper question. How does the extension of such affixes from
> nouns to verbs - surely, a mighty conceptual leap - actually take place? I
> had always thought that the 'bridging context' between nouns and verbs was
> precisely verbal nouns.

It is not clear to me how large a CONCEPTUAL leap this is.  The reason such
a doubt occurs to me is that many years ago when I was looking at English
0-derivation (not to change the subject) in both directions, from noun to
verb and verb to noun, cf. "sleep", "smoke", "burp", "reform", "attack",
"defeat", "surprise" etc -- I was surprised to find that many examples where
I expected the derivation to be V > N were attested as Ns centuries before
they were attested as Vs (and sometimes vice-versa).  I'll be the first one
to admit that the OED, despite the massive effort, misses and overlooks a
lot -- and the ways in which any dictionary falls short of the total active
vocabulary of any language is worth discussing in more detail some other
time.  For the moment, however. it brought home to me the realisation that
Ns and Vs are SYNTACTICALLY different categories, but not particularly
"conceptually" different, esp. when the Ns denote activities (that's the
point; does an activity noun presuppose it derives from a verb, one that may
no longer be used -- or may have never been attested?  And what's an
activity, anyway.  Are games activities?  chess, baseball, etc.  Or are they
"(routinised) processes"?  But then verbs are famous for expressing
processes too...

The last time I remember making this point about Ns and Vs being
SYNTACTICALLY different but only more problematically "conceptually"
different it had to do with those Amerindian languages that do not obviously
distinguish nouns from verbs in their morphology (and syntax) and thus have
led some analysts to offer the Whorfian notion that speakers of those
languages conceptualise the world differently along such dimensions as
durability (nouny)/fleetingness (verby) of events  -- or something like

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