Question on agentive nominalizations

Mark Baker mabaker at RUCCS.RUTGERS.EDU
Mon Jun 16 15:27:24 UTC 2008

Dear Typologists:

I have a question that perhaps people out there can help me with.  Two of
the more common kinds of deverbal nominalization are event/action-denoting
nominals like (1) in English, and agent-denoting nominals like (2) in

(1)	The finding of the wallet (?so quickly) [was a relief.]
(2)	The finder of the wallet (*so quickly)  [received a reward.]

These can be reasonably similar in their gross syntax, apart from the
difference in meaning, as in the English case.  Now alongside (1) is the
gerundive nominal in (3), which is another way of denoting the

(3)	Finding the wallet (so quickly) [was a relief.]

(3) is semantically similar to (1), and like (1) it acts like a noun
phrase in the larger clause, but its internal syntax has many verbal
features: the object of “find” is an unmarked accusative NP, adverbial
modifiers are possible, the definite article is not used, etc.  The
literature contains many discussions that compare and contrast examples
like (1) and (3) in various languages.
	What I am interested in is the fact that there seems to be no more verbal
construction that denotes an agent.  For example, in English there is
nothing like (4), which would be parallel to (2) in much the way that (3)
is parallel to (1) [but see qualification below].

(4)	*(The) finder the wallet so quickly [received a reward].

I have good evidence that there is nothing like (4) in three unrelated
languages I am studying (English, Sakha, Mapudungun) and I don’t recall
seeing examples like (4) in my general reading.  I am thus interested in
the possibility that examples like (4) are impossible universally. 
However, I am finding it a bit hard to evaluate this by looking at
standard grammars, since many of these simply list a few examples of
agentive nominalizations in isolation, without saying one way or another
if they combine with direct objects, adverbs, etc.  Can anyone point me to
relevant cases, pro or con, that could be worth looking into?  Any
references to general/theoretical discussions of this pattern would be
most welcome too.

Thank you!
Mark Baker

Qualification: One challenge in evaluating this hypothesis that I am aware
of is the need to distinguish true agentive nominalizations from active
participles that are used as headless subject relatives—e.g. constructions
like “The one who is seeking the wallet anxiously”, where “one who is” may
be null, leaving only “the - seeking the wallet anxiously”.  I know how to
tell the difference between active participles and true agentive
nominalizers in the languages I know, but this might not be
straightforward in other languages.  I don’t necessarily expect people to
sort this out for me before mentioning possible cases.

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