query: action nominals and ontological categories

David Gil gil at EVA.MPG.DE
Sun May 3 13:35:39 UTC 2009

Dear all,

I am interested in the semantic analysis of action nominalizations (eg. 
"the destruction of the city"); specifically, the ontological category 
(or "logical type") to which the meanings of action nominalizations belong.

Most commonly (and in my view, at least, correctly), action 
nominalizations are said to denote activities or events.  However, an 
alternative way of describing the semantics of action nominalizations is 
that they refer to some kind of "abstract thing or object".  
Occasionally, the action nominalization is characterized as "naming" the 
activity, which also seems to me to be tantamount to saying that its 
meaning is an abstract thing or object, ie. a name.  My own view 
regarding such claims is that they reflect an unwarranted imposition of 
morphosyntactic features onto semantic categories: "It's a noun, so it 
must refer to a thing/object".

The main reason for this message is bibliographical:  I would greatly 
appreciate pointers to any specific references that you might be 
familiar with in which it is claimed that the meanings of action 
nominalizations are, in some sense, more thing- or object-like than 
their corresponding clauses.  My interest is both in the "general" 
literature, and in descriptions of individual languages in which such 
issues are discussed.

I am currently writing a paper about what I am calling the "Thinginess 
Illusion": the tendency of many linguists to analyze certain 
constructions in their languages as denoting things or objects because 
their translations into English involve nouns or NPs.  I would of course 
be interested in any thoughts or opinions you might have on this matter 
(perhaps more appropriately addressed just to me, not to the entire list).



David Gil

Department of Linguistics
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

Telephone: 49-341-3550321 Fax: 49-341-3550119
Email: gil at eva.mpg.de
Webpage:  http://www.eva.mpg.de/~gil/

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