Linguistics & Nominalising Languages - 4
Dan Moonhawk Alford
14 Sep 2000

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[Ahmad Lofti]
[Benji prior:] No doubt he had in mind such verbs as "photograph". It is unclear what semantic constraints English has on the conversion of nouns to verbs. Thus, there appears to be nothing in English grammar to preclude 'camera'-ing, 'cold'-ing or even "LINGUIST"-ing. Conversely, speakers can have "a cough" and maybe even "the sneezes". It is not, then, anything within the grammar of English itself that prevents the unattested examples or constructs, only how speakers conventionally use that grammar -- which does not detract from the interest of the question. It just puts the question in a different perspective -- and perhaps biases the answer toward the culture determining how the language is used, if that -- rather than the (structure of the) language straitjacketing the culture.
I guess it's too trivial here to consider whether the grammar of English allows or prevents this or that. What does matter is that in certain languages the speakers have a strong tendency to see such events as things while in some others they don't. If the English can behave differently from time to time, it simply means that thinking otherwise is a possibility. And who knows, ... perhaps the English may decide to put an end to their 'nouniness'! Issues will be still there.
[Benji prior:] Potentially, and maybe even in practice, there are at least as many nouns that refer to processes and such-like activities as to "more static" entities.
That's the very thing I'm trying to touch: the speakers of IE prefer to see events as things; to make a dynamic activity a more static one!
[Benji prior:] With respect to content, the difficulty speakers of non-nominalising language have learning nominalising languages and vice-versa does not necessarily imply a difference in conceptualisation, not to mention cognition, but simply using unfamiliar grammatical means to say what they want to say.
This implies that you can conceptualise and create meaning independently of language: you first think of meaning, then you put it into words depending upon the type of language you speak, and then BANG! You express yourself with nouns and verbs or whatever you find around. The truth is that the very concepts you form are influenced by how others (including your predecessors) have decided to view the world. For the English, one and the same event is expressed as 'it's raining' while the Persian-speakers see the same event as 'The rain is coming'. Here Persian is even more nouny/thingy than English. Actually, Persian is so nouny that almost all of its verbs (apart from a short list of some very basic ones) are compound verbs with a nominal element followed by a semantically empty verbal one. Then for Persian speakers, 'to speak' is 'to do speech', and 'to see' will be 'to do sight'. Perhaps it's not an accident that I, a native-speaker of Persian, am always tempted to look for thingy elements in any event. For me, the whole world seems to be things and things and things. So compatible it is with what I learned in my school days as physics! Sorry if I've proved to be a big ignorant of physics. But whatever the true story of this science, I can't help thinking that for me even energy is a form of matter; a thing. Similarly, all events seem to be things in the final run. I'm not saying that energy and event are the same, though! All I'm saying is that perhaps because I can't help thinking that even an event is a thing, I find it so convenient to see every'thing' (Oh My!), even energy, as something! If I made a goof in my bit of physics, there are chances that my Persian is behind it. If I didn't, then it is either the case that physics is Indo-European, ... or perhaps IE more scientific than less nominalising languages!
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[Jess Tauber]
Chiming in late in the debate, I'm just wondering whether the posters view putative cognitive polarization along the lines (or is it more roundabout) mooted by Moonhawk (assuming you agree with the basic (derived?) premises in the first (second?) place (or is place too thing associated?)) as absolutes, psychologically "real" and thus coloring mental life, or merely convenient processing fictions.

Speakers of ergative languages don't really see reality from a patientive perspective, do they? The alignment structure would seem to imply it on first glance. But then much use is made of antipassives to maintain discourse continuity of topics. Apparently what one might really have is a mirror in what is "unmarked" vs. "marked" in processing. Perhaps the same might be said of "nouny" vs. "verby" qualities.

In languages like Mongolian there are only a handful of auxiliary-flavored verbs, with adjectival/nominal and expressive roots/stems "basic" etymologically. Any semantically elaborated verb is a derivation. And even then one wonders just how much of the non-verbal weight is lost. Languages such as these make heavy use of higher-level nominalizations, which perhaps simply nudge the wayward form back towards its unmarked character.

Salishan and like languages let us see the opposite skew from neutrality, with predicative force clinging to every form regardless of use, though derivation helps pin that use down to some degree.

Both types here have severe word-class underspecification at the root level, but in opposite directions. A variety of typological traits seem to be associated, as well as differences in cognitive perspective. So obviously something is going on. Nevertheless, members of all the basic categories seem to be present, however attenuated in population or lexicalized and/or grammaticalized. To speakers of languages with largish populations of seemingly basic forms in each of the various classes such extreme polarizations may look odd. And perhaps they are typological specializations of a kind. Reminds me of one of those teeter-totter sand and liquid toys one can find in novelty shops. No need to go to war over which end of the egg we crack this particular week.

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[Jim Fidelholtz]
Well, Moonhawk and Kenneth Hyde especially get into discussions of 'noun-ness', so I thought I would toss in a couple of cents worth of considerations. First of all, not all nouns are nouns [!]. Moonhawk (unless I'm confusing him with one of the other discussants -- all linguists look alike, after all ;-) , just like all Native languages ;;-)) [including English]) restarting, Moonhawk at one point referred to the structuralist verb picking its quota of nouns, which he specified as one, two or three. However, he neglected to mention zero, such as the verb 'rain'. Now, English requires that all formal verbs have a subject, and in the case of zero-argument verbs, this is always and only 'it', which is therefore a 'dummy noun'. Now no doubt all discussants would be agreed that this is non-germane to the point they are trying to make or refute, but my point is that they are confusing this 'it' with 'real nouns'. To put it another way, maybe it is structurally a noun, but not an argument.
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[Karl Teeter]
This, my friends, is such a weird discussion that it makes me wonder if I am losing it. Speakers of Algonquian languages do indeed love to nominalize things. By my understanding, every time they do they have a noun, it seems to me.