LINGUIST List 11.1945

Thu Sep 14 2000

Disc: Linguistics & Nominalising Languages

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Lotfi, RE: Dis. Is linguistics 'thing'uistics?
  2. Zylogy, Re: 11.1932, Disc: Linguisics & Nominalising Languages
  3. James L. Fidelholtz, Re: 11.1932, Disc: Linguisics & Nominalising Languages
  4. Karl V. Teeter, Re: 11.1932, Disc: Linguisics & Nominalising Languages

Message 1: RE: Dis. Is linguistics 'thing'uistics?

Date: 14 Sep 2000 19:14:02 EDT
From: Lotfi <>
Subject: RE: Dis. Is linguistics 'thing'uistics?

Benji wrote:
>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
>have "a cough" and maybe even "the sneezes". It is not, then, anything
>within the grammar of English itself that prevents the unattested
>or constructs, only how speakers conventionally use that grammar --
>does not detract from the interest of the question. It just puts the
>question in a different perspective -- and perhaps biases the answer
>the culture determining how the language is used, if that -- rather
>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 dif-
ferently 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.
>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!
>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 independent-
ly 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 ex-
press 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!
Ahmad R. Lotfi.
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Message 2: Re: 11.1932, Disc: Linguisics & Nominalising Languages

Date: Thu, 14 Sep 2000 10:46:16 EDT
From: Zylogy <>
Subject: Re: 11.1932, Disc: Linguisics & Nominalising Languages

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.

Jess Tauber
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Message 3: Re: 11.1932, Disc: Linguisics & Nominalising Languages

Date: Thu, 14 Sep 2000 09:59:05 -0500 (CDT)
From: James L. Fidelholtz <>
Subject: Re: 11.1932, Disc: Linguisics & Nominalising Languages

	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.

James L. Fidelholtz			e-mail:
Posgrado en Ciencias del Lenguaje	tel.: +(52-2)229-5500 x5705
Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades	fax: +(01-2) 229-5681
Benem�rita Universidad Aut�noma de Puebla, M�XICO
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Message 4: Re: 11.1932, Disc: Linguisics & Nominalising Languages

Date: Thu, 14 Sep 2000 11:46:00 -0400
From: Karl V. Teeter <>
Subject: Re: 11.1932, Disc: Linguisics & Nominalising Languages

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. Yours, kvt
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