MoL-2001-12: On the Turning Verbs into Nouns

MoL-2001-12: Hindsill, Darrin (2001) On the Turning Verbs into Nouns. [Report]

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This thesis began as something of an accident. While working on a dramatically different topic, I was exposed to some rather odd examples of nominalization from the 19 th century that were rather confounding in their ungrammaticality. Idle curiosity got the better of me, and I became obsessed with the desire to know exactly what had happened, and how something that was almost painful to hear, was perfectly normal up until even the early 20 th century, albeit probably only as an archaism. This entailed spending day upon day at the Bungehuis, combing through volumes upon volumes of data, doing literary detective work, trying to find some sort of leads that would magically explain the oddities I was encountering. Alas, this never quite happened, but I believe that now a great deal of light has been shed upon the subject, all the while bringing up perhaps as many questions as answers, and giving me a newfound appreciation for amazing variety and creativity in language use. The topic of this thesis is an investigation into the diachronic status of nominalization in English, specifically on the evolution of the gerund, one of the most common forms used to express nominalization. Chapter 1, the prologue, is merely a brief summary of some basic syntactic and semantic facts about the gerund in Present Day English. It is mainly a summary of established work, and is included here to provide a jumping-off point and a stark contrast to the historical situation presented in Chapter 2. This chapter begins in the more murky realms of Old English, and traces the development of the gerund from then on through to the modern area. This is, by necessity, the densest of the chapters, and contains an overwhelming amount of data and statistics. While a bit daunting, this amount of data is necessary in order to get a feel for the language, especially as much of it is now out of the realm of intuition for even a contemporary, native speaker of English. And it is in this chapter that we first see theories regarding the development of the gerund theories that try to account for the split of a gerund into the verbal and nominal versions that exist today. Houston (1989) seems to have the most likely candidate for an explanation, but while fairly solid on convincing statistical correlations and data, leaves the mechanism for how the change could have occurred unexplained. Chapter 3 may seem to be a bit of a diversion, as it leaves the past and its hordes of diachronic data to examine the semantics of nominalization, especially as it relates to the use of nominalization in discourse. This is done largely informally and phenomenologically, and any formal results are banished to the footnotes. This does not indicate any anti-formal inclinations on my part, but rather the nature of the task at hand. Ultimately, while interesting and necessary for any explanation of the semantic phenomena, having to deal in depth with complex formal theories was not necessary for my purposes here. Instead, the semantic and pragmatic observation are there to illustrate use in discourse, and help provide more of a foundation to examine the semantic and discourse factors that may have influenced the development of the gerund, as well as influenced the rather drastic change in the history of its usage. The final chapter is an attempt to put the earlier three chapters together, and look at language change in a broader framework. The beginning of the chapter, a look at a peculiar development in the progressive, while not directly related, is used to illustrate the numerous factors that need to be taken into account in order to explain language change. I have taken an account from Warner (1995) and attempted to flesh out some loose ends with detours into both socio-linguistics and pragmatics. After this, it is back to the evolution of the gerund, with one final detour into Cognitive or Constructive Grammar, as a possible way of giving a theoretical grounding and mechanism to Houston s intuitively appealing conjectures. Finally, we have a brief look at how the split into a verbal and nominal gerund affected the language, especially the way nominalization is used in Modern English. As a final note, I would like to apologize for the density of the paper. By necessity, examining language changes involves a number of disparate areas. Interconnections are rife, and many of these are only given a passing examination, and not elaborated in the depth that they really deserve. My only defence in this is that to have examined everything in the depth and length I would have liked, would have made this already lengthy thesis even longer. With that said, on with the thesis.

Item Type: Report
Report Nr: MoL-2001-12
Series Name: Master of Logic Thesis (MoL) Series
Year: 2001
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2016 14:38
Last Modified: 12 Oct 2016 14:38

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