Sunday, September 19, 2010

Nominalization in English Can Be Tricky

Nominalization = Turning a verb or an adjective into a noun.

The process is fairly straightforward for the native speakers of English. You take a verb or an adjective and make a noun out of it.

In some cases, this can even be done without any morphological changes.
For example:
A - How could you insult (verb) him like that?
B - What?! You've got to be kidding me. That was an insult (noun)?! It was supposed to be a compliment!

There are no morphological differences between "insult" as a noun and "insult" as a verb. Other than the context, the only thing that sets the two apart is the accent shift: ínsult (n) vs. insúlt (v). Other examples include conduct (n) vs. conduct (v), progress (n) vs. progress (v), etc.

Most of the time, though, you see some changes. Speakers of English as an additional language (SEALs) with fairly advanced level of English competency are well aware of the various prefixal morphemes employed in the process of transforming adjectives and verbs into nouns.
dependent (adj) vs. dependence (n)
distant (adj) vs. distance (n)
generous (adj) vs. generosity (n)
remove (v) vs. removal (n)
depress (v) vs. depression (n)
consume (v) vs. consumption (n)
pronounce (v) vs. pronunciation (n)

Advanced SEALs are even aware of the trickier shifts in pronunciation and/or spelling in the process of nominalization - something that even some native speakers of English have not mastered.
halve (v) vs. half (n)
bathe (v) vs. bath (n)
advise (v) vs. advice (n)
marinate (v) vs. marinade (n)
prophesy (v) vs. prophecy (n)

However, some SEALs, especially those in the basic level, often have a hard time with some verb-noun pairs that are etymologically related or morphologically similar but not used to denote the same meaning.
For example, consider these two verb-noun pairs:
deliver (v) vs. delivery (n)
deliver (v) vs. deliverance (n)
The first pair mostly occurs in the context that involves the post office or men in brown uniform driving around in brown trucks; the second pair is used a lot in religious texts. Most native speakers usually take this for granted until they hear someone who speaks little English talk about the miraculous delivery of the children of Israel from the hands of the Egyptians or how impressed they are with their UPS guy for the timely deliverance of their Amazon package.

Right part of speech; wrong word choice.

What about this pair: ignore (v) vs. ignorance (n)? This is a case of words of related etymology which have come to have different meanings in the current usage of the English language. You don't think this should present an issue for SEALs, but it sometimes does. Well, you've got appear/appearance, accept/acceptance, etc., right? So don't be surprised if a SEAL says to you, "Brad has been telephoning me every night and I've been ignoring him. Do you think he will understand that my ignorance of his calls means I'm not interested?"

Sometimes, mistakes stem from making a noun out of the wrong part of speech. I have witnessed several occurrences of misnominalization. Have you heard of the noun, "participance"? Here's how it came into existence:
We have three words here: participate, participation, participant. A participant of X is one who participates in X. Or you can say that one's participation in X makes one a participant of X. As mentioned above, nominalization stems from either a verb or an adjective. In this case, it is clear to those who know English well that participation (n) is the result of the nominalization of its verbal counterpart, participate. It would be silly to nominalize "participant" for it already is a noun.

What makes it tricky for some beginner SEALs is that the word "participant" looks a lot to them like an adjective even though, intellectually, they may know that it is a noun. There's something about the ending -ant that opens in some SEALs a floodgate of recollections of nouns ending with -ance which have been built on adjectival bases ending with -ant, e.g. distant-distance, vigilant-vigilance, important-importance. It may not make sense to you, but to some of us something like, "the host of the event was very encouraged by the enthusiastic participance of all participants," sounds perfectly fine.

Reliant-reliance. Arrogant-arrogance. Compliant-compliance. What else? Fire hydrant-fire hydrance.

In case you're wondering, this post was inspired by a letter I'd received from a friend in Czech Republic who solemnly shared with me his feeling about wanting to stay in one place for a long time instead of moving around wherever work would take him: "In my childhood, I and my parents moved to many places very much, and I always thought to myself that in my adultery I would not do the same."

Can you retrace his steps leading to "adultery"? This is very easy if you were once a beginner SEAL.

There's more to be said about this topic. But this is all for now.