Message from discussion Verbs and Nouns
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Tue, 10 Apr 2012 11:46:42 -0700 (PDT)
From: Helmut Richter <hh...@web.de>
Subject: Re: Verbs and Nouns
Date: Tue, 10 Apr 2012 20:46:41 +0200
Organization: [posted via] Leibniz-Rechenzentrum, Muenchen (Germany)
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On Mon, 9 Apr 2012, Nathan Sanders wrote:
> DKleinecke <dkleine...@gmail.com> wrote:
> > The most noun-heavy texts I have ever examined are English (American to be
> > precise) engineering magazines. Not only are they filled with nouns but what
> > verbs do appear are generic and bland. Almost nothing is communicated via
> > verbs.
> Communicative content is another matter altogether from noun/verb
> And I'm not sure I agree with you that verbs don't communicate much.
> There are very few meaningless or redundant verbs in English. There's
> the "do" that shows up in yes-no questions [...]
In German (I do not know whether the same phenomenon exists in English as
well) there is a writing style which is called nominal style: replace
verbs by "meaningless" or "generic" verbs and insert the previous verb as
a noun. "Meaningless" does not mean they do not convey any meaning, they
just do not convey a meaning that is relevant for the meaning of the
sentence. Popular verbs for the purpose are "durchführen" (perform,
execute), "beinhalten" (comprehend), "darstellen" (constitute), and other
longish verbs that can easily be made part of any sentence. Instead of
"Ich habe erwogen, zu messen" (I considered measuring) you might say "Ich
habe in Erwägung gezogen, eine Messung durchzuführen" (I took into
consideration to perform a measurement). This example is from
http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nominalstil where you also find a number of
other transformations to accomplish nominal style.
Well, this is a question not of language but of style. However, it could
be that different languages are to different extent open for nominal
style, probably German more than English (because both the cases and the
construction of long compounds are very useful for combining nouns with
not so many intervening verbs). I have never learnt Sanskrit but was told
that a similar nominal style was used in classical philosophical works in
It becomes a question of language proper and not only of style when a
langauges makes regular use of such constructs. One could imagine a
language which has no or very few verbs, and these serve only as glue,
i.e. as purely functional particles, between the nouns. In such a
language, you do no longer speak and laugh but you perform a speaking and
laughing, or you are a speaker or laugher. The other way round is harder
to imagine: a language where you have no table or chair but only things
that are tabling or chairing. This is so at least for us Europeans who
have in their languages lots of noun-making devices (for "to train" a
training, a trainer and a trainee) but very few verb-making devices --
even though people say that in English every noun can be verbed.
I do not know a natural language that makes everything a noun but there is
a constructed language along these lines, AllNoun by Tom Breton
Adjectives are easier to get rid of than either nouns or verbs. For
instance Hebrew, in particular Classical Hebrew, has lots of verbs that
translate into English as "be ..." or "make something ..." where "..."
stands for an adjective, thus using verbs instead of adjectives, and of
the remaining adjectives, there are probably some that are frozen
participles of such verbs with adjective meaning. Swahili, on the other
hand, uses nouns for many adjectives using constructs like "having
strength" instead of "strong" in many instances.
> (though it usually conveys
> the tense of the sentence, so it isn't completely meaningless). I
> guess one could argue that the existential "be" in there-existentials
> doesn't add any information that the "there" doesn't already add,
> except again the tense, of course. Likewise for the "be" used in
> passives, and maybe the aspectual helping verbs "be" and "have".
> There may be a few more, but nearly all verbs add something to the
> meaning of an utterance, even if it's just the tense.
It it's just the tense that is left, it is a functional particle. I would
call it a verb-free language even if some verbs are left that have no
meaning other than to combine nouns, such as "is", "has", "is part of",
"has property", etc.
The interesting question is what happens when new words for new things
have to be coined: will the speakers of the language coin only new nouns
which they then use in sentences with the old verbs, or will they coin new
verbs as well? Perhaps the noun-heavy texts which David Kleinecke noticed
in engineering magazines come from the dilemma that new English terms are
mainly new nouns.