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Friday, November 18, 2011

I heartily approve of verbing words: Zero affixation in verbs

How to call it?  Zero affixation -verbing -Zero derivation - denominal verbs

Derivation without affixation. 
There is a name for verbing and nouning and otherwise changing the Word Class (or, as word class was called in Latinate grammar, part of speech) without benefit of suffix. It's called Zero Derivation. That means that, instead of taking the usual route of adding a derivational suffix to change word class, one adds Zero, like the Zero that marks the past tense on He cut the ribbon.

the formation of verbs from nouns is pretty productive in English:
the verbs to film, to pocket, to shape, to house, to napalm may have once unacceptable, but not any more.

Considering just the human body, you can:
  [head  a  committee, scalp  the  missionary, eye a babe, stomach someone's complaints], and so on -- virtually every body part can be  verbed. 

Find 5 more: .............. .............. ................... .................... ....................

In a single work day, we might            head a task force,      eye an opportunity,      nose around for good ideas,          mouth a greeting,     elbow an opponent, strong-arm a colleague,          shoulder the blame,       stomach a loss, and finally hand in our resignation.

Calvin and Hobbes once discussed verbing in Bill Watterson's great comic strip:

Calvin: I like to verb words.
Hobbes: What?
Calvin: I take nouns and adjectives and use them as verbs. Remember when "access" was a thing? Now it's something you do. It got verbed. . . . Verbing weirds language.
Hobbes: Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding.

With zero-derivation

Some verbs and adjectives in English can be used directly as nouns without the addition of a derivational suffix. Some examples include: Change or murder
  • I need a change. (change = noun)
  • I will change. (change = verb)
  •      The murder of the man was tragic. (murder = noun)
  •      He will murder the man. (murder = verb)
In addition to true zero-derivation, English also has a number of words which, depending on subtle changes in pronunciation, are either nouns or verbs. One such type, which is rather pervasive, is the change in stress placement from the final syllable of the word to the first syllable.
  • Progress is important. (progress /ˈprɒɡrɛs/ = noun)
  • Our plan must progress nicely. (progress /prəˈɡrɛs/ = verb)
  • (add 5 others)

When there is no morphological change marking the word-class shift from noun to verb, it is called "conversion" or (by some) "zero derivation" (meaning there is an invisible or zero morpheme).

To the extreme, we have 

W. Shakespeare's  King Richard the Second when the Duke of York  says,

"Grace me no grace, and uncle me no uncles."

Shakespeare demonstrates that when you understand how language works, the more simple rules that help the rest of us just get in your way.

Steve Pinker states the issue
The contradiction begins in the fact that the words "rule" and "grammar" have very different meanings to a scientist and to a layperson.   The  rules  people learn  (or  more  likely,  fail  to  learn) in school are called [prescriptive] rules, prescribing how one "ought"  to  talk.  Scientists  studying  language propose  [descriptive]  rules,  describing  how  people [do] talk -- the way to determine whether a construction is "grammatical" is to find people  who speak the language and ask them.  Prescriptive and descriptive grammar are completely different things, and there is a good  reason  that  scientists  focus  on  the descriptive rules. 

Through the ages, language professionals have  deplored  the  way  English  speakers convert  nouns  into verbs. The following verbs have all been denounced in the XX century:  to input  - to host  -  to nuance  -  to access  -  to chair  - to dialogue - to showcase  -  to progress - to parent -  to intrigue  - to contact - to impact   In fact, easy conversion of nouns to verbs has been part of English grammar for centuries; it is one of  the  processes  that  make English  English. I have estimated that about a fifth of all English verbs were originally nouns. 
Consider the following pairs of sentences in which the same words appear in different functions (e.g., as a noun and as a verb):
  • This is a major oversight. 
  • She graduated with a major in geography. 
  • She majored in geography.
My account is overdrawn. I can’t account for where the money went.
They weighed anchor at 6:00 a.m. Tom Brokaw anchored the news at 6:00 p.m.
They gave aid and comfort to the enemy. They comforted the enemy.
We don’t have any doubt it’s correct. We don’t doubt that it’s correct.
It’s no trouble at all. Don’t trouble yourself.

In all these cases the verb or adjective and noun look alike and sound alike. There is reason to believe that the verbs are derived from the nouns. They are called “denominal verbs” for that reason, and they are said to be derived by a process of conversion – the noun is converted into a verb. I
The process of conversion is, furthermore, extremely productive today:
 we can chair a meeting, air our opinions, panel the walls, weather the storm, storm the gates, e-mail the students, floor our enemies, polish the car, try to fish in troubled waters, and so on. 

To conclude, Verbing makes English English. Analyse the syntax of thise sentence:
Does verbing weird language? (to visualise the answer read up to the end).

to find more info on verbing, read  Nordquist's the excellent post on

New forms of words--as well as new uses for old words--take some getting used to. But the truth is, if those forms and uses stick around for awhile, we do get used to them
English has lost a lot of inflection and also derivation. English goes to the other extreme (it's an analytic language. We don't make a big fuss in English any more about the difference between a verb and a noun. Both are regular in conjugation. And we get most of our grammar from collocations, particle and auxiliary choice, and word order, instead of inflection.
So English is more like Chinese than most other Indo-European languages in this regard, though of course the details are quite different.

As Calvin and Hobes expressed clearly, verbing does something: "Verbing Weirds Language" only if you're expecting it to work in a simple way. This is a special case of the more general truth that Language Weirds.

"Language is the most  massive  and  inclusive  art  we know,  a mountainous and anonymous work of unconscious generations."   - Edward Sapir    Language (1921)

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