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Nominalising conversion

Nominalising conversion (also sometimes called nounification or nouning) is the derivational process whereby a word from a different part-of-speech category is used as a noun, without overt morphological marking. The base and resulting noun have identical forms, as illustrated in the following prototypical examples:

Example 1

Input category: verb
... jy sal reguit hemel toe wals ...
... you will directly heaven to waltz ...
... you will waltz directly to heaven ...
Example 2

Output category: noun
Sy hoor nog die sagte wals oor die grammofoon.
she hear still the soft waltz over the gramophone
She could still hear the soft waltz over the gramophone.

Details regarding each input part-of-speech category are discussed in the sections below.

[+] Hypostasis

  • The term hypostasis was introduced by Bloomfield (1935), and elaborated on by, amongst others, Sørensen (1961).
  • Almost any letter/symbol (as in example (3)), morpheme (as in example (4)), word (as in example (5)), or phrase (as in example 6)) can function as a noun when used meta-linguistically.
  • Occasionally a word or phrase can also be used as a verb, as in example (7) and (8).

Example 3

... dae van die week met die letter "r" in ...
... days of the week with the letter "r" in ...
... days of the week containing the letter "r" ...
Example 4

Die woorddeel "hiper-" beteken 'bo' ...
the morpheme hyper- means above ...
The morpheme "hyper-" means 'above' ...
Example 5

Volgens die Oxford Woordeboek, is die woord "inheems" 'n byvoeglike naamwoord ...
according the Oxford dictionary, is the word "indigenous" a adjectival noun ...
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word "indigenous" is an adjective ...
Example 6

... daar is luidkeels saam met die twee ge-ek-wil-huis-toe-gaan-na-mamma-toe.
there is loudly together with the two PST-I-will-house-towards-go-to-mother-towards
... there were loud singing together with each other (the refrain of the pop song by Kurt Darren) "ek wil huis toe gaan na mamma toe".
Example 7

O, nou word jou ma skielik ge·jy en ge·jou?
oh, now is your mother suddenly PST·you.1SG.NOM and PST·you.1SG.GEN
Oh, so now you are suddenly calling your mother "you"?
Example 8

As jy egter ge-uhm en ge-ah het oor helfte van die vrae ...
if you however PST-uhm and PST-ah have about half of the questions ...
However, if you have uhm'ed and ah'ed about half of the questions ...
[+] Input category: verb

  • Since conversion is not the only way to derive nouns from verbs, conversion is in competition with overt nominalisation. For example, while die verhuisthe move (of house) from the prefixed verb ver·huisVBLZ·houseto move (house) is a possible conversion, its overtly nominalised counterpart die ver·huis·ingVBLZ·house·NMLZthe moving house occurs by far more in corpora (roundabout with a 95:5 ratio). Similarly, while the noun die asemhaalthe breathing from the compound verb asem+haalbreathe+taketo breathe is possible, the overtly nominalised form die asem·hal·ingbreath·take·NMLZthe breath; breathing is much more common.

    It is not uncommon for meaning specialisation to occur between a conversion and an overtly nominalised form. For example, from the verb slagto slaughter; kill two nouns can be derived: The converted form die slag is generally more neutral and can be translated with the slaughtering (of animals), while the overtly nominalised form die slagt·ingslaughter·NMLZ underwent a meaning extension to also include humans (i.e. the killing (of humans)), or to express extreme forms of slaughtering/killing (i.e. the carnage, massacre). Conversely, die slag can only be used for the battle, as in die Slag van Magersfonteinthe Battle of Magersfontein (usually capitalised), for the clap (of thunder), the trick (in card games), the beat (of a heart), etc.

  • According to Theron (1974:179) almost every verb in Afrikaans can be converted to a noun, exactly the opposite as in English where "you can verb almost any noun". Such Afrikaans verbs include:
    • Simplex verbs: haatto hate > die haatthe hatred; stroomto stream > die stroomthe (water)stream; the streaming; loopto walk > die loopthe walk; the course (of events); the watercourse; routo mourn > die routhe mourning. Input verbs are usually monomorphemic, monosyllabic, and from the native stratum; output nouns usually denote the process or the result.
    • Prefixed verbs: her·stelre·setto repair > die herstelthe reparation; ver·koopCN·buyto sell > die verkoopthe sale. This category is far less productive than the other three.
    • Separable complex verbs: aan+bouon+buildto build; to attach > die aanbouthe process of building; the annex; op+loopup+walkto walk up; to rise > die oploopthe uprise, tumult, disturbance; the ramp.
    • Compound verbs: baas+raakboss+becometo conquer > die baasraakthe conquering, conquest; blind+tikblind+typeto touch-type > die blindtikthe touch-typing.
  • In principle, all infinitives can function as nouns, most often as the subject of a sentence (Kempen 1969:34-48; 77-78):

Example 9

N < (om te) V.INF
a. (Om te) rook is verbode.
(PTCL.INF to) smoke is forbidden
Smoking is forbidden.
b. (Om te) werk is noodsaaklik.
(PTCL.INF to) work is essential
Working is essential.
Example 10

a. Van lag kom huil
from laugh come cry
First laughter, then crying.
b. Ná werk volg rus.
after work follow rest
Rest follows working

  • The argument structure of the verb is often preserved, where arguments are either expressed as left-hand parts of compounds, or as proposition arguments (as illustrated in these examples):

Example 11

a. Pyp+rook is verbode.
pipe+smoke is forbidden
Smoking a pipe is forbidden.
b. Rook deur onderwysers is verbode.
smoke by teachers is forbidden
Smoking by teachers is forbidden.

As a general rule of thumb, compounding is less frequent and/or productive in such constructions. Compounds like pyp+rookpipe+smokesmoking (a) pipe, perd+ryhorse+ridehorse-riding; equestrianism and ma+weesmother+bebeing a mom; motherhood are formed based on the entrenchment of the activity, and the length of the components. It would therefore be improbable to find a compound like ??laboratorium+skoonmaaklaboratory+cleanlaboratory cleaning; cleaning a/the laboratory. One would much rather find infinitive clauses in such cases, e.g. om 'n laboratorium skoon te maakPTCL.INF a laboratory clean to maketo clean a laboratory.
  • Participles functioning as adjectives readily convert to nouns (see Input category: adjective). We also observe a set number of inherited ablaut forms (from (im)perfective forms of strong verbs in Dutch) that function as nouns, e.g. the noun bedrogdeceit is related to the Dutch past participle bedrogen of the verb bedriegento deceive.
    [hide extra information]

    See the following exhaustive list, provided by Theron (1974:188-189):

    Table 1
    V (Afrikaans) N (Afrikaans) V.PST – V.PST.PTCP (Dutch)
    bedriegto deceive bedrogdeceit bedroog – bedrogen
    beveelto command bevelcommand beval – bevolen
    biedto offer bodbid, offer gebood – geboden
    bindto bind bandband (among others); bondunion bond – gebonden
    breekto break brokpiece; breukfraction (among others) brak – gebroken
    buigto bend, bow boogbow; arch; bogcurve boog – gebogen
    dringto push, press drangurge, force drong – gedrongen
    drinkto drink drankalcohol dronk – gedronken
    dwingto force dwangcompulsion dwong – gedwongen
    genietto enjoy genotpleasure genoot – genoten
    graaf/graweto dig groefgroove; rut groef – gegraven
    grypto grab greepgrip greep – gegrepen
    helpto help hulphelp; support hielp – geholpen
    klinkto sound klanksound klonk – geklonken
    krytto scream kreetscream; slogan kreet – gekreten
    lyto suffer leedharm, grief leed – geleden
    meetto measure maatmeasure mat – gemeten
    neemto take (in)name(in)take nam – genomen
    ruikto smell reuksmell; rooksmoke rook – geroken
    singto sing sangsinging zong – gezongen
    skietto shoot skootshot schoot – geschoten
    skryfto write skrifwriting schreef – geschreven
    sluitto lock slotlock sloot – gesloten
    snuitto blow (one's nose) snotsnot, nose mucus snoot – gesnoten
    spreekto speak spraakspeech; spreukproverb; sprookfictious tale sprak – gesproken
    springto jump sprongjump sprong – gesprongen
    stinkto stink, smell stankodour, bad smell stonk – gestonken
    suipto drink soop/sopieshot (of alcohol) zoop – gezopen
    vindto find vondsfinding, discovery vond – gevonden
    vreetto feed (on), devour vraatfeeder, glutton vrat – gevreten

  • In the category of verbs and nouns that are used equally as nouns and verbs respectively, eight semantic domains feature prominently (Theron 1974:189) (also see this table in the topic on verbalising conversion):
    • Entertainment: e.g. ballet(to) ballet; dans(to) dance; onthaal(to) treat
    • Vocation: e.g. boer(to) farm; dokter(to) doctor; smousto hawk / hawker
    • Instrument: e.g. anker(to) ancor; beitel(to) chisel; ghries(to) grease
    • Abstract: e.g. beheer(to) control; eer(to) honour; hoop(to) hope
    • Result: e.g. bars(to) burst; brul(to) roar; gaap(to) yawn
    • Matter: e.g. gom(to) glue; rook(to) smoke; teer(to) tar
    • Place: e.g. bad(to) bath; bank(to) bank; bundel(to) bundle
    • Nature: e.g. hael(to) hail; reën(to) rain; sneeu(to) snow

[+] Input category: adjective

  • Adjectives, and especially participles functioning as adjectives, that are overtly marked with the attributive suffix -e readily convert into nouns, especially person names, e.g. die heilig·ethe holy·ATTRthe saint; die blind·ethe blind·ATTRthe blind (person); die in·sitt·end·ethe in·sit·PTCP.PRS·ATTRthe passenger; die verwaarloos·d·eneglect·PTCP.PST·ATTRthe neglected (person). This group should be distinguished from adjectives that generally don't take the attributive suffix in prenominal position, but are nominalised by means of the nominalising suffix -e, e.g. grootlarge > die grot·ethe large·NMLZthe great (one); bloublue > die blou·ethe blue·NMLZthe blue (one). Of course, it is possible to regard the latter examples also as cases of conversion, since these adjectives do occur in set expressions like die grot·e Godthe great·ATTR Godthe great God, and 'n blou·e duit'a blue·ATTR mitea red cent. However, since the nominalising suffix -e is used productively to form new nouns from adjectives that don't take the attributive suffix (e.g. geelyellow > die gel·ethe yellow·NMLZthe yellow one), as well as from some verbs (e.g. vertroutrust > die vertrou·ethe trust·NMLZthe trust; weetknow > die wet·ethe know·NMLZthe knowledge), these two suffixes should be regarded as polysemous, and a nominalising (instead of conversion) analysis might even be preferable and more natural.
  • Following on this, adjectives that are marked with the superlative suffix -ste can also function as nouns, e.g. die erg·ste wat jou kan oor+komthe bad·SUP what you can over+comethe worst that can happen to you. On the other hand, adjectives marked with the comparative suffix -er don't convert to nouns readily.
  • Numerals that normally function as adjectives, can convert to nouns, e.g. kook vyf eierscook five eggs > kook vyfcook five.
  • A few uninflected native adjectives can be used as nouns, usually with the meaning [thing with property SEM(A)], e.g. natwet and droogdry in the sentence Ek het nog nie nat of droog oor my lippe gehad nieI have yet not wet or dry over my lips have.PST PTCL.NEGI haven't had anything to eat or drink. Other examples include in die openbaarin the publicpublicly, and in die geheimin the secretsecretly (see Kempen (1969:50) for more examples of this kind).
  • A few adjectives depicting bodily sensations (e.g. hongerhungry and dorsthirsty) are also used as nouns (e.g. die hongerthe hunger and die dorsthe thirst). From a diachronic viewpoint, these adjectives were originally nouns in Dutch (cf. Ik heb hongerI have hungerI am hungry, vs. *Ik ben hongerI am hunger), but are now used frequently in Afrikaans as both adjectives and nouns. Hence, these adjectives can be inputs for the similative suffix -ig (honger·ighungry-ish; dorst·igthirsty-ish), while their derived counterparts in Dutch are pure (non-similative) adjectives. Kempen (1969:56-57) notes that this kind of conversion is not productive in Afrikaans anymore.
  • Many uninflected non-native adjectives can also be used as nouns, especially as person names(Smessaert 2013: 82), e.g.:
    • -aal: liber·aal(the) liberal
    • -eel: krimin·eel(the) criminal
    • -iek: polit·iekpolitical / the politics
    • -ief: altern·at·ief(the) alternative
    • -oos: virtu·oosvirtuous / the virtuoso
  • Language names in Afrikaans are often converted adjectives, e.g. Afrikaans; NederlandsDutch; EngelsEnglish; FransFrench. Some inhabitant names are also converted adjectives, e.g. ChineesChinese; JapanneesJapanese; KatarreesQatari.
  • Similar to English and Dutch, colour names are mostly converted adjectives, e.g. rooi is 'n mooi kleurred is a beautiful colour. As is argued in this topic, the inverse process is also true, where converted nouns regularly function as colour adjectives, e.g. die appelkoos serpthe apricot scarf, or die koper krisantethe copper chrysanthemums(AWS-11).

[+] Input category: preposition

  • The majority of prepositions that have been converted into nouns, are all compounded prepositions with kant as right-hand constituent. Compare buite+kantout(side)+sideoutside in the following examples:

Example 12

a. En hy het die kamele laat neerkniel buitekant die stad ...
and he have the camels let kneel outside the city ...
And he let the camels kneel outside the city ...
b. ... 'n appel aan die buitekant sit ...
... a apple on the outside put ...
... put an apple on the outside ...

  • Note that compounds like buite+kantout(side)+sideoutside could also be truncated through clipping, as in the following example:

Example 13

... versoekings kom van buite.
... temptations come from out(side)
... temptations come from the outside
[+] Input category: interjection

  • When interjections are used as nouns, they are oftentimes orthographically marked (e.g. in capital letters, punctuation marks, etc.).

Example 14

Nissan se sprankel+nuwe Juke sit die WOW! terug in motor+ry.
Nissan PTCL.POSS sparkle+new Juke put the WOW! back in car+drive
Nissan's brand new Juke puts the WOW! back in driving.

  • Interjections (and other onomatopoeic words) used as nouns are also typical of children's language, or infantile speech.

Example 15

Ek het 'n eina in my mond.
I have a ouch in my mouth
I have a (small) wound in my mouth.
Example 16

... top+voordele om 'n woef in die huis te hê ...
... top+advantages PTCL.INF a woof in the house to have ...
... top advantages to have a dog in your house ...
  • Bloomfield, Leonard1935LanguageLondonAllen and Unwin
  • Kempen, W1969Samestelling, afleiding en woordsoortelike meerfunksionaliteit in Afrikaans.Nasou
  • Kempen, W1969Samestelling, afleiding en woordsoortelike meerfunksionaliteit in Afrikaans.Nasou
  • Kempen, W1969Samestelling, afleiding en woordsoortelike meerfunksionaliteit in Afrikaans.Nasou
  • Smessaert, Hans2013Basisbegrippen morfologieBasisbegrippen taalkundeLeuven/Den HaagACCO
  • Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns. Taalkommissie2017Afrikaanse woordelys en spelreëls [Afrikaans word-list and spelling rules]Cape Town: Pharos
  • Sørensen, Holger Steen1961An analysis of linguistic signs occurring in suppositio materialis or the meaning of quotation marks and their phonetic equivalentsLingua10174-189
  • Theron, A.S1974Aspekte van meerfunksionaliteit in Afrikaans. [Aspects of multi-functionality in Afrikaans.]Thesis
  • Theron, A.S1974Aspekte van meerfunksionaliteit in Afrikaans. [Aspects of multi-functionality in Afrikaans.]Thesis
  • Theron, A.S1974Aspekte van meerfunksionaliteit in Afrikaans. [Aspects of multi-functionality in Afrikaans.]Thesis
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