DFG-Projekt Zero-derived Nouns

Zero-derived nouns and deverbal nominalization: An empirically-oriented perspective

(DFG-funded research grant IO 91/1-1)

Beginning Sept. 2018
Funding Period Sept. 2018 - Aug. 2021
Principal investigator and researcher Dr. Gianina Iordăchioaia
Student assistants

María Camila Buitrago Cabrera, Anastasiia Iurshina, Susanne Schweitzer, Yaryna Svyryda

External collaborators

Dr. Chiara Melloni (University of Verona)

Dr. Lonneke van der Plas (University of Malta)

Prof. Dr. Rochelle Lieber (University of New Hampshire)

This project aims to investigate deverbal zero-derived nouns (henceforth, ZNs: e.g., to climba climb-Ø) as a type of deverbal nominalization, by looking at two main aspects: i) how their morphosyntax and interpretation are influenced by the lexical semantics and event structure properties of the base verb and ii) to what extent, if at all, their zero-suffix Ø makes them different from suffix-based nominals (SNs: e.g., the climbing).

     Much of the generative literature that discusses ZNs argues that, unlike SNs, ZNs in English are semantically idiosyncratic and morphosyntactically plain, which suggests that they cannot be given a compositional analysis derived from the base verb of the kind that SNs receive, especially when these realize arguments (e.g., John’s breaking of the glass < John broke the glass). This view is supported, among others, by the unsystematic realization of verbal arguments in ZNs (e.g., *John’s break-Ø of the glass). ZNs have thus been treated as idiosyncratic formations or ‘creative coinages’. Various empirical facts, however, challenge this analysis: for instance, some ZNs can realize arguments (cf. his climb-Ø of Kilimanjaro). Moreover, the idiosyncrasy claims are based on sporadic data, especially since the literature on zero derivation has usually focused on the more productive denominal verbs rather than on ZNs.

     This project brings a major contribution to this debate by offering an integrative study of the lexical classes and morphosyntactic patterns of ZNs, guided by the rich corpus data easily accessible today and by previous insightful studies on verb classes in English. The project starts with the assumption that, like SNs, ZNs receive both compositional and idiosyncratic readings. To determine the interplay between the two, it aims to answer the following three questions, which will also lead to the first insights into the theoretical modeling of the morphosyntax and semantics of ZNs:

  1. How do different semantic verb classes correlate with compositional and idiosyncratic ZNs?
  2. Which verb classes derive ZNs that realize verbal arguments?
  3. How do ZNs semantically and morphologically differ from SNs (if at all)?

     The focus is English, whose ZNs are especially productive and offer a rich empirical basis. To further delineate the profile of ZNs from possibly interfering typological properties of one language, the study of English will be complemented by insights from Romance languages, especially from Italian – which offers two patterns of ZNs – and Romanian – which has no productive ZNs. This comparison will help to determine i) the specific verb classes that typically derive ZNs across languages and ii) how the broader meaning domain of ZNs in English is compensated for in languages with a restricted use of ZNs, especially via the use of SNs.