Nominalisation is a key feature in my analysis of abstract language. The school texts which I analysed for Breakthrough to Learning contained many instances of nouns made from verbs (processes, such as condensation from condense) and nouns made from adjectives (conditions, such as warmth from warm). This linguistic mechanism (together with metaphor) makes it possible to consider abstract entitities and the relationship between them.

I have just been reading a paper on nominalization in texts at MA level, where many of the subjects under discussion are produced by nominalization, but, in addition, the mechanism is used to create very dense nominal groups.*

The introduction to the paper gives the same description of the use of nominalization for creating abstract concepts as mine:

“Long noun phrases very often relate to abstract concepts: insights, collocation, demands, creativity, conformity and so on. Understanding academic writing in English depends on being able to understand these concepts and to see how they relate to each other.”

The main intention of the paper takes this for granted and is meant to help the post-graduate student to process the very dense, not to say cumbersome noun phrases which are found at this level of scholarship. For example:

“theoretical bases of communicative approaches to second language teaching and learning”

Oakey helps students to process such long phrases by showing them how to pick out the head word, to recognize relative and non-finite clauses which often form part of such nominal groups and also how to make sense of lists of noun phrases.

I did not find such long noun phrases in texts in use in secondary schools and it would be very interesting (and useful) to trace at what point they enter academic language – sixth form? Undergraduate? Post-graduate? I wonder what research has been done on this topic.

*David Oakey: Understanding nominal groups in ed. Susan Hunston and David Oakey: Introducing Applied Linguistics

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