Title: Indefinite and bare nominal gerunds in PD English: towards a functional account
Authors: Maekelberghe, Charlotte
Heyvaert, Liesbet
Issue Date: 1-May-2014
Conference: ICAME edition:35 location:Nottingham date:30 April - 4 May
Abstract: Indefinite and bare nominal gerunds in PD English: towards a functional account
This paper discusses two types of nominal gerunds in Present-day English, viz. the indefinite nominal gerund (iNG) (1), and the bare nominal gerund (bNG) (2):
(1) With a tightening of her stomach Caroline watched the girl approach. (COCA)
(2) (…) we find sections on (…) reading of scripture and preaching of the word. (BNC or COCA)
Bare NGs and (especially) indefinite NGs have been largely neglected in the literature, yet their occurrence is interesting in several respects:
(i) NGs are generally regarded as mass nouns (Brinton 1998; Langacker 1991), which do not normally take indefinite articles and opt for zero determination to express indefinite reference (Langacker 2004);
(ii) When they are mentioned in the literature, indefinite NGs have tended to be associated with fully lexicalized (typically count) nouns (e.g. a building/meeting/painting; Jespersen 1914-1929, vol. 4; Wik 1973);
(iii) Diachronic research on NGs suggests that iNGs and bNGs have undergone quite some changes since Middle English, iNGs having gained in frequency while bNGs have become less frequent and seem to have been partly replaced by verbal gerunds as in He regrets [losing his keys] (Fonteyn, De Smet and Heyvaert 2013).
In this paper we present the results of a comparative analysis of 200 iNGs and 200 bNGs randomly extracted from the BNC and COCA corpus. We map out their referential status, distinguishing between referential and non-referential (3) uses, and, within the referential category, between specific (1), opaque or ‘virtual’ (Lyons 1999; Langacker 2004) (4), and generic (2) instances:
(3) Prayer is (…) a sharing of experiences and practices. (BNC)
(4) [This] may result in a raising of the self esteem of teachers. (COCA)
Results show that there is a clear division of labour between iNGs and bNGs in PDEnglish:
(i) iNGs are the default option to express specific reference, whereas bNGs have specialized in generic reference;
(ii) A comparative referential analysis of NGs with a set of 200 regular noun phrases shows that the overall referential behaviour of iNGs and bNGs ties in with that of count indefinite NPs and bare mass NPs, respectively;
(iii) Both iNGs and bNGs are frequent in so-called ‘opaque’ or ‘virtual’ contexts (i.e. following verbs like want, believe, hope; in negated, future or modal contexts etc.).
Our detailed analysis of the referential status of iNGs and bNGs reveals (1) that NGs, rather than involving a clear-cut distinction between mass noun-like, non-lexicalized NGs and fully lexicalized count nouns in -ing, form a cline in which bNGs seem to represent the mass noun end (the zero determiner lacking ‘delimitation’, Langacker 2004: 104) and iNGs resemble count nouns in their ability to delineate situations; (2) we argue that the occurrence of iNGs is motivated by the (explicit or implicit) delimitation of the (temporal) instance that is referred to (as discussed for regular mass NPs in e.g. Allen 1966; Langacker 1991; Swan 2005); (3) we map out the various types of delimitation found with iNGs and address the frequent use of both iNGs and bNGs in opaque contexts.

Allen, Robert L. (1966). The verb system of Present-day American English. The Hague: Mouton — Brinton, Laurel (1998). Aspectuality and countability: a cross-categorial analogy. English Language and Linguistics 2(1): 37-63 — Fonteyn, Lauren, Hendrik De Smet and Liesbet Heyvaert (2013). Gerunds in Late Middle and Late Modern English. A case of shifting discourse-functional paradigms? Paper presented at the SLE conference in Split, September 2013 — Jespersen, Otto (1914-1927). A Modern English Grammar, vol VII. Oxford: Allen & Unwin — Langacker, Ronald (1991). Foundations of Cognitive Grammar 2: Descriptive Application. Stanford: Stanford UP — Langacker, Ronald (2004). Remarks on nominal grounding. Functions of Language 11(1): 77-113 — Swan, Michael (2005). Practical English Usage. Oxford: OUP — Wik, Berit (1973). English Nominalizations in -ing: Synchronic and Diachronic Aspects. Uppsala : Almqvist och Wiksell.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Functional and Cognitive Linguistics: Grammar and Typology (FunC), Campus Kulak Kortrijk
Linguistics Research Unit - miscellaneous

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