The Pompous Dictatorship of Nouns

Torre_de_babel2Fascinatingly, ancient languages were far less dominated by nouns than modern languages: from the ancient nounless original language, it is claimed, by Neolithic times only half of all words were verbs, declining to less than ten percent of words in modern English.
The Ascent of Humanity by Charles Eisenstein

This is my first attempt at writing in English in this blog. I have been reading and listening a lot recently and now, I’d like to talk little about a doubt that arose in my mind when I was working with new vocabulary lists. These are the questions:

  1. What type of vocabulary is most useful to learn; nouns, adjectives, or verbs?
  2. What kind of vocabulary is most frequent? and, 
  3. What do these results say about our society?

Today, as an English learner obsessed with the idea of achieving a C2 test for my own sake. Those questions shouldn’t be important to me, but really it’s also an important setback for language learning. Companies have developed lists of frequency of words to aid the students in their path of learning. Even your dictionary is made by frequency of words. As a rule, these lists of vocabulary are selected by how often they’re used, based on a corpus. These vocabulary can be divided in various “kind of words” or as the cunning-linguist says “parts of speech”. They are nouns, adjective, verbs, adverbs, and so forth. That said, we begin.

Nounism, adjectiveness, or verbment?

The first answer is very challenging, because answering this question requires knowing both which class of words are the most basic and what are the most common in a language. Almost all languages have categories like nouns and verbs, but beyond these there are significant variations in different languages.[1] Then, we’d imagine nouns and verbs like most basic and widely used words by everyone. However, some voices in the net alert us there’s a strong global trend to nominalization. A curious fact, because nominalizations (or abstract nouns) just as Helen Sword have said:

The proliferation of nominalizations in a discursive formation may be an indication of a tendency toward pomposity and abstraction.

Say no-no to the no-noun

There is a global growth of nouns and an alarming slow decline of verbs in the last three centuries.

There is a global growth of nouns and an alarming slow decline of verbs in the last three centuries.

But I’ve also noticed that are a warning growth of nouns in the last centuries. Consulting in tools like Google Ngrams we can observe this fact.

What said it to us? Is the growth of nouns important to language learning? Absolutely yes, because nominalization also plays an important role in the rising number of nouns we’ve got today. Nominalization makes nouns from others parts of speech like verbs or adjectives even others nouns. Therefore, if you “take an adjective (implacable) or a verb (calibrate) or even another noun (crony) and add a suffix like itytion or ism. You’ve created a new noun: implacabilitycalibrationcronyism.”[2]

Distribution of 50.000 entries in Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English.

Distribution of 50.000 entries in Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English.

So, if we are learning another language like English, we’ve got to know that vast amount of nouns comes from verbs, adjectives, and so on. We should know suffixes and prefixes, and know how to use it accurately. It’s seems to make sense, considering that in a common dictionary like LDOCE, the half of all entries are nouns. Verbs plus adjectives are less than third part of 50.000 entries in a common dictionary. That’s including goggling verbs and  pettifogging adjectives. Sole verbs are close to 6000. Surprisingly little!

Nounification is making us more abstract than we are

There results are worrying not only for practical reasons in language learning, if not, by psychological reasons. What have a solution than doesn’t have a solve? In our scientific and pragmatic society, I think we are looking for answers, not questions. We are glad whenever typing questions in Google and receiving instant answers. Instead of meditating on them. Otherwise, how we could be wasting our time to being happy, if we can acquire the ultimate happiness?


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