Saturday, March 23, 2019

Nominalizers

In linguistics, a nominalizer is a word whose purpose is to turn something into a noun.

In Japanese, the no の particle, which is sometimes contracted to n ん, and koto こと are often called nominalizers.

The exact terminology seems complicated. For example, sometimes they're called light nouns instead. See the article about formal nouns for details.

Grammar

The reason why no の and koto こと are said to be nominalizers is because they can nominalizer an aspect of a sentence if that sentence is used as a relative clause to qualify them.

For example:(Makino and Tsutsui, 1986, as cited in Murata, 1999:65)
  • shousetsu wo kaku
    小説を書く
    To write a novel.
    • A sentence.
  • {shousetsu wo kaku} no wa muzukashii
    小説を書くは難しい
    The "no" [that is] {to write a novel} is difficult.
    Writing a novel is difficult.
  • {shousetsu wo kaku} koto wa muzukashii
    小説を書くことは難しい
    The "koto" [that is] {to write a novel} is difficult.
    Writing a novel is difficult.

Above, both sentences translate to the same thing in English, despite using different nominalizers. At very least, this indicates that both no の and koto こと perform similar functions. If we say that that function is nominalization, then they're both nominalizers.

We can't say, for example, that no の is a nominalizer above, but koto こと is not, because they're both being used the same way.

As for the difference between koto こと and no の, the nominalizer no の is used to refer to a specific concrete event, whether it has happened or might happen in the future, while koto こと is used generally.(Kuno, 1973 b, as cited in Murata, 1999)

In other words, the shousetsu wo kaku no wa could imply, for example, that the speaker is talking about their own attempt at writing a novel, while shousetsu wo kaku koto wa refers to the act of writing novels in general.

These two nominalizers also have some functions which do not overlap like this.

For example, koto こと is often used in the collocations koto nai ことない and koto aru ことある, which mean you've "never done (something) before," or "have done (something) before." This is a function that no の doesn't have.

Conversely:

このイチゴののってるの ほほーー!
Manga: Yotsuba to! よつばと! (Chapter 10, ケーキ)
  • kono ichigo no notteru no
    このイチゴの のってる
    This one with a strawberry on top.
  • hoho---!
    ほほーー!
    (Santa-like laugh.)

In the example above, we have no の used to refer to one generic but concrete object. This can translate to "one" in English. Note the difference between no の and a normal noun:
  • kono ichigo no notteru keeki
    このイチゴの乗ってるケーキ
    This cake with a strawberry on top.
  • kono ichigo no notteru no
    このイチゴの乗ってる
    This one with a strawberry on top.

This is a function that koto こと doesn't have.

References

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