English Abstract Nouns as Conceptual Shells: From Corpus to Cognition

English Abstract Nouns as Conceptual Shells: From Corpus to Cognition

English Abstract Nouns as Conceptual Shells: From Corpus to Cognition

English Abstract Nouns as Conceptual Shells: From Corpus to Cognition

Synopsis

Based on a systematic analysis of a very large corpus, this book introduces a conceptual and terminological framework for the linguistic description of abstract nouns.

Excerpt

Although it is true that abstract nouns have not been very popular as objects of linguistic research, this is of course not the first study that is concerned with shell nouns or similar types of nouns. Other researchers have taken an interest in nouns which overlap with the class of shell nouns or form a subgroup of them. Their selections of nouns and their choices of names for them reflect their predominant interests, and it will be helpful to have a look at these before I explain and justify my own choice of terminology in more detail.

One group of authors already referred to have focused on the semantic generality or unspecificity (see also Section 5.2) of such nouns as fact, idea or thing. in addition to Bolinger (1977) and Halliday and Hasan (1976), Winter (1992) must be mentioned here, who uses the term unspecific nouns. Although semantic unspecificity is also highlighted by Halliday and Hasan’s term general noun (1976: 274) for such nouns as people, person, creature, thing, object, stuff, affair, matter, move, place, question and idea, it is well known that Halliday and Hasan’s main interest is the contribution of these nouns to the cohesion of texts.

This aspect is also the focus of Francis’ (1986) notion of anaphoric nouns (or A-nouns for short). Francis uses this term to refer to nouns which can function as anaphoric pro-forms, can be used “metadiscursively” within a discourse and “are presented as the given element within a clause containing new information” (1986: 7). Building on work by Winter (1977: 2) and Hoey (1979) on lexical signalling, Francis supports this function with the image of signposts: A-nouns are linguistic signposts which signal to the reader that the specific information can be found somewhere else in the text (1986: 2). Among the nouns that meet these criteria are nouns derived from speech act verbs, e.g. accusation, claim, comment, conclusion, declaration, judgement, report and suggestion, other nouns describing verbal activities, e.g. controversy, critique, eulogy, implication, nonsense and paradox, and metalinguistic ‘text’ nouns such as chapter, excerpt, phrase . . .

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