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Frequency of nominalization in Early Modern English medical writing

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Chapter Summary

Nominalization has been noted as one of the fundamental properties of scientific English. It allows the dense packing of complex ideas into elements of clause structure, the addition of modifiers and qualifiers, and the backgrounding and foregrounding of information in the discourse. The device of nominalization in scientific prose is said to originate with Newton’s writings in the seventeenth century. This paper presents the results of an examination of a 1.7 million-word corpus of Early Modern English medical texts with the aim of determining whether a significant increase can be observed in the frequency of nominalizations between 1500 and 1700. The identification of nominalizations in the corpus is operationalized using a defined set of nominal suffixes. Our results suggest that nominalizations do not first emerge during the period of Empiricism in the second part of the sixteenth century, but that, at least in medical writing, a quantitative increase in nominalizations is observable even earlier: our data shows an increase in the frequency of nominalizations throughout the period under investigation. However, there is also a great deal of variation between individual texts throughout the 200-year period: many texts from the sixteenth century are entirely comparable to seventeenth-century texts in terms of nominalization density.



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