February 06, 2006

Toadying 2: Derived nominalization

Some follow-ups to "The vocabulary of toadying", including material from my e-mail correspondents and some things that didn't make it into the earlier posting because it was already awfully long:

    - a difference in the syntax of fellatio and fellation that indicates that fellation is not merely an anglicized version of Latin fellatio;

    - still more words in the fellat- family;

    - possible insights into the mind of John Podhoretz;

    - more toadying vocabulary, based on sexual vocabulary, on the vocabulary of body services, and the vocabulary of religious worship.

I'll take these topics up in separate postings.  First, fellatio vs. fellation

Correspondent E. notes that my example of metaphorical fellation has "fellation of" followed by a NP denoting the recipient -- "the non-stop fellation of Brady and Belichick by Michaels" ("Michaels's non-stop fellation of Brady and Belichick" would also have been possible) -- and that "fellatio of" really wouldn't work here.  In fact, E. writes, "I can't think of a way to stick on a recipient of the action to the noun [fellatio]."  This is an astute observation.  Fellation and fellatio are both nouns denoting acts/events, but fellation has the syntax of most other English nouns in -ation, which can be followed by a preposition (most commonly of) plus a NP object of that preposition which denotes the person or thing affected by the act or in the event, while fellatio lacks this syntactic possibility. 

In fact, the noun fellation (but not fellatio) exemplifies a much-studied phenomenon in English morphosyntax, usually labeled DERIVED NOMINALIZATION (not a perfect name, by any means, though the derivation of nouns from verbs is certainly part of the story).  To describe what's going on here, I'm going to have to go through some fairly technical stuff, so if you want to avoid this, here's the conclusion: fellation is derived (in English) from the verb fellate, rather than being a simple anglicization of fellatio (fellatio being a Latin noun derived from a Latin verb meaning 'to suck', but that fact isn't relevant in English); fellation has the syntax of an act/event noun derived from a verb, and fellatio does not.

Ok, into those deep and dark technical waters.  We start with verbs.  Each verb is associated with a set of (LEXICAL) ARGUMENTS, which I'm going to indicate by numbers: 1 and 2 for what you probably want to think of as its subject and its direct object (if it takes one), respectively.  (Many verbs take other arguments as well, but 1 and 2 will do for my purposes here.)  What kinds of arguments a verb takes is a fact about that verb as a lexical item; it's a separate question how all this material gets put together into phrases and clauses.  As for fellate, it's an "absolute transitive" verb, taking not only a 1 but also, obligatorily (except in special circumstances), a 2.  An expression serving as its 1 denotes the cocksucker, and an expression serving as its 2 denotes the guy getting blown.

Now to put these three parts (V, 1, and 2) together into larger expressions.  This is a matter of SYNTACTIC FUNCTIONS for the constituent parts. In the simplest sorts of clauses (Tony fellated Joe), the 1 and 2 expressions serve as the SU (Subject) and DO (Direct Object) of the V, respectively, which means (among many other things) that the 1 comes first, followed by a VP consisting of the V followed by the 2.  There are (many) other ways to put the three parts together.  In passive clauses (Joe was/got fellated (by Tony)), the 2 serves as SU and the 1 is not obligatorily expressed -- but if it is it serves as an OO (Oblique Object), marked by a preposition, in this case the particular preposition by.  In nominal gerunds (Tony's fellating Joe (entertained their roommates), (The guys were surprised at) Tony's fellating Joe), the 1 is not obligatorily expressed (Fellating Joe (pleases me), (I'm enthusiastic about) fellating Joe), but if it is it serves as a (possessive) DET (Determiner) for the -ing form of the V.  And on and on.

Some verbs have their 2 expressed as an OO rather than a DO; the preposition marking the OO is one associated with the specific V: adhere to, rebel against, flee from, etc. 

Now: a great many verbs have related act/event nouns.  Morphologically, there are many V-N relations, depending on the V: the N can be identical to the V (capture-capture; this is "conversion" or "zero derivation") or can have one of a number of derivational suffixes, among them -ance/-ence (disappear-disappearance, adhere-adherence), -al (remove-removal), -t (flee-flight), -ion (rebell-rebellion, donate-donation), and -ation (confirm-confirmation).

Finally, the really important, very cool, fact: the syntax of these derived Ns is almost entirely predictable from the syntax of the Vs they are based on.  If it takes a 2, the 2 for the V serves as an OO of the N, immediately following it.  If the V is one that has its 2 expressed as an OO via the preposition P, then this P marks the OO of the N (adhere to - adherence to, rebel against - rebellion against, flee from - flight from); otherwise, the OO of the N is marked by of (capture - capture of, confirm - confirmation of).  If the V doesn't take a 2 (is "lexically intransitive"), then the N has no following object (disappear - disappearance).  If the V has another argument in addition to 1 and 2, or instead of 2, the N inherits it too (remove X from Y - removal of X from Y, donate X to Y - donation of X to Y). 

Meanwhile, the 1 associated with the V is not obligatorily expressed; if it is not expressed, the N is free to have the full range of appropriate determiners, including none (the capture of the enemy soldiers, this rebellion against authority, donation of money to the church), but if it is expressed, the 1 can serve as a (possessive) determiner (our capture of the enemy soldiers, the students' rebellion against authority, Margaret's donation of money to the church).   As in: "Michaels's non-stop fellation of Brady and Belichick".

Another possibility for the expression of the 1 with a derived nominal is as an OO marked by by, as in passive clauses: the capture of the enemy soldiers by our army, a rebellion by students against authority, donation of money to the church by Margaret.  As in: "the non-stop fellation of Brady and Belichick by Michaels".

So fellation behaves syntactically like a derived nominal based on the verb fellateFellatio, on the other hand, is just an ordinary act/event noun, and these don't automatically allow a 2 argument to be marked by of.  Some ordinary act/event nouns allow for marking 2 with a preposition other than of, usually on; surgery is like this: surgery on/*of an emergency patient, surgery on/*of his right arm.  But some ordinary act/event nouns are not comfortable even in this construction; for me, the names of most surgical procedures are like this (*An appendectomy on this patient is advisable, *The/Your nose job on Kim was not entirely successful), as are fellatio (*Fellatio on Tony is uncomfortable) and for that matter blowjob and handjob (*My morning blowjob/handjob on Tony is thoroughly enjoyable).  You can express the 2 argument for these nouns, but it takes an extra verb, which can then be used in a nominal gerund, or converted to a derived nominal: performing/doing an appendectomy on this patient, the surgeon's performance of an appendectomy on this patient, performing fellatio on Tony, providing fellatio to/for Tony, giving a blowjob/handjob to Tony.

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at February 6, 2006 01:57 PM