Nominalization in the service of ideology
A reading and exercise for Tech Writers and language purists
As discussed by Kress and Hodge in Language as Ideology, chap 2, nominalization functions in the service of ideology. How nominalizations carry and alter meaning is a more vital issue than the typical stylebook warning about nominalization as confusing or unclear or aesthetic unpleasant. (All those -ations! How messy!)
Here's how to parse them.
Nominalizations are contractions
Nominalizations come into being; they are surface forms of actions and actors contracted. They make unclear the actors and the actions and their relations. They need to be interpreted to recover actions and actors, and in some cases the actors may not be recoverable.
K&H's example of *picketing* unpacks as *strikers picket a factory*. The verb picket involves agents and actions. Workers parading with signs and banners at an entry point to challenge entry and exit. So
Picketing curtailed coal delivery
Workers with signs at an entry point to challenge entry curtailed coal being delivered by other workers to power plants.
And in that unpacking stands a tale or two.
But to the point of K&H, nominalizations come into existence as needed by language operating in culture:
if the contexts and needs for a particular nominalization occur frequently enough, the nominalization will be taken into the vocabulary as a new and stable noun. 22
Picketing was taken into the vocabulary. Other nominalizations are not. The nomininalizations that K&H analyze are a few that seem “natural” (although that sense is a signal that ideology is at work): they seem unmotivated; they seem to have come into existence according to cultural need. They don't have the typical surface markers of -ation that signal the transformation or contraction of a verb into a noun.
Then there is the overt creation of nominals. Corporatization. Industrialization. Disaffection. Each contracts whole sets of actors and actions - to the benefit of agents who introduce and govern the use of the nominalization. Like Globalization.
corporatization ⇒ make corporate - which seems to be a categorization, non-transactional. Re-writes as something like
As a verb, to make corporate ⇒ unspecified actors who are authorized to do so by other unnamed actors move a set of legal and business procedures into a definitional slot that codifies them and demands that they be recognized as authorized.
With at least two levels of authorized actors, the actors are not recoverable. This may be a kind of ideological bootstrapping: Because I can make corporate, I am authorized to do so. Or it may be a kind of sui generis.
Take globalization ⇒ … It does not unpack as “to make global” but something like, “to use global commercial transactions in local exchange.” To unpack this, we need to look at use cases. [more to come].
note on method
Simply listing nominals isn't enough. The list doesn't bring out the pattern and can strip context of use. Instead, look at patterns of use of nominals and nominalization as a non-transactional. Look at specific cases of use rather than focusing only on the isolated surface form of the nominalization.
Look at the nominalizations typical and unique to the field to get a sense of the ideology at use.
Nominalization - making nouns of verbs, things of actions - may be … er … a force of commodification. It seems that capitalism can't readily make verbs into stuff you can package and buy and sell. You can when the act is contracted as a nominal. Then you can try to package and sell The Experience.
BUT: Is experience in “The Target experience” or “Experience Target,” or “We want to make your Target experience extraordinary”: Are these nominalizations or something else? The term seems to contract agent, agency, action, and context. It elides the verb, the primary action of *shop*, or confounds it with other verbs and so makes it difficult to recover. It seems to limit the action to place and time. To have a shopping experience rather than shop is beginning to reduce the cluster of actions and scripts in *shopping* into a homogeneous singular. Don't know if the alternative experience shopping at Target recovers much, although it does replace the verb.
Unpacking nominalizations. Show what they contract - what they conceal, make hidden - and what they take for granted.
Showing less means someone else is seeing less. And seeing less means thinking less. 22