FWF - Elise Richter-project V850-G

Project Leader: Laura Grestenberger, PhD

Duration: 09/2021 – 08/2024


Language change affects all aspects of human language, including “verbalizers”: elements such as -en in deep-en or -ize in caramel-ize, hospital-ize in English. In many languages, verbalizers are used to turn adjectives (like deep) or nouns (like caramel, hospital) into verbs (blacken, caramelize, hospitalize). These “building blocks” can thus be used to form different kinds of verbs by changing the category of a word.  But where do such verbalizers come from and how do they change over time? Why do they sometimes give rise to verbs that can be used without an object (for example, the sugar caramelized), and sometimes not (*the patients hospitalized)? Under what circumstances can these verbs combine with preverbs like de- and re- (de-hospitalize, but not *de-deepen), and how does this affect their meaning? And do these verbs differ systematically from so-called “primary verbs” that do not contain a verbalizer?

The goal of this project is to study verbalizers in selected ancient Indo-European languages (for example, Hittite, which was spoken in today’s Turkey in the 2nd millennium BCE; Tocharian, spoken in present day Northwest China in antiquity; as well as Sanskrit, Ancient Greek, and Latin) to understand where such verb-forming building blocks come from in these languages and how their shape and function changes over time. These languages are an ideal starting point for such a study because they are highly inflecting languages—they contain a vast variety of adjectival, nominal, and verbal building blocks whose combinability and distribution can be studied in detail. Moreover, they are attested very early (the oldest Hittite, Greek, and Sanskrit texts are from the 2nd millennium BCE), providing an extensive time span over which the development of individual verbalizers can be tracked. Finally, these languages form a language family: They descend from a common ancestor, Proto-Indo-European. This allows us to compare and track how one and the same verbalizer developed in different descendants of this protolanguage and which building blocks gave rise to new verbalizers in the individual languages. An extensive research database will be built to collect and organize the relevant material and to categorize the combinatory possibilities of the different verbalizers and their changes, making it possible to detect regularities in the cross-linguistic development of these verbalizers. Verbalizers can differ dramatically from language to language, and while it is uncontroversial that there are certain basic principles of the human language capacity that are “universal” (that is, present in each language), there is no consensus as to whether this is also the case for the smaller building blocks of language. However, if it can be shown that certain types of verbalizers always display similar properties and develop along similar paths, this would be an important step towards proving that universals exist in this domain of human language as well.


FWF – der Wissenschaftsfonds

Elise Richter-Project V850-G
duration: 09/2021 – 08/2024