Grounding Semantic Transparency In Context: A Distributional Semantic Study on German Event Nominalizations

, , and . Morphology, (2021)


We present the results of a large-scale corpus-based comparison of two German event nominalization patterns: deverbal nouns in -ung (e.g., die Evaluierung, 'the evaluation') and nominal infinitives (e.g., das Evaluieren, 'the evaluating'). Among the many available event nominalization patterns for German, we selected these two because they are both highly productive and challenging from the semantic point of view. Both patterns are known to keep a tight relation with the event denoted by the base verb, but with different nuances. Our study targets a better understanding of the differences in their semantic import. The key notion of our comparison is that of semantic transparency, and we propose a usage-based characterization of the relationship between derived nominals and their bases. Using methods from distributional semantics, we bring to bear two concrete measures of transparency which highlight different nuances: the first one, cosine, detects nominalizations which are semantically similar to their bases; the second one, distributional inclusion, detects nominalizations which are used in a subset of the contexts of the base verb. We find that the inclusion measure helps in characterizing the difference between the two types of nominalizations, in relation with the traditionally considered variable of relative frequency (Hay, 2001). We further benefit from our distributional analysis to frame our comparison in the broader coordinates of the inflection vs. derivation cline.

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