Monday, May 12, 2008

Verbs that want to become nouns--why?

One commenter has noticed that lawyers often use nominalizations when another form would sound more natural or be easier to read:
Where do you think they pick up the habit?
he asks.

I don't know, but I have some guesses:

From judicial opinions. But that just begs the question because we must now ask where the judges--who are legal writers, after all--pick up the habit.

From a desire to sound serious and formal. Sure, but how do lawyers know that nominalizations will make them sound serious and formal? No one teaches that overtly.

From a laziness about picking and using strong verbs. Every book on writing that I've ever read has recommended strong, vigorous verbs. But using good verbs consistently is hard work. So maybe lawyers are lazy about some aspects of their writing.

Another commenter hinted at a cause of the nominalization habit when he said plain-language advocates should focus more on:
the underlying grammatical processes that lawyers unconsciously use to create a specialized discourse.
I think this means that lawyers use nominalizatons in part to sound like lawyers--to identify themselves as members of the legal discourse community. Okay, but how do they know that nominalizations will make them sound legal?

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