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Grammatical metaphor: Nominalization

Missing conjunctions

Verbal groups vs connectors

To get a little more insight, let’s revisit these snippets and this time highlight both the conjunctions and the verbal groups.

The natives weren’t communicating very well, and the Europeans took over all their land and placed settlements everywhere.

The native Americans didn’t talk to each other much, so when they found out what the Europeans were doing it was already too late, and the settlers and conquerors were already taking over their land.

Now compare to this written version.

Communications between the tribes of the New World were slow, and news of the Europeans’ barbarities rarely overtook the rapid spread of new conquests and settlements.

What do you see?

 

Fewer conjunctions and far fewer verbal groups in the written version.

 

Let’s try that again. Here’s a conversational version.

Most history books will tell you that, in the nineteenth century, workers in Europe began to have more choice because people started hiring and promoting each other for their skills and aptitude, instead of everyone being forced to do jobs based on what their families did, and because governments started to provide more and more public schools so that everyone had the opportunity to learn.

To learn?

Do the same for this snippet.

Standard history texts will tell you that the nineteenth century saw the beginnings of a new era of choice for Europe’s workers, primarily due to the invention of meritocracy – rewarding people on the basis of their skills or aptitude – and the growth of public education.

What do you see?

 

Same thing, except even more so this time. Only two connectors, and very few verbal groups.

So what’s happening?

 

In spoken language, we tend to connect clauses with conjunctions.

 

In written factual texts, it’s different. A lot of information gets packaged up as nominal groups, which are then connected with verbal groups instead of conjunctions.

 

Why? To increase information density. The verbal groups contain more information than conjunctions, so by using verbal groups instead of conjunctions writers can pack in more information per word.

 

Compare these two lists of words:

  • Because, and, or, instead, so
  • Will tell, saw, rewarding

 

The first list shows all the conjunctions from the conversational version above. The second list shows the verbal groups from the source snippet.

 

The conjunctions communicate no information on their own, however the verbs carry meaning. And means nothing by itself; it can only serve to connect two pieces of information. Saw means something; it contains information about a process.  

 

The point is that in factual texts writers tend to use conjunctions very sparingly. Instead they rely on verbal groups to connect clauses, because the verbal groups pack more meaning with fewer words.