Academic naming: Changing patterns of noun use in research writing

Ken Hyland, Feng Kevin Jiang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
98 Downloads (Pure)


In this paper we explore the ways academics name processes as things and how these practices have changed over the past fifty years. Focusing on nominalization, noun-noun sequences, and acronyms, we document an increase in these features across a corpus of 2.2 million words within a consistent set of journals from four disciplines. Our results show that nominalizations and acronyms have increased in all four fields, particularly in applied linguistics and sociology, and that while noun-noun sequences have fallen in electrical engineering, they have risen in the other disciplines, especially sociology. We also suggest that noun-noun phrases have increasingly come to name methodological approaches, rather than concepts or objects, and we seek to account for these changes. We observe that these increases in naming are related to the need for succinctness in modern research writing and the advantages of endowing named objects with a real existence which can then be credited with explanatory authority. We question, however, the appropriacy of these practices for interpretation in the social sciences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-282
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of English Linguistics
Issue number3
Early online date9 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2021


  • Nominalisation
  • acronyms
  • noun phrases
  • corpus analysis
  • academic writing
  • naming practices
  • nominalization

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