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PLoS One. 2008 Sep 9;3(9):e3158. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003158.

Nominalization and alternations in biomedical language.

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  • 1Center for Computational Pharmacology, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado, United States of America.



This paper presents data on alternations in the argument structure of common domain-specific verbs and their associated verbal nominalizations in the PennBioIE corpus. Alternation is the term in theoretical linguistics for variations in the surface syntactic form of verbs, e.g. the different forms of stimulate in FSH stimulates follicular development and follicular development is stimulated by FSH. The data is used to assess the implications of alternations for biomedical text mining systems and to test the fit of the sublanguage model to biomedical texts.


We examined 1,872 tokens of the ten most common domain-specific verbs or their zero-related nouns in the PennBioIE corpus and labelled them for the presence or absence of three alternations. We then annotated the arguments of 746 tokens of the nominalizations related to these verbs and counted alternations related to the presence or absence of arguments and to the syntactic position of non-absent arguments. We found that alternations are quite common both for verbs and for nominalizations. We also found a previously undescribed alternation involving an adjectival present participle.


We found that even in this semantically restricted domain, alternations are quite common, and alternations involving nominalizations are exceptionally diverse. Nonetheless, the sublanguage model applies to biomedical language. We also report on a previously undescribed alternation involving an adjectival present participle.

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