Recently I have been researching the topic of nominalizations. I learned that such structures might be created by means of morphological derivation (be it affixes, clitics, light verbs) or zero-derivation. I also learned that a term "conversion" lies somewhere very close to zero-derivation. I have been struggling with understanding what is conversion ever since. I mean, technically it is pretty straightforward, things just change syntactic categories, however, I have been wondering how do we know that for example it is a verb that turns into noun, and not the other way round?

For example in a language like Mandarin Chinese there are very many cases of words that switch categories, such as 死亡 (N death, V to die). How to determine in which direction does the category changing process work? What kind of tests could possibly be conducted in order to find out?

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    I'd expect usually through historical linguistics, tracking the earliest recorded usages of each word. When there's not enough historical data, it may be possible to determine the order based on polysemy, and which types of words have which extended senses. – curiousdannii Feb 22 '18 at 6:34
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    In case the domain of one rule is within the domain of another, processing the innermost domain comes first. That is the principle of the transformational cycle. "Domain" means the constituent which contains all the material which changes or conditions a change. – Greg Lee Feb 23 '18 at 13:44

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