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ûnt-
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The prefix ûnt- derives verbs, in the first place on the basis of other verbs. Most ûnt-verbs share the semantic aspect of losing or removing something or going away from somewhere. An example is nimmeto take > ûntnimmeto take away. Another category of ûnt-verbs have an inchoative meaning: they denote the start of something, for example in bloeieto bloom > ûntbloeieto start to bloom. However, the meaning of a derivation with ûnt- is often not clearly correlated with the meaning of its base form, for instance in jaanto give > ûntjaanto sprout. Derivations with ûnt- may have an effect on subcategorization: we often see that an argument of the base verb couched in the form of an Adposition Phrase (PP) turns into a Noun Phrase (NP) argument of the derived verb.

The prefix may also take nouns and adjectives as its base. The basic semantic contribution is again privative, i.e. an object or a property is taken away. Examples are kalklime > ûntkalkjeto decalcify and eigenown > ûnteigenjeto dispossess. However, some opaque bases may also be noted.

The prefix shows a dialectical split in its pronunciation: [unt] in the west (corresponding to the standard spelling ûnt-), [ont] in the east. The latter also has a dissimilated variant [omt], which is no getting obsolete, however.

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[+] General properties

The Germanic prefix ûnt- derives verbs. The main lexical category to act as a base is formed by verbs, but also nouns and adjectives may figure as base. The latter categories will be dealt with separately nouns and adjectives as base below.

[+] Subcategorization

Prefixation with ûnt- often results in a change of the subcategorization frame of the base verb. An intransitive verb may thus turn into a transitive verb, where at the same time an accompanying PP turns to a direct object. Here is an example:

Example 1

a. De lju flechten foar it geweld
the people fled [(PP) for the violence]
The people fled from the violence
b. De lju ûntflechten it geweld
the people PREF-fled [(NP) the violence]
The people escaped from the violence
Example 2

a. De lju flechten [út Afrika wei]
de people fled [(PP) out Africa away]
The people fled out of Africa
b. De lju ûntflechten Afrika
the people PREF-fled [(NP) Africa]
The people escaped from Africa

Other intransitive verbs that obey this pattern are:


Table 1
Base form Derivation
flechtsjeto flee ûntflechtsjeto escape from
kommeto come ûntkommeto get away
glippeto slip ûntglippeto get away
rinneto walk ûntrinneto outrun

We see something similar with transitive verbs, which likewise may show that a PP corresponds an "extra" object, and in this way become ditransitive. An example is:

Example 3

a. Hja krige it mes fan it bern
she took the knife [(PP) from the child]
She took the knife away from the child
b. Hja ûntkrige it bern it mes
she PREF-got [(NP) the child] the knife
She took the knife away from the child

The meaning of such ûnt-derivations is to snatch something from someone by the action expressed by the base form. Other examples are listed below:


Table 2
Base form Derivation
nimmeto take ûntnimmeto take away
biddeljeto beg ûntbiddeljeto cadge
frijeto neck ûntfrijeto take by necking
naderjeto take ûntnaderjeto take dishonestly or with violence
hâldeto hold ûnthâldeto withhold
heljeto fetch ûntheljeto steal

Derivations of this sort have been very productive in Frisian. The same process may even turn intransitive verbs may into ditransitive verbs, like prateto talk > ûntprateto take something from someone by talking and wrakseljeto wrestle > ûntwrakseljeto snatch something from someone by wrestling.

[+] Semantic aspects

As has been shown above, many derivations with ûnt- express the action of going or taking away. The meaning contribution could therefore be characterized as privative. In another group of derivations with ûnt- the result of the action expressed by the base form is reversed. These verbs could be called reversive. Examples are listed below:


Table 3
Base form Derivation
dekketo cover ûntdekketo discover
besmetteto infect with ûntsmetteto disinfect (with truncation of be-)
spanneto stretch ûntspanneto relax
wikkeljeto wind ûntwikkeljeto develop
hilligjeto consecrate ûnthilligjeto desecrate
bineto bind ûntbineto dissolve
siereto adorn ûntsiereto mar
woarteljeto be rooted ûntwoarteljeto uproot

In some cases, however, the reversive relation with the base may be relatively abstract.

Yet another group of derivations with ûnt- refers to the start of the action expressed in the base form, and could therefore be characterized as inchoative. Some examples are listed below:


Table 4
Base form Derivation
bloeieto bloom ûntbloeieto start to bloom
flamjeto flame ûntflamjeto inflame
kimeto come up ûntkimeto germinate
gluorjeto gleam ûntgluorjeto start to glow
teieto thaw ûntteieto thaw
stekketo stick ûntstekketo light
litteto let ûntlitteto thaw
jaanto give ûntjaanto sprout

However, the reversive and inchoative groups can hardly be considered productive. For the greater part, the existing derivations are established Dutchisms and therefore not typically Frisian. Those Dutch ont-verbs which can be placed in these categories often require an alternative construction or formulation in Frisian, for instance a particle verb or a different lexical item. Some telling examples are listed below:


Table 5
Dutch verb with ont- Frisian verb with ûnt- Frisian alternative
ontkledento undress ûntklaaieto undress útklaaieto undress
ontvouwento unfold útteareto unfold or iepenteare
ontradento dissuade from ôfriedeadvise against
ontwennento get out of the habit ûntwenneto cure of ôfwenneto cure of
ontkoppelento declutch loskeppeljeto disconnect
ontknopento unbutton losknoopjeto untie
ontsierento mar skeineto damage
ontkiemento germinate útspruteto sprout, bud
ontwakento awake wekker wurdeawake becomingto wake up
ontbijtento have breakfast moarns itemorning eatingto have breakfast
[+] Nouns and adjectives as base

The prefix ûnt- may also take a nominal base, a pattern that is productive. The meaning is always that the derived verb "takes away" what is denoted or implied by the base noun. The derived verbs are usually transitive. Derivations with a more metaphorical or abstract meaning may be under the influence from Dutch:


Table 6
Nominal base Derivation
haadhead ûnthaadzjeto behead
kalklime ûntkalkjeto decalcify
lúslouse ûntlúzjeto delouse
manman ûntmanjeto castrate
mantelmantle ûntmanteljeto dismantle
maskermask ûntmaskerjeto unmask
siferfigure ûntsiferjeto decipher

A few derivations might be the reverse of formations with the prefix be-, with the implication that this prefix is truncated. This could be the case with ûntboskjeto deforest and ûntwapenjeto disarm.

The verb ûntfolkjeto depopulate usually lacks an agentive subject, as in

Example 4

It plattelân ûntfolket
The countryside depopulates

Moreover, some adjectives can figure as a base for derivation with the prefix ûnt-, although this pattern does not seem to be very productive. Again, the meaning contribution is one of removing a property expressed by the adjectival base. Some examples are:


Table 7
Adjectival base Derivation
bleatnaked ûntbleatsjeto bare
FryskFrisian ûntfryskjeto defrisianize
griengreen ûntgrienjeto rag, to tease unkindly
eigenown ûnteigenjeto dispossess
tsjerklikecclesiastical ûnttsjerklikjeto secularize
tsjusterdark ûnttsjusterjeto de-obscure

The last example ûnttsjusterje seems to be the reverse of fertsjusterjeto black out; if so, with truncation of the prefix fer-.

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x
Ûnt- from ûn-

For a few existing ûnt-derivations with an adjectival base, the prefix historically derived from the negative prefix ûn-, as Hoekstra (1993:12-13) claims. Strikingly, the Dutch counterparts of these words all start with an extra prefix ver-. Examples are Frisian ûntskuldigjeto excuse, from ûnskuldichun-guiltyinnocent (cf. Dutch verontschuldigen) and Frisian ûntreinigjeto pollute, from ûnreinun-cleanunclean(cf. Dutch verontreinigen).

[hide extra information]
x
An alternative analysis

It is assumed here that the derivations above have a noun or an adjective as base. Hoekstra (1998) claims that they actually have a verbal base. This would be the result of conversion of the nominal or adjectival base to a verb, even in those cases where the converted verb is not in use, and hence where it would have to be interpreted as a possible word. An advantage of this view would be that ûnt- only takes verbal bases. Moreover, Williams' Williams (1981)Right Head Hand Rule could be upheld.

[hide extra information]
x An alternative analysis

It is assumed here that the derivations above have a noun or an adjective as base. Hoekstra (1998) claims that they actually have a verbal base. This would be the result of conversion of the nominal or adjectival base to a verb, even in those cases where the converted verb is not in use, and hence where it would have to be interpreted as a possible word. An advantage of this view would be that ûnt- only takes verbal bases. Moreover, Williams' Williams (1981)Right Head Hand Rule could be upheld.

[+] Opaque bases

Some derivations with ûnt- do not contain a base that independently exists as a separate word. Worth mentioning are ûntfermjeto take care, ûntfytmanjeto cheat, ûntfotseljeto diddle, ûntriivjeto incommode and the now obsolete verb ûntwaaieto unwrap. The verb ûntginneto reclaim is even a strong verb.

[+] Phonological properties

In the western part of the language area the prefix is pronounced as [unt], reflected in the standard spelling ûnt-. In the greater part of the east, the pronunciation is [ont], however. The prefix never bears the main stress, e.g. ûntRInneto outrun.

Some speakers, also in the eastern area, still have a third variant, viz. omt-, pronounced as [omt], probably an instance of dissimilation with respect to final dental [t]. This variant omt- is mainly used for semantically opaque derivations like hâldeto keep > omthâldeto remember and hjitteto bid > omthjitteto promise. Possibly, the omt-variant was more common before than it is today. Examples of omt-derivations can already be found in the writings of the seventeenth-century poet Gysbert Japicx (1603-1666). The only dialects in which they are still fully in use nowadays are the peripheric ones of the island of Schiermonnikoog and the eastern part of island of Terschelling.

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x
Literature

This topic is primarily based on Hoekstra (1998:148-149). For a semantic overview, see also Veen (1984-2011) s.v. ûnt-. Important for the semantics is also Hoekstra (2007), who lumps together several submeanings that have been put forward in the literature, especially with respect to Dutch ont-, into one abstract category "pragmatically negative" (next to the inchoative meaning, which he maintains). For some Frisian alternatives to Dutch ont-verbs, see Hoekstra (2000).

For the distribution of the dialectical variants ûnt- en ont-, see Hof (1948:104-105). Some examples with the variant omt- can be found in Tamminga (1973:126-128). He assumes, following Sytstra and Hof (1925:131), influence of the particle omaround, which is probably incorrect. The idea that the change of ont- to omt- is an instance of dissimilation was put forward in Hoekstra (1988). For the dialect of Schiermonnikoog, see Visser and Dyk (2002). For the eastern part of Terschelling: Roggen (1976).

References:
  • Hoekstra, Eric2000'Unt'-tiidwurdenFriesch Dagblad9-910
  • Hoekstra, Eric2007Betsjuttingsaspekten fan it foarheaksel ûnt- yn it Frysk en ont- yn it NederlânskIt Beaken691-12
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1988OmthâldeFriesch Dagblad11-6Taalsnipels 16
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1993Ig-tiidwurden en g-tiidwurdenUs wurk: tydskrift foar Frisistyk421-68
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Hof, Jan Jelles1948Fan on- en ûnminskenDe Pompeblêdden: tydskrift foar Fryske stúdzje1988-92; 103-112
  • Roggen, Cornelis1976Aasters. Oosterschellinger dialectAlgemiene Fryske Underrjocht Kommisje
  • Sytstra, Onno H. & Hof, Jan J1925Nieuwe Friesche SpraakkunstLeeuwardenR. van der Velde
  • Tamminga, Douwe Annes1973Op 'e taelhelling. Losse trochsneden fan Frysk taellibben. IIA.J. Osinga
  • Veen, Klaas F. van der et al1984-2011Wurdboek fan de Fryske taal - Woordenboek der Friese taalFryske Akademy
  • Visser, Willem & Dyk, Siebren2002Eilander Wezzenbúek: woordenboek van het SchiermonnikoogsFryske Akademy Ljouwert
  • Williams, Edwin1981On the notions `lexically related' and `head of a word'Linguistic Inquiry12254-274
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