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-sel
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–sel is a Germanic deverbal suffix, the only suffix in Dutch that specifically makes names for inanimate entities, primarily for the effected objects of transitive verbs, e.g. bedenkselidea from the verb bedenkento think. With intransitive (ergative) verbs that express a change, -sel formations function as subject names, e.g. aanslibseldeposit from the verb aanslibbendeposit. The unifying qualification for these two uses of -sel-nouns is 'Theme name'. All -sel nouns have neuter gender, even nouns that denote humans and other animate beings such as schepselcreature. New formations with -sel are rare, and often have a pejorative meaning.

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The suffix -sel[səl] is a Germanic, nominalising deverbal suffix, the only suffix in Dutch that specifically makes inanimate entities, primarily for the effected objects of transitive verbs (Taeldeman 1990), e.g. bedenkselidea from the verb bedenkento think. With intransitive (ergative) verbs that express a change, -sel formations function as subject names, e.g. aanslibseldeposit from the verb aanslibbendeposit. The unifying qualification for these two uses of -sel-nouns is 'Theme name' since both the subjects of such intransitive verbs and the objects of transitive verbs bear the Theme role(Booij 1986). Most -sel nouns have neuter gender, even nouns such as schepselcreature that denote humans and other animate beings; deksellid (< dekkento cover) is an exception that occurs both as neuter an non-neuter noun (ANS), the non-neuter use being a recent development (onzetaal); individual speakers may have stong preferences for one or the other option, and various compounds with deksel as a right-hand head are of neuter gender (e.g. hoofddekselheadgear).

-sel exhibits polysemy: it can also be used for deriving instrument nouns, e.g. voedselfood from the verb voedento feed and, incidentally, personal nouns such as schepselcreature from the verb scheppento create and onderkruipseltitch, shorty from the complex verb onderkruipento creep under. The table below gives an overview.

Table 1
verb type of verb -sel formation function of formation
aanhang-ento append transitive aanhang-selappendix object name
bedenk-ento think transitive bedenk-selidea object name
bouw-ento build transitive bouw-selstructure object name
schepp-ento create transitive schep-selcreature object name
aanslibb-ento deposit intransitive (ergative) aanslib-seldeposit subject name
uitvloei-ento flow out intransitive (ergative) uitvloei-selconsequence subject name
stijv-ento starch transitive stijf-selstarch subject/instrument name
voed-ento feed transitive voed-selfood subject/instrument name
wit-tento white-wash transitive wit-selwhitewash subject/instrument name

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In Smessaert (2013: 50) the various meaning possibilities of -sel are called Patient (e.g. baksel(the product of) baking (< bakkento bake), Theme (e.g. overblijfselrest < overblijvento stay) and Instrument (e.g. voedselfood < voedento feed).

In object names, the meaning is usually resultative (e.g. bedenk-selidea, i.e. that which has been thought), but raad-selriddle, i.e. that which has to be guessed <radento guess is not.

Quite a number of -sel derivations have developed a semantics that is not completely transparent, e.g. verschijnselphenomenon < verschijnento appear and weefseltissue < wevento weave, schoeiselfootwear (schoeiento shoe), vormsel(religious (esp. catholic) confirmation, and misbakselmostrosity (< mis bakkento bake wrongly).

Phonological properties: the suffix is unstressed (due to the schwa) and does not influence the stress pattern of the base word. Stem-final stops are devoiced before -sel: voedsel/'vut.səl/food from the verb voeden/vu.dən/feed.

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As syllabification respects the morphological boundary (schraap-selscrapings < schrapento scrape rather than *schraa-psel), one might be inclined to view -sel as a cohering suffix; other syllabifications are, however, often impossible as they would yield impossible onsets such as /ks/ and /ps/. Zwarts (1975) argues that devoicing is because of the fact that processes such as -sel affixation are ordered after final devoicing; Booij (p.c.) suggests that devoicing may also be the result of syllable structure, which would make Zwarts's rule ordering unnecessary.

In the form hengselhandle < hangento hang, vowel change has occurred; in afsnijselcutting < afsnijdento cut off the /d/ is lost.

Phonological restrictions: the suffix -sel occurs after liquids and dental consonants, after labial and velar consonants, and after vowels and semi-vowels (Zwarts 1975). -sel, however, does not occur after verbal stems that end in voiceless fricatives (s, f) (*eis-sel < eis-ento demand, *besef-sel < besef-ento realize) or in a syllable with schwa (*teken-sel < teken-ento draw, *predik-sel < predik-ento preach).

Syntactic properties: nominalizations in -sel do in general not inherit the argument structure of the input verb: -sel formations typically do not have an Agent slot and even if the base verb is subcategorized for a fixed preposition, the -sel derivation is not (Knopper 1984).

Morphological potential: -sel derivations with a countable meaning have a plural form, usually in -s (aanhang-sel-sappendices), occasionally in -en. If both plural variants exist, the form in -en is usually more abstract, belongs to a higher style or register, refers to humans only, or something along these lines, e.g. overblijfselsleft-overs vs overblijfselenhuman remains. -sel formations occur easily in nominal compounds, both as left-hand part (e.g. beginselverklaringprinciple-declarationstatement of principles) (usually without a link morpheme) and as right-hand part (e.g. geloofsbeginselfaith-s-principleprinciple of faith). -sel derivations can also be input for diminutive formation (e.g. raad-sel-tjesmall/simple riddle <radento guess), and other derivations (e.g. raad-sel-achtig-heidguess-SUFF-SUFF-SUFFthe property of being riddle-like, mysteriousness.

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Occasionally, deverbal -sel nouns can be verbalized. A case in point is hakselento shred in which hakselchaff (<hakkento chop). This verb in turn can be nominalized into hakselaarshredder, machine to cut branches and tree trunks into wood chips.

The suffix is not very productive; new formations with -sel tend to have a depreciating connotation: brouwselconcoction (< brouwento brew), schrijfselwriting product (< schrijvento write) (see Etymologiebank).

References:
  • Booij, Geert1986Form and meaning in morphology: the case of Dutch 'agent nouns'Linguistics24503-518
  • Knopper, Rob1984On the morphology of ergative verbs and the polyfunctionality principleBennis, Hans & Lessen Kloeke, W.U.S. van (eds.)Linguistics in the Netherlands 1984DordrechtForis Publications119-127
  • Smessaert, Hans2013Basisbegrippen morfologieBasisbegrippen taalkundeLeuven/Den HaagACCO
  • Taeldeman, Johan1990Afleidingen op -sel: semantiek, produktiviteit en integratie in een globale verantwoording van deverbatieve nominaBetekenis en produktiviteit. Gentse bijdragen tot de studie van de Nederlandse woordvormingStudia Germania Gandensia19GentSeminarie voor Duitse taalkunde, Universiteit Gent77-115
  • Zwarts, Frans1975-aar, -arij, -sel en -teTABU69-23
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