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Linking elements
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The first constituents of compounds and some types of suffixed words may have an extended form with an additional –e /ǝ/, -en /ǝn/,  or -s /s/. Compare:

Example 1

a. schaapherder
sheep-herd-er
shepherd
b. schaapskop
sheep-s-head
sheep's head
c. schapevlees
sheep-e-meat
mouton
Example 2

a. heer
lord
b. herenhuis
lord-en-house
mansion
Example 3

a. hoop
hope
b. hopeloos
hope-e-less
hopeless

The parts -e, -en and -s are called linking elements since they do not contribute to the meaning of the compounds and only function as linkers between the two parts. Historically, -s and -en are genitive suffixes. The schwa has two historical sources: it is either a former case suffix or it formed part of the noun stem before the diachronic process of schwa apocope. The latter explanation applies to compounds such as pannekoekpancake, based on the Middle Dutch word pannepan (modern dictionaries request the spelling pannenkoek with the linker -en) and zielerust peace of mind derived from the Middle Dutch word ziele soul. After the compounds were formed, these nouns lost their final schwa, but it was preserved in the compounds.

The sequence –er that appears in a compound like kinderwagenchild-er-cartpram is also considered a linking element by some. Historically, it is a plural ending, which resulted in an allomorph for a number of nouns ending in –er. These long allomorphs also appear in plural forms, see kinderen children, and in derived words such as kinderachtigchildish.

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[+] A spelling issue

Many speakers of Dutch do not pronounce /n/ after schwa in accordance with the phonological rule of n-deletion; hence, -en is then realized as [ǝ] and cannot be distinguished from -e. This problem, in combination with the fact that the choice between -e and -en cannot be predicted by rule, has led to a specific spelling convention for Dutch compounds: the linking element with schwa is to be spelled as -en if the noun has -en as its only plural suffix (Renkema 1995). Thus, the official spelling of a compound like pannekoek /pαnǝkuk/pancake is pannenkoek although the schwa has nothing to do with plurality. This has evoked a lot of discussion because Dutch speakers may associate the written sequence -en with the plural morpheme (Schreuder et al. 1998; Hanssen 2012).

[+] Occurrence and distribution of linking elements

The generalizations concerning the occurrence and the distribution of the individual linking elements can be summarized as follows:

a) -e(n) only occurs after nouns that have a plural form in -en. This makes it difficult to distinguish linking elements from plural suffixes, unless the plural is irregular, as in stedenraadcities' council (see extra for references on this issue)

b) -s can occur after nouns with a plural in -en (regeringsdeelname government participation, dorpscafé village cafepub), and after nouns without a plural (eeuwigheidswaarde eternity value);

c) -s is obligatory if the left-hand constituent of the compound is a diminutive noun (meisjesjurk girl's dress) and after nouns that denote persons and take the plural suffix -s (dameshoed lady's hat, doktersvoorschrift doctor's prescription).

These are the basic rules, but they are not exceptionless. For instance, the compound moedertaal mother tongue is an exception since the first constituent denotes a person and has a plural in -s (a similar exception is vaderlandfather-landnative/ mother country, but cf. vaderskantfather's side (of the family)). What these rules exclude is a noun with the plural suffix -s having the linking morpheme -e: compounds such as *varkenevlees pork are ill-formed. In addition, compounds with a noun in non-head position that does not denote a human being and takes -s as plural suffix will not take -s as linking element, as illustrated by *rotorsblad rotor blade.

In addition, there are a number of tendencies concerning the choice between the different stem allomorphs. For instance, if the left-hand constituent functions as a semantic object of the deverbal nominal head, it is usually without linking element: boekverbranding book burning, contractbreuk breach of contract, misdaadbestrijding crime fight.

Analogy also plays a role: when a compound constituent has become established with a particular linking element, the same element may be chosen for new compounds with this constituent. Once we have boeren-farmer-en- as the first constituent in some compounds, it tends to recur in others, hence: boerenbedrijf farmers businessboerenkaas farmers cheese, etc. (Krott 2001).

Moreover, the choice of a linking element may be governed by prosodic factors: the addition of -e/-en precludes a stress clash between adjacent syllables. For instance, in the word brilkoker specs case the first two syllables are stressed, a situation avoided in the preferred alternative brillenkoker specs case, in which the stressed syllables are separated by schwa (Hanssen 2013).

Linking elements also occur after words followed by a suffix, as in hoophope > hopelooshopeless, lijfbody > lijfelijkbodily, hecht(en)attach, fasten > hechteniscustody.

Although linking elements occur mainly after nominal stems, there are also verbal stems that are followed by -e or -s:

Example 4

a. brekebeen
break-e-leg
bungler
b. drinkebroer
drink-e-brother
heavy drinker
c. hebbedingetje
have-e-thing-DIM
gadget, musthave
d. huilebalk
cry-e-beam
crybaby
e. scheidsrechter
separate-s-judge
referee
f. voorbehoedsmiddel
prevent-s-means
preservative

This shows that the historical connection between linking elements and case endings has been lost, as verbs do not carry case endings.

The linker –e is also found in a few compounds after adjectives, as in jongemanyoung man and wittebroodwhite bread. This –e derives historically from the inflectional ending –e which became part of compounds that originated through univerbation of AN phrases.

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There are a number of reasons for interpreting linking elements as stem extensions of the first constituent of the compound and not as elements that belong to neither the first nor the second part of a compound. First, the linking element is prosodically part of the first constituent. This is clear from the syllabification pattern (for instance, scha.pe.vlees), which shows that the linking element forms one domain of syllabification with the preceding word, and the behaviour of such compounds under gapping: if the second prosodic word is omitted, the linking elements are preserved:

Example 5

a. schapen- of varkensvlees
mutton or pork
b. varkens- of schapenvlees
pork or mutton
c. varkens- of runderpest
swine fever or rinderpest

Secondly, it is always the first part of the compound that determines whether the linking element can occur, and which one. Thirdly, the -s does not only occur in compounds but also in derived words with non-cohering suffixes such as -achtig and -loos, where it exhibits the same prosodic properties, although it does not link two lexical constituents:

Example 6

a. voorjaarsachtig
spring-s-like
spring-like
b. arbeidsloos
work-s-less
out of work
c. werkeloos
work-e-less
jobless

The status of –en in compounds is discussed in Mattens (1970)Schreuder et al. (1998); Krott (2001); Krott (2001); Hanssen (2012); Hanssen et al. (2013).

References:
  • Hanssen, Esther2012Linking elements in compounds: regional variation in speech production and perceptionRadbout Universiteit Nijmegen; LOT Dissertation series
  • Hanssen, Esther2012Linking elements in compounds: regional variation in speech production and perceptionRadbout Universiteit Nijmegen; LOT Dissertation series
  • Hanssen, Esther, Banga, Arina, Schreuder, Robert & Neijt, Anneke2013Semantic and prosodic effects of Dutch linking elementsMorphology237-32
  • Hanssen, Esther, Banga, Arina, Schreuder, Robert & Neijt, Anneke2013Semantic and prosodic effects of Dutch linking elementsMorphology237-32
  • Krott, A. et al2001Analogy in morphology: modeling the choice of linking morphemes in DutchLinguistics3951-93
  • Krott, Andrea2001Analogy in morphology: The selection of linking elements in Dutch compoundsNijmegenMax-Planck-Institut für Psycholinguistik
  • Krott, Andrea2001Analogy in morphology: The selection of linking elements in Dutch compoundsNijmegenMax-Planck-Institut für Psycholinguistik
  • Mattens, W.H.M1970De indifferentialis. Een onderzoek naar het anumerieke gebruik van het substantief in het Algemeen Bruikbaar NederlandsAssenVan Gorcum
  • Renkema, Jan1995Het Groene Boekje, Woordenlijst der Nederlandse TaalDen Haag / AntwerpenSDU Uitgevers, Standaard Uitgeverij
  • Schreuder, Robert, Neijt, Anneke, Weide, Femke van der & Baayen, R. Harald1998Regular plurals in Dutch compounds: Linking graphemes or morphemes?Language and Cognitive Processes13551--573
  • Schreuder, Robert, Neijt, Anneke, Weide, Femke van der & Baayen, R. Harald1998Regular plurals in Dutch compounds: Linking graphemes or morphemes?Language and Cognitive Processes13551--573
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