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10 Syntactic functions of Noun Phrases

Noun Phrases (NPs) can have various syntactic functions. They can be subject, direct object, indirect object, prepositional complement, possessor, predicate or adverbial. Below a brief overview is presented of these various syntactic functions.

The sections below deal with the main syntactic functions.

[+]1. Subject

The following sentence illustrates the use of a NP as a subject:

[Die litje Prins] geen twäärs truch ju Wüste.
the little prince went across through the wilderness
The little prince went right across the wilderness.

Some properties of subjects are briefly mentioned below. The subject determines the agreement on the tensed verb. If the subject is plural, the tensed verb must also be in the plural:

[Do Primoanere] studen in ‘n Kring uum dän litje Thaler tou.
the pupils.PL stood.PL in a circle about the little Thaler to
The pupils stood in a circle round the little Thaler.

The subject is absent in to-infinitives:

Die flugge Theodoor begon wier [ - sin Tango tou spieljen].
the nice Theodoor began again his tango to play
Nice Theodoor begain again to play his tango.

Here the subject of the infinitival verb spieljen ‘play’ is coreferential with the subject of the tensed verb (begon ‘began’): Theodoor. A non-specific indefinite subject is introduced by means of the dummy locative R-pronoun deer ‘there’:

Deer sunt hunnertalwen Keninge.
there are hundred eleven kings
There are hundred eleven kings.

The subject is the most common antecedent for reflexives in the same clause as the subject.

[+]2. Direct object

The direct object has a closer relation to the verb than the subject. An example of a direct object is given below:

Iek häbe [ju allereerste Bielde] in mien Lieuwend moald.
I have the all.first picture in my life painted
I made the first painting of my life.

The object is subordinated to the subject in case both occur in the same clause. Thus a dependent element like a reflexive occupies the position of direct object, whereas the antecedent is the subject and not vice versa:

Jo häbe sik juunsiedich holpen.
they have REFL mutual helped
They helped each other.

Reflexives themselves are banned from functioning as a subject agreeing with a tensed verb. It is not the case that the reflexive can fill the subject position, and the antecedent fills the object position. This is an example of a so-called subject-object asymmetry. Furthermore, unlike the subject, the direct object (sin Tango ‘his tango’) remains present in infinitival clauses:

Die flugge Theodoor begon wier [ - sin Tango tou spieljen].
the nice Theodoor began again his tango to play
Nice Theodoor begain again to play his tango.

Idiom formation likewise makes it clear that the object has a closer relation with the verb than the subject, and that the subject is somehow superior to the object. If a transitive verb is an idiom, it will impose lexical restrictions on the object rather than on the subject. An example is the idiom: de Froage stäle ‘ask the question’, which fixes the object but not the subject.

[+]3. Indirect object

The indirect object is sort of in between the direct object and the subject. It is almost always a person. The indirect object is not lexically restricted in idioms, but it is not superior to the subject. This is clear from the fact that the indirect object position can host the reflexive sik, which is a dependent element. The subject position cannot host this reflexive. Like the direct object, the indirect object remains present in infinitival clauses, in which the subject is absent. Thus there is a hierarchy of syntactic functions: subject > indirect object > direct object. Examples of clauses with two objects are given below, in which the indirect object has been put in bold:

Wäl kon iek dussen Failer touskrieuwe?
who could I this mistake to.write
Whom could I ascribe this mistake?
Iek kon die dän Woain nit ferkoopje.
I can you the car not sell
I can’t sell you the car.
Iek häbe him uurs aan fertäld.
I have him other one promised
I promised it to somebody else.

The examples illustrate that the indirect object is almost always a person. The relation between the indirect object and the verb (or another predicate) can be made explicit with the help of adpositions like an ‘to’ or foar ‘for’.

[+]4. Adpositional object

An adpositional object is the object of an adposition and forms an adpositional phrase (PP) with it. An example is given below:

Hie look dän Kat uut dän Sood.
he pulled the cat out the well
He pulled the cat out of the well.

The adpositional object has been put in bold. The example also illustrates that adpositional objects, like direct and indirect objects, receive non-nominative case, although this is only visible in the masculine singular, and only with a restricted set of determiners. West Frisian, Saterland Frisian, Dutch and German furthermore have the property that adpositional objects which are pronouns must take the form of locative pronouns. An example is given below:

Hie look dän Kat deeruut.
he pulled the cat R.out
He pulled the cat out of it.
*Hie look dän Kat uut dän.
he pulled the cat out it
He pulled the cat out of it.

The adpositional pronouns, with the form of locatives, occur to the left of the adposition, and they can be separated from it. This is unlike non-pronominal NPs like dän Kat ‘the cat’, which occur to the right fo prepositions and cannot be separated from them. Adpositional objects are lower in the hierarchy of arguments than subjects and objects. They may be subject to idiom formation and they may be realised as reflexives. The adposition is often dependent on the verb in some sense for its meaning.

[+]5. Possessor

The possessor is the most prominent syntactic position or function within the NP. It is comparable to the subject of a tensed clause. Possessors are usually persons, and indeed, in Saterland Frisian, the possessor must be a person. Two examples of possessors, bracketed, are given below:

[Thomas sin] finger.
Thomas his finger
Thomas’ finger.
[Uus] Babe.
our dad
Our dad.

The possessor is the only NP which may occur preceding the head of the NP of which it is a part. A possessor can be an antecedent, and the possessor position is similar to the subject position in that neither of them may host the reflexive sik.

[+]6. Predicate

A NP can also function as a predicate, for example, as a predicate to a copular verb. An example is given below:

Hie is Affekoat wuden.
he is lawyer become
He became a lawyer.

NPs of profession must be used without an article when they are used as predicates. If they are expanded, the indefinite article is used again. NP predicates are also introduced by the marker as ‘as’.

Hie oarbaidet as Polier.
he works as foreman
He works as a foreman.

Note that the NP is used without a following article here. In comparisons, there is an article present, though, as is clear from the following example:

So äärm as ‘n Luus.
as poor as a louse
As poor as a church mouse.

By the way, note that the words in this comparison, both in English and in Frisian, rhyme. Perhaps English originally had ‘louse’ as well, but replaced it with ‘mouse’ because of the social stigma attached to lice, seeing that written language often tend to be smoothed out compared to rural speech.

[+]7. Adverbial

NPs may function as adverbials, for example as adverbials of time. Some examples are provided below:

[Eende Säptämber] fangt dät kluumske Weder oun.
end september begins the wet.cold weather to
The shivery weather begins end of september.
Iek kume [Sundai].
I come Sunday
I will come Sunday.
Iek bän bie jou [alle Dege] bit an dät Eende fon de Wareld.
I am with you all days till to the end of the world
I am with you every day till the end of the world.

The last example shows, incidentally, that Saterland Frisian is like West Frisian in expressing a universal quantification over time periods such as days by means of a collective or plural quantifier like alle ‘all’ instead of a singular or individuating quantifier like älke ‘each, every’. Usually, however, PPs are used for expressing time. There are some further cases in which NPs may be used as adverbials. For examples, expressions of quantity may take the form of NPs:

Wie liegen fjauerhundert Meter unner dän Top.
we laid 400 meter below the summit
We were lying 400 meter below the summit.
Hie stjunkt tjoon Meter juun dän Wiend an.
he smells ten meter against the wind in
He stinks to high heaven.

These NPs are expressions of quantity, or measure phrases, functioning as adverbial modifiers to PP. This concludes our overview of the NP in Saterland Frisian.

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