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The Germanic suffix -en is a productive suffix that is used to create adjectives on the basis of nouns that refer to a material or stuff. Thus houten wooden, derived from the noun hout wood, has the meaning made of wood, consisting of wood. The adjective built with the help of the suffix -en is restricted to attributive use. Thus next to dy houten brêge that wooden bridge we do not find *dy brêge is houten that bridge is wooden. Instead, one needs to use a periphrastic construction with the preposition fan of, as in dy brêge is fan hout, literally that bridge is of wood.

[+]General properties

The suffix is attached to a base denoting a material or stuff. Derivations with the suffix -en from nouns denoting material or stuff have the following schema: "made of {noun}" or "consisting of {noun}". Examples are given in the table below:

Table 1
Base form Derivation
sulver silver sulveren silver
stiel steel stielen steel
izer iron izeren iron
koper copper koperen copper
gimmeleard enamel gimmelearden enamelled
bamboe bamboo bamboezen bamboo
tien wicker tienen wicker
stien stone stiennen stone
bien bone biennen bone
glês glass glêzen glazed
stúsjekoard corduroy stúsjekoarden corduroy
wol wool wollen woollen
papier paper papieren paper
waaks wax waaksen wax
Hence, these input nouns are mass nouns. Incidentally, a count noun may function as a base. An example is planken made, consisting of boards (from planke board), as in in planken flier a wooden floor. Another example is spuonnen as in in spuonnen doaske a tiny box made of wooden chips, from spoen chip (of wood).

The suffix is of Germanic origin: German (Holz - holzen), English (wood - wooden) and Dutch (hout - houten) all have the same suffix. Sometimes, the suffix is possible after a non-Germanic base. An example is plestiken of plastic, from plestik plastic. Other material nouns of foreign origin have an adjectival cognate formed by zero-derivation or conversion, so without an explicit suffix. Examples are aluminium, platina platinum, nijlon nylon and polyester polyester, all occurring in the same form, both as a noun and as an adjective. A decisive factor seems to be that these foreign words do not have main stress on the last syllable. Otherwise, foreign words behave regularly as well, for instance elastiken elastic (from elastyk elastic) or katoenen of cotton (from katoen cotton). It must be admitted that the stress restriction is not absolute: sometimes one hears derivations like nijlonnen of nylon or polyesteren of polyester as well.

It seems that only words denoting solid states are possible input words for the -en suffix; liquids (*wetteren of water; *oaljen of oil) are out, and so are gasses (*soerstoffen of oxygen). Probably, the reason is pragmatic: liquids and gasses seem unsuitable for building physical objects.

The suffix -en can also be used to derive adjectives from verbs.

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There are exceptions with respect to the input category. One is breiden knitted, the noun *breid does not exist. Rather, this formation seems to be derived from an adjective breide, which is itself converted from the past participle of the verb breidzje. A direct derivation from the nominalized form breidzjen meets formal difficulties. In earren brass, the base form *ear does not exist anymore.

Another putative exception is gimmelearden made of enamel, from gimmeleard. This may be a loan from Dutch, witness the initial /g/, which must be a relic from the past participle prefix ge-, which does not exist in Frisian. At first sight, the word should be an adjective deriving from a past participle. However, in contradistinction to the categorization as adjective in the 'Wurdboek Fryske Taal (WFT)', the form also occurs with the article it, and hence it should be concluded that it may act as a noun. Therefore, the derivation gimmelearden might be regular after all.

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Word groups and compounds

Word groups consisting of material adjective + noun sometimes compete with compounds consisting of material noun + noun. Examples are strieën hoed straw hat vs striehoed straw hat, reiden tek thatched roof vs reidtek thatched roof and touwen ljedder rope ladder vs touljedder rope ladder.

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Weiten wheat

The derivation weit wheat > weiten wheat does not only have the denotation "made of {noun}" or "consisting of {noun}", but can also have other meanings. Examples are given below:

Example 1

a. In weiten hin
a spotted/plucked chicken
A spotted/plucked chicken
b. Dy mânlju by Brenninkmeijer binne wol sokke weiten hinnen!
those men at Brenninkmeijer are well such spotted/plucked chicken-PL
Those men at Brenninkmeijer are such effeminate fellows!
c. In weiten mantsje
a pale man-DIM
A pale looking man

[+]Phonological properties

There is a phonological restriction on derivation from material nouns which already end in -en, and on derivations from material nouns ending in -el and -je(s); they take the ending -s.

The suffix -en is a cohering suffix. Its phonological make-up is /ən/, and because of the schwa it bears no stress. Nor does it affect the stress of the base part. The suffix itself may be subject to regular processes like sonantization, nasalization and assimilation. In some cases, it may also cause breaking in the base word. Examples are stien [i.ə] stone - stiennen [jI], or (optional) papier [i.ə] - papier(r)en [jI] (consonant doubling in the spelling marks Modern Frisian Breaking).

[+]Morphosyntactic properties

The adjective formed with the help of the suffix -en is usually restricted to attributive use. Thus next to dy houten brêge that wooden bridge we do not find *dy brêge is houten that bridge is wooden. Instead, a periphrastic construction with the preposition fan of is used, as in dy brêge is fan hout, literally that bridge is of wood. Metaphorically, the derivatives may be used as adverbs, for instance in houten rinne wooden walk to walk woodenly.

(consonant doubling in the spelling marks Modern Frisian Breaking).

[+]Morphological potential

Derivations with the material suffix -en cannot function as a base for further word formation. We do not have derivations with the suffixes -ens or -heid (houten wooden - *houtenens, *houtenheid), and the negative prefix ûn- is also excluded (*ûnhouten). This ban on further word formation is neutralized if the material adjective receives a metaphorical meaning. Thus from houten stiff, awkward, clumsy nominalizing houtenens stiffness, awkwardness, clumsiness is quite conceivable.

In nominal ellipsis, when a suffix -en or -enien is added, the material suffix may optionally be truncated. Examples are in houten a wooden one and in houtenien a wooden one. The full forms *in houtenen and *in houtenenien are not ungrammatical, however. (Of course it could be suggested that the elliptic part -en could be truncated as well, but if we consider elliptic -enien as one suffix, this option is less plausible).

In contrast to their Dutch cognates, the Frisian material adjectives may be inflected. In itself, this is to be expected, since formations on material -en are adjectives after all, and adjectives are inflected in Frisian. In this case, the inflection is not obligatory, however. It appears that only in about 20% of the potential cases in texts an inflectional suffix (-e) has been added, and the tendency is that the number is decreasing. The fact that these adjectives are not inflected is probably caused by a rythmic factor: adding a schwa (-e) to the suffix -en would result in two schwa syllables in a row. This may be the reason that inflection of an adjective derived from a material noun that ends in a syllable containing a schwa is extremely difficult. An example is ?koperene, from the original base koper cupper. Such an adjective is mostly not inflected, it remains koperen. If inflected, it will have one of its other schwa's deleted, so kop'rene or koper'ne.

The dialects of Hindeloopen and Schiermonnikoog still have an inflectional adjectival suffix -en. They differ in their tolerance for doubling -en when the derivational suffix -en is followed by inflectional -en. In Hindeloopen, this is possible: in hoaltenen flier a wooden floor. At the island of Schiermonnikoog, doubling is forbidden: we have in heeuten flúer a wooden floor, but not *in heeutenen flúer.

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More details on this suffix can be found in Hoekstra (1998:136-137). Dykstra (1984) investigates the extent to which the material adjectives are being inflected. He is criticized by Dyk (1996), who states that his perspective is too much influenced by the situation in Dutch: not the fact that these words are inflected is peculiar, but rather the fact that inflection of these adjectives is lacking. Furthermore, Dyk calls attention to the fact that the phenomenon is observable on a larger scale: other nouns ending in -en lack inflection as well. Hoekstra (2008:236-237) offers a different perspective on the question, in that he suggests that the Frisian forms might have been developed from original -en by metathesis, although he does not exclude that the final schwa thus formed is reinterpreted as an inflectional ending. In this way, the form stielene, from the noun stiel steel, would have developed as follows: stielen > stielne (metathesis) > stielene (schwa-insertion). Finally, the Schiermonnikoog facts can be found in Fokkema (1969:24).

  • Dyk, Siebren1996From inflected material adjectives to the history of Schwa apocope in West Frisian: diverging influences on a sound changePetersen, Adeline & Nielsen, Hans Frede (eds.)A Frisian and Germanic Miscellany. Published in Honour of Nils Århammar on his sixty-fifth birthday, 7 August 1996OdenseOdense University Press, Odense55-67
  • Dykstra, Anne1984'In wollen tekken' en 'de graniten toanbank': Oer de bûging fan stoflike adjektiven op -enArhammer, N.R., Breuker, Ph.H., Dam, F., Dykstra, A & Steenmeijer-Wielenga, T. (eds.)Miscellanea Frisica. In nije bondel Fryske stúdzjesAssenVan Gorcum183-191
  • Fokkema, Douwe1969Beknopte spraakkunst van het SchiermonnikoogsLjouwert/LeeuwardenFryske Akademy
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Hoekstra, Jarich2008Ta de Let-Aldwesterlauwerskfryske metatesisIt Beaken70225-242