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The unproductive suffix -ske is used to derive female nouns on the basis of nouns denoting a profession, or more broadly speaking, a certain function in society. The suffix then derives its female counterpart. An example is foarsitter chairman > foarsitterske chairwoman. Another possible meaning is 'spouse'. A domineeske, then, can not only mean a female minister, but also the wife of the minister. The suffix is unproductive and tends to get obsolete; derivations are felt to belong to old-fashioned language.

Other suffixes that derive female nouns are -e, -esse, -inne and -ster. Note also the suffix -e that derives female inhabitant names on the basis of an adjective, however.

[+]General properties

Originally, derivations with -ske refer to the wife of the person denoted by the base form. A second meaning is to refer to the female counterpart of the person who is denoted by the base form. Thus the derivations can be ambiguous. Examples are listed below:

Table 1
Base form Derivation
master teacher masterske female teacher; wife of a teacher
dokter doctor dokterske female doctor; wife of a doctor
siktaris secretary siktariske female secretary; wife of a secretary
foarsitter chairman foarsitterske chairwoman; wife of a chariman
kastlein innkeeper kastleinske female innkeeper; wife of an innkeeper
smid smith smidske female smith; wife of a smith
koster sexton kosterske female sexton; wife of a sexton
skipper master of a ship skipperske female skipper; wife of a skipper
notaris notary notariske female notary; wife of a notary
The interpretation of a female profession name is available in all derivations with -ske. This does not apply to the meaning wife of ... For example, if one encounters forms like hierderske tenant-SUFF or eignerske owner-SUFF in a legal text, these terms can only refer to a female tenant or owner.
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As Tamminga (1973:54-57) notes, two derivations do not have a profession as base form. These are kammeraatske female companion from kammeraat companion and snoarske sister in law from snoar sister in law. The last example is very rare in modern Frisian; it is an outsider anyhow, since the base snoar and the derived form snoarske both have the same meaning. The derivation can therefore be seen as tautologic.

[+]Syntactic properties

Derivations with the meaning wife of .. have the special property that they are only used as proper names; they therefore never occur with an article. The example below shows the difference in meaning between derivations without an article (a) and with an article (b):

Example 1

a. Kosterske moat tsjerkehimmelje
sexton-SUFF must church-clean
The wife of the sexton must clean the church
b. De kosterske moat tsjerkehimmelje
the sexton-SUFF must church-clean
The female sexton must clean the church

Originally, derivations with -ske had common gender, the accompanying definite article being de the. However, as an effect of having its last two segments pronounced as /kə/, the suffix -ske often became reinterpreted as a diminutive, especially as a manifestation of its allomorph -ke. Due to this, derivations in -ske are also preceded by the neuter article it the. For example, one can encounter de foarsitterske the chairwoman next to it foarsitterske the chairwoman, or de hierderske the female tenant and it hierderske the female tenant.

[+]Phonological properties

The suffix is pronounced as [skə]. In derivations with -ske the stress remains on the base, for example in MASterske female teacher, wife of a teacher). Accentuation of the suffix is impossible anyhow, since its vowel is a schwa, which can never be stressed (see schwa restriction).

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According to Hoekstra (1998:92), the suffix -ske originates from metanalysis of transposed lexicalized inflected adjectives ending with the suffix -e, like Sieuske woman from Seeland, or Deenske Danish woman, both denoting female persons. In turn, these female inhabitant names derive from geographical adjectives formed from geographic nouns with the help of the suffix -sk. So, Deenske Danish woman derives from the adjective Deensk Danish, which is related to Deen Dane. The original combination of the two suffixes -sk plus -e would have been reanalyzed, then, as one suffix -ske.

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This topic is primarily based on Hoekstra (1998:92). The most extensive treatment is Tamminga (1973:54-57). Some examples can also be found in Tsjepkema (1969:215), although he is wrong in categorizing the suffix as a diminutive.

  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Tamminga, Douwe Annes1973Op 'e taelhelling. Losse trochsneden fan Frysk taellibben. IIA.J. Osinga
  • Tamminga, Douwe Annes1973Op 'e taelhelling. Losse trochsneden fan Frysk taellibben. IIA.J. Osinga
  • Tsjepkema, Hotze1969ForlytsingDe Pompeblêdden: tydskrift foar Fryske stúdzje40213-218