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The suffix -ster creates nouns of common gender denoting female persons, primarily on the basis of verbal stems. Examples are wurkje to work > wurkster female worker or sprekke to speak > sprekster female speaker. The suffix can be seen as the female counterpart of -er, with which it has also much of its distribution in common. The suffix -er, however, is more widespread after non-verbal bases.

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

There is also another suffix -ster that derives inhabitant names on the basis of place names; it can be considered as an allomorph of the suffix -er.

[+]General properties

The suffix -ster can productively be used to create female agent nouns, on the base of verbal stems. As such, the suffix -ster is the female counterpart of the suffix -er, with by and large the same distribution. It is therefore not easy to decide whether -ster is attached independently, or indirectly by way of affix substitution. Examples with a verbal base are listed below:

Table 1
Base form Derivation Corresponding to
tsjoene to practice sorcery tsjoenster sorceress tsjoender sorcerer
toanielspylje to act toanielspylster actress toanielspiler actor
fersoargje to look after fersoarchster female attendant fersoarger attendant
bestjoere to govern bestjoerster female governor bestjoerder governor
liede to lead liedster female leader lieder leader
fertsjintwurdigje represent fertsjintwurdichster female representative fertsjintwurdiger representative
hurdrinne to run hurdrinster female runner hurdrinner runner
As shown in the table, the verbal bases can be both simplex (e.g. tsjoenster sorceress) or complex (toaniel-spyl-ster play-play-SUFF female actor).

If -er-derivation is impossible, for instance since the base verb does not select a volitional subject, then derivation with -ster is also excluded. For example, we do not have *falster female person who falls (from the verb falle to fall) but male *faller someone who falls is excluded, too. Nor can the reflexive verb jin skamje to be ashamed be a basis for *skamster or *skammer someone who is ashamed.

Although to our knowledge this has not been looked into, it may be the case that there is a phonological restriction in that certain final complex consonant clusters may resist attachment of -ster, with its initial complex consonant cluster. Take, for example the stem fisk- /fIsk/ of the verb fiskje to fish. Attachment of -er is possible without any difficulty, resulting in fisker fisher, but we do not have *fiskster. Likewise, a form like ?boartster (from boartsje to play) seems odd. Stems ending in -st may have the additional problem that as a result of phonological deletion the derivation with -er and -ster are pronounced identically. An example is the pair treaster and *treastster (from treastje to comfort), which are both pronounced as [trI.əstr̩].

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Differences from Dutch

The suffix -ster also occurs in Dutch, however, with a few differences. One is that the suffix may be attached to nominal bases formed with the suffix -aar, for example Dutch dobbel-aar-ster female dice player or reken-aar-ster female arithmetician. In Frisian, however, formations with -aar do not exist, and hence cannot serve as a base. The suffix -ster is immediately added to the verbal base in these cases, hence Frisian dobbelster female dice player or rekkenster female arithmetician, although such formations do not seem very common.

Frisian also prefers direct attachment of -ster to the verbal base in cases where Dutch forms female nouns on the basis of a derivation with the suffix -er or -aar plus the suffix -es. Thus Dutch lez-er-es female reader is ster read-SUFF is Frisian (actually lês-ster, but only one <s> remains in the official orthography). Likewise, a Dutch winnares female winner is a winster in Frisian.

[+]Non-verbal bases

As to -er, this suffix appears to be able to attach to non-verbal bases as well, although unproductively. The same applies to -ster, but this suffix is even more restricted. For instance, formations built on a nominal base are extremely rare, also if compared with derivations with -er or its allomorph -ner. This is shown in the table below:

Table 2
Nominal base Derivation with -er Derivation with -ster
rjocht law rjochter judge *rjochtster
skip ship skipper captain *skipster
mûne mill mûnder miller *mûnster
keunst art keunstner artist *keunstster
skuld debt skuldner debtor *skuldster
amt office amtner public servant *amtster
A striking exception to this tendency is the word baakster dry nurse, which must have been derived from the noun baker dry nurse by affix substitution, since a putative verbal base like *bake does not exist. The derivation is tautologic, for the base baker already refers to female person.

Of the other lexical categories that can serve as a base for derivation with the suffix -er, numerals also seem to be problematic. See for example ?tweintichster next to tweintiger twenty-SUFF someone in his twenties. As to adjectival bases, some of the few -er-derivations can easily be transferred to -ster, for example frijwillichster voluntary-SUFF female volunteer. This does not apply, however, to the adjective fuort away, witness *fuortster. Moreover, the -er -derivations with a phrasal base are not transferrable either (cf. *twaddeklaster second-class-SUFF girl in the second form).

[+]Phonological properties

The suffix -ster [stər] does not bear stress and does not change the stress pattern of its base. Due to the phonological make-up of the affix, there will always be a syllable boundary coinciding with the morphological boundary.

[+]Morphological potential

All derivations created by -ster have common gender. Plurals of -ster formations are in -s, e.g. wurksters female workers, spreksters female speaker, etc. The formations cannot be input to derivational processes. Compounding, on the other hand, is fine. If the derivation forms the left-hand member of a nominal compound, it shows a linking element -s-, for example in ferpleechstersklean female nurse's clothes.

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This topic is primarily based on Hoekstra (1998:97). The suffix is also briefly mentioned in Tamminga (1973:54-55).

  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Tamminga, Douwe Annes1973Op 'e taelhelling. Losse trochsneden fan Frysk taellibben. IIA.J. Osinga