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In Frisian, the adjective that precedes the noun may acquire a special form if the noun in a Noun Phrase (NP) is missing as a result of nominal ellipsis. Two suffixes are available, -en and -enien. Speaking about a black dog, we may describe it as in swarten or as in swartenien a black one. Generally, next to these special suffixes for ellipsis, the ordinary inflectional form may suffice, in this case in swarte. For the ellipsis suffixes to be added, two conditions have to be fulfilled. In the first place, the relevant NP has to be indefinite: *de swarten(ien) the black one is impossible. Secondly, the adjective should be in a position immediately before the elided noun: in the case of more adjectives in a row, only the last one may be suffixed. This causes the ungrammticality of *in grutten(ien) swarten(ien) a big black one. Besides these suffixes which occur in singular indefinite contexts, there is another ellipsis suffix -en, which is only found with plural NPs. The restriction of adjacency to the elided noun applies here as well. However, in contrast to the singular suffixes, this plural suffix is also allowed in definite contexts.

An overall condition for nominal ellipsis to apply is that the elided noun should be recoverable from the linguistic or pragmatic context. However, some adjectives with the suffix -en(ien) may occur independently. Almost without exception such formations describe a person.

[+]Nominal ellipsis

Nominal ellipsis, also termed noun ellipsis, is the phenomenon that the noun head of an NP is elided. It is not necessarily so that only the noun is left out; one or more adjacent adjectives may be involved as well (the line in the glosses indicates the elided material):

Example 1

a. in wite auto en in swarte
a white-INFL car and a black-INFL ___
a white car and a black one
b. in grutte wite auto en in lytse
a big-INFL white-INFL car and a small-INFL ___
a big white car and a small one

In the first example, the noun auto car is missing. In the second, it is rather the NP white car which is involved.

A necessary condition is that the noun should be recoverable, either from the linguistic or pragmatic context. The examples in (1) are instances of the former: the first part of the utterance gives the clue that the concepts 'car' or 'white car' are involved. In addition, we can think of cases in which the situation provides enough clues to interpret an elliptic utterance: when you are in a baker's shop and you say in wite, graach a white-INFL ___, please a white one, please, then we can be assured that it is a white loaf that will be handed over, and not, say, a white pencil.

As can be seen from the examples in (1), the adjectives that remain on the surface and hence are part of the remnant NP keep their normal inflection suffix -e. This is what is to be expected in case of an unmarked strategy: delete what has to be deleted, and keep the rest intact. However, this strategy fails in those cases in which the adjective does not receive an inflectional ending in prenominal position. This applies especially to the context of neuter count nouns in indefinite contexts:

Example 2

?in wyt hynder en in swart
a white horse.C and a black ___
a white horse and a black one

Frisian offers an escape hatch to circumvent this problem since it can invoke suffixes that are exclusively used in elliptic contexts. These will be discussed in the next section. However, this escape strategy is not available everywhere. With neuter mass nouns, the ban on non-inflected adjectives before the elided noun is simply neglected:

Example 3

gjin skjin wetter mar smoarch
no clean water.N but dirty
no clean water but dirty water

In possessive contexts and in front of neuter nouns, adjectives are not inflected either, for example in syn brún hynder his brown horse.N his brown horse. In case of ellipsis, however, an inflected adjective is selected: syn brune his brown.INFL ___ his brown one.

[+]Special elliptic suffixes

As stated above, if a Frisian adjective occurs in the context of an elided noun, it may show a special form. A distinction should be made between singular and plural NPs. With plural NPs, the relevant suffix is -en. The suffix -en is also available for the singular, as is the suffix -enien.

If the noun is overt, use of the suffix is ungrammatical:

Example 4

a. dy swiere stiennen
those heavy-INFL sones
those heavy stones
b. *dy swieren stiennen
c. dy swiere ___
d. dy swieren ___

In example (4a), we have the full NP with a regularly inflected adjective. In case (4b) the adjective is suffixed by the special marker -en, which is illicit here since there is no ellipsis. In variant (4d) there is ellipsis, and hence the marker is allowed. Case (4c) exemplifies the regular inflection, which may be used irrespective whether the noun is overt as in (4a) or not.

An important condition is always that if the NP contains more than one adjective, only the last, i.e. the one that is closest to the elided noun, is subject to suffixation by these special endings. For instance, the following pattern may emerge:

Example 5

a. grutte swiere wiete stiennen
large-INFL heavy-INFL wet-INFL stones
large heavy wet stones
b. grutte swiere wieten ___
c. *grutte swieren wieten ___
d. *grutten swieren wieten ___
e. *grutten swieren wiete ___
f. *grutten swiere wiete ___
g. *grutte swieren wiete

It is striking that if the elliptic marker is in a different position from the last one before the elided noun, the variants are out. The marker -en is dependent on plurality. Whether the plural NP is definite or indefinite is not relevant, as can be seen in the examples in (5).

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No plural allomorphy

It is tempting to assume that the marker -en is the same as the morpheme -en found in numerals of nouns since it is used in connection with plural NPs. There is, however, an important difference. Frisian has two productive plural morphemes, dependent on the prosodic make-up of the singular noun. After syllables consisting of a schwa plus a sonorant, we see the plural morpheme -s. Thus the plural of skipper captain is skippers skipper-PL, and the plural of snipel snippet is snipels snippet-PL. However, in the realm of plural elliptic use we only encounter the suffix -en. Thus the adjective snipper graceful is snipperen in a plural elliptic context, and not *snippers. Likewise with an adjective like krigel diligent, which invariably shows the elliptic form krigelen, and not *krigels.

As to singular NPs, definiteness is proven to be an issue when it comes to the possibility of elliptic markers. The relevant endings are -enien and, again, -en. Both only occur in indefinite NPs, resulting in the following contrast (the special elliptic suffix is glossed as ELL):

Example 6

a. in lange peal en in koarten/koartenien
a long-INFL pole and a short.ELL
a long pole and a short one
b. *de lange peal en de koarten

The occurrence of the elliptic endings is not dependent on the gender of the elided noun. What is important, though, is that this noun should also be countable: with mass nouns, although indefinite, the elliptic suffixes are not allowed:

Example 7

*waarm wetter en kâlden/kâldenien
warm water and cold-ELL
warm and cold water

There are also restrictions which have a morphological or phonological background. First, it appears that adjectives ending in the suffix -er refuse to take an elliptic ending: an adjective like Grinzer, from the place-name Grins Groningen will never appear as *Grinzeren or *Grinzerenien. The same applies to the adjectives lofter and rjochter, built on the basis of lofts left and rjochts right, respectively. This is a property of an individual suffix, since inherent endings -er of the adjectival stem and also the comparative suffix -er do not cause problems, as appears from forms like snipperen from snipper graceful or grienerenien from the griener green-COMP greener. It should be pointed out, however, that the relevant words do not allow regular inflection either: *Grinzer-e, *lofter-e, etc.

Another case is adjectives ending in -en, be it a suffix or an inherent part of the stem. Addition of -en or -enien would result in a sequence of two instances of the cluster en /ən/. Then one of them is truncated, at least optionally. This results in a form like houten or houtenien, next to the regular houtenen or houtenenien, all on the basis of hout wood (see the material suffix -en). An example with a cluster -en that is inherent in the stem may be found in the adjective rimpen hasty. Elliptic suffixation results in the form rimpen, next to regular rimpenen.

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Two suffixes

It is assumed here that there are two suffixes for the singular: -en and -enien. The element ien always occurs in combination with en. It never shows up alone. For instance, next to grienen and grienenien green-ELL there is no such form as *grienien. One sometimes sees spellings like in grienen ien a green one, which suggests that ien is then interpreted as a single word, probably a pronoun. An important objection to such an analysis could be that in that case the adjective should show its normal inflectional ending, which is -e and not -en.

Of course it is tempting to consider ien as a pronoun, parallel to what is generally assumed with respect to English one, as in the green one. There are several arguments against such a parallellism. Two immediately come to mind: (i) English one is not restricted to indefinite contexts, and (ii), it may be pluralized to ones, as in the green ones. A Frisian pluralized cognate *-enienen does not exist.

Apart from their form, it seems impossible to discover further differences between the two suffixes -en and -enien. Maybe some speakers have individual preferences, but this has never been investigated. Hence, one may wonder what is the sense of this "doubling". In Dyk (2011) it is suggested, also in the light of the possibility of stacking relevant suffixes, that elliptic endings tend to be made more salient, and that the addition of the element ien might be an example of this tendency.

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For a general condition that inflectional suffixes help to license nominal ellipsis, see Lobeck (1995). There have been a few attempts to relate the Frisian adjectival elliptic endings to functional syntactic entities. Barbiers (2005) analyses them as instantiations of number, and Corver & Van Koppen (2009) relate them to focus. In a later approach Corver & Van Koppen (2011) rather view the suffixes as being a pronoun, loosely comparable to English one. These syntactic approaches are criticised by Dyk (2011), who argues for a strict morphological analysis, couched in terms of Construction Morphology (see Booij (2010)).

[+]Cases of absolute ellipsis

Usually, the elliptic suffixes -en and -enien need a clear antecedent in order to provide a proper interpretation for the elided noun. This is not always necessarily so. In such as case the elliptic residue has an inherent interpretation, an instance of "absolute ellipsis", as this phenomenon is sometimes dubbed. It only occurs if various restrictions are obeyed. Firstly, the range of available syntactic constructions is limited. Typical instances are provided in (8):

Example 8

a. Do bist in minnen(ien)
you are a bad-ELL
You are a bad person
b. Dat is in minnen(ien)
that is a bad-ELL
That is a bad person

Using such elliptic residues outside predicative constructions is out, or marginal at least: an NP like in minnen(ien) is unsuitable as a subject in a sentence such as (9):

Example 9

?In minnen(ien) kaam ta de keamer yn
a bad-ELL came to the room in
A bad person entered the room

As in the preceding section, the NP should be indefinite. So *de minnenien the bad-ELL the bad person is ungrammatical.

Furthermore, the semantics of such cases is severely restricted: it is always a person that is implied. As a result, the range of possible basic adjectives is limited. Other instances are bêst good, gemien nasty, nuet meek and moai beautiful. Moai is mostly used ironically, with the effect that the meaning turns to 'unusual, strange'. This meaning also applies to formations with the adjectives nuver, apart and raar. In skjinnen(ien) a clear-ELL, which is a description of a glass of Schiedam gin, does not refer to a person.

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Inflection or word formation?

In ordinary elliptic use, the suffixes -en and -enien do not form a new lexeme, and therefore these processes, which could probably best be interpreted as cases of transposition, are subsumed here under the morphological subsection of inflection. These cases of absolute ellipsis are less clear in this respect, however, although the restrictions discussed above are making it difficult to consider such formations as full-fledged new lexemes. In this respect, formations using the inflectional affix -e fare better, as they can also be used as definites (de rik-e the rich person) and may be pluralized (de rik-en the rich). More information on formations with the suffix -e can be found in formations with the suffix -e.

  • Barbiers, Sjef2005Variation in the morphosyntax of ONEThe Journal of Comparative Germanic Linguistics8159-183
  • Booij, Geert2010Construction morphologyOxford/New YorkOxford University Press
  • Corver, Norbert & Koppen, Marjo van2009Let 's focus on noun ellipsisGroninger Arbeiten zur Germanistischen Linguistik483-26
  • Corver, Norbert & Koppen, Marjo van2011NP-ellipsis with adjectival remnants: a micro-comparative perspectiveNatural Language and Linguistic Theory29371-421
  • Dyk, Siebren2011The morphology of Frisian nominal ellipsis
  • Dyk, Siebren2011The morphology of Frisian nominal ellipsis
  • Lobeck, Anne1995Ellipsis: functional heads, licensing, and identificationOxfordOxford University Press