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Frisian has of two suffixes at its disposal for adding more emphasis to the adjective to which they are attached. One is the emphatic suffix -en, as in in bloedigen wurk a bloody-EMP job a bloody job. It is added to adjectives that already express an emotional sense in themselves, and its function is to even reinforce this. The use of the suffix is restricted to indefinite singular Noun Phrases (NPs), and, to be precise, only to a subset of these.

There is also an emphatic marker -e, although this suffix is sometimes hard to detect, since it is homophonous with the regular inflectional ending -e, from which it has probably developed. Four subclasses of use may be distinguished for this suffix. As with emphatic -en, also the emphatic marker -e is not allowed in predicative position.

Next to these adjectival emphatic suffixes, there is also an emphatic marker that is attached to adverbs.

[+]The emphatic suffix -en

The empatic marker -en may be found in expressions like the following:

Example 1

a. in swieren keardel
a heavy-EMP chap
a quite heavy chap
b. in slimmen twastriid
a terrible-EMP dilemma
a quite terrible dilemma
c. in bloedigen wurk
a bloody-EMP job
a hell of a job
d. in grutten domkop
a big-EMP birdbrain
a terrible birdbrain

The function of the suffix is reinforcement, or one might even say: "more reinforcement", since the adjectives to which it is attached already have a heavy, mostly emotional intrinsic load by themselves. Typical examples are almachtich, , geweldich, grouwélich, ûnhjirmlik, ûnwittend. They can be translated by terms as 'terrible', 'appalling, 'awful', 'shocking' and the like. In this respect, prefixed superlatives like alderferskuorrendst most terrible or alderôfgryslikst most horrible form a class of potential input words with an even stronger emotional load (for prefixation of superlatives with aller-/alder-, see degree). Hence we get adjective formations like alderferskuorrendsten and alderôfgrysliksten. On the other hand, adjectives with a neutral content are not liable to be suffixed. Thus simply read red as in *in readen auto a red-EMP car a red car is odd. However, if we pimp up read to bloedread blood-read read as blood, suffixation with -en becomes an option; it is not strange to speak of in bloedreaden auto a blood-read-EMP car an awfully red car.

The use of this suffix faces certain restrictions. It may not be used in plural NPs. Hence, *swieren keardels heavy-EMP chap-PL heavy chaps or *grutten domkoppen big-EMP birdbrain-PL terrible birdbrains are ungrammatical. Also definite NPs are unsuitable: *de swieren keardel the heavy-EMP chap the heavy chap or *de ferskuorrenden pine the terrible-EMP pain the quite terrible pain. What is left are singular indefinite contexts. These will do, as was exemplified in the examples in (1). But even the indefinite set as such is too broad. The suffix is used to communicate that something is 'awful'. This may be the pragmatic reason why we do not encounter indefinite determiners like negative gjin no and interrogative hoe'n how a. But significantly, hoe'n may also be used in exclamative expressions in which it is totally acceptable, as for instance in (2):

Example 2

Hoe'n alderferskuorrendsten pine hie er doe net hân!
how-a INT-terrible-SUP-EMP pain had-he then not had!
What a terrible pain he had then!

Furthermore, it should be noted that the emphatic marker may only be attached to an adjective in attributive position. Predicative use is excluded, as shown in (3):

Example 3

*Dat is in pine dy't ferskuorrenden is
that is a pain that terrible-EMP is
That is a pain that is really terrible

Another restriction worth mentioning is in a configuration of more than one adjective in a row. In that case, the endings should be the same, either inflectional or emphatic:

Example 4

a. in skerpe, ferskuorrende pine
a sharp-Infl terrible-Infl pain
a sharp, terrible pain
b. in skerpen, ferskuorrenden pine
a sharp-EMP terrible-EMP pain
a really sharp and terrible pain

A combination of an adjective with an inflectional and an adjective with an emphatic suffix is not allowed, as shown in (5):

Example 5

a. *in skerpe, ferskuorrenden pine
a sharp-Infl terrible-EMP pain
b. *in skerpen, ferskuorrende pine
a sharp-EMP terrible-Infl pain

Actually, as emphasis may be assumed to be an instance of inherent inflection, it could be expected that adjectives with an emphatic ending will show the common prenominal inflection. This is not borne out, however. Inflected forms like *skerpene sharp-EMP-INFL or *ferskuorrendene terrible-EMP-INFL do not exist. More about this subject may be found in the topic about adjectives.

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The observation in Van der Meer (1987:108) that this emphatic ending is becoming obsolete in the spoken language seems to be exaggerated. But it may be true that the marker is expressively used to create a greater distance to Dutch, and the suffix may also be exploited for stilistic reasons. For this see Brouwer (1952:23-24).

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The main source for emphatic -en is Van der Meer (1987) who concentrates on its historical development. Following Verdenius (1939), he considers the indefinite article in constructions like sa swiet in rook so sweet a smell such a sweet smell as the ultimate source. In this position, the indefinite article in /ən/ a, which is also phonetically identical to emphatic in, could be reinterpretated as a suffix, and a new indefinite article could be inserted in the usual position before the adjective, resulting in sa in swieten rook such a sweet-SUFF smell, or contracted as sa'n swieten rook such-a sweet-SUFF smell. Later, the construction could be generalized to in swieten rook a sweet-SUFF smell. This historical derivation explains both the emphatic meaning (because of the degree word sa such) and the restriction to indefinite singular NPs.

[+]The emphatic suffix -e

It is pointed out in the topic on prenominal adjectival inflection that there are cases of apparently inflected adjectives which on closer inspection are not. One example mentioned is the expression myn hiele libben my whole life, where the ending -e is unexpected. It appears that it is not inflection that is at stake here, but that the ending is an expression of emphasis. As the emphatic suffix -e is homophonous with the adjectival inflectional suffix -e, the emphatic one can only be discovered in configurations with zero inflection, i.e. before neuter nouns and after indefinite determiners or possessive pronouns. The examples below always show such a context.

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For the dialects with a diverging inflectional system, i.e. those of Hindeloopen and the island of Schiermonnikoog, other contexts could be relevant as well. For the latter, Fokkema (1969:24) mentions as inflectional exceptions in hele búel pretty much and in hele berch pretty much. If the adjective heel whole had been regularly inflected in these cases, it would have had the form helen, as it is positioned here after the indefinite article and before a masculine noun. (For adjectival inflection in the dialect of Schiermonnikoog, see the topic in prenominal position).

Probably, this emphatic suffix emerged from normal inflectional -e, with which it shows a similarity in emphatic -e. Thus from ús frije Fryslân our free-EMP Friesland our free Friesland we may not build:

Example 6

*Us Fryslân is frije
our Friesland.N is free-EMP
Our Friesland is free

The emphatic suffix -e occurs in four contexts:

  1. Adjectives that describe a totality, in particular the adjective hiel whole. Some examples are shown in (7):
    Example 7

    a. Myn hiele boesgroentsje sit ûnder de ferve
    my whole-EMP shirt.N sits under the paint
    My entire shirt has got dirty with paint
    b. Hiele Ljouwert wie op 'e lappen
    whole-EMP Leeuwarden.N was on the rags
    All of Leeuwarden was up and about
    The difference with ordinary inflection emerges clearly in a case like myn hiel(e) boesgroentsje my whole-(EMP) shirt. Emphatic myn hiele boesgroentsje my whole-EMP shirt.N means my entire shirt. On the other hand, inflectional myn hiel boesgroentsje my whole shirt refers to an intact, i.e. not in tatters, shirt.
  2. Adjectives that exclude alternatives. A typical instance is klear pure, possibly reinforced with the element baar. Examples are:
    Example 8

    a. It is kleare sâlt wat se hjir op 'e dyk struie
    it is pure-EMP sâlt.N what they here on the road sprinkle
    It is pure salt that is sprinkled on this road
    b. It is klearebare kraanwetter wat yn dy fleskes sit
    it is pure-EMP tap water.N what in those bottles-DIM-PL sits
    It is pure tap water that is in those bottles
    Note also the meaning difference between emphatic kleare wetter pure water and inflectional klear wetter clear water.
  3. In expressions indicating a very high degree. An example is:
    Example 9

    ús hege rjocht
    our high-EMP right.N
    our high right
  4. Finally, the ending may be found after adjectives that express a strong feeling:
    Example 10

    ús leave heitelân
    our dear-EMP father-land.N
    our dear country
    Also in a vocative:
    Example 11

    earme sloof
    poor-EMP drudge.N
    poor drudge
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Older data

Empfatic -e already occurs in 17th century Frisian. Here are two quotes from the Renaissance poet Gysbert Japicx (1606-1666), both exalted descriptions of a beloved lady:

Example 12

a. mijn huynich-swiete Tuytelke
my honey-sweet-EMP darling.N
b. swiet, oer-swiette Famke, Ljeaf, ijn-ljeave Lamke
sweet, over-sweet-EMP girl-DIM.N, dear, in-dear lamb-DIM.N
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The existence of a special emphatic marker -e is argued in Hoekstra (1997). He also points to comparable endings in North Frisian and Afrikaans, and tries to explain why the ending might have emerged in Frisian. In earlier literature its status raised some discussion, starting with Hof (1917), who notices the phenomenon in younger writers, and who condemns it as Dutch interference and as a violation of the Frisian inflectional rules. Postma (1918) defends it, however, and he also points to quotes from older writers. Nevertheless, Hof (1918) is not convinced, and later on, he finds an ally in Kalma (1953). On the other hand, Tamminga (1963) defends the good right of using the suffix -e in affective language. Examples of emphatic -e in the literary work of the brethren Halbertsma (first half of the 19th century) may be found in Boersma (1982:45).

  • Boersma, Pieter1981De bûging fan it adjektyf by de Halbertsma'sUs wurk3041-48
  • Brouwer, Jelle H1952Fryske Styl. Ynlieding ta it genietsjen fan literaire moaijens oan 'e hân fan R.P. Sybesma syn Boerke ThaeAssenVan Gorcum
  • Fokkema, Douwe1969Beknopte spraakkunst van het SchiermonnikoogsLjouwert/LeeuwardenFryske Akademy
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1997Absolutely intensifying adjectives and the emphatic marker '-e' in North Frisian (Fering-Öömrang), West Frisian and other West Germanic languagesUs wurk: tydskrift foar Frisistyk [Dedicated to Bo Sjölin; red. Germ de Haan en Oebele Vries; met bijdragen van Werner Abraham ... et al.]. Speciaal nr. van: Us wurk4690-117
  • Hof, Jan Jelles1917Ut goederbêstFryslân2203-204
  • Hof, Jan Jelles1918Ut goederbêstFryslân3210-213
  • Kalma, Douwe1953Spraekkunstige ditten en datten. IIIDe Pompeblêdden: tydskrift foar Fryske stúdzje2490-93
  • Meer, Geart van der1987It is in dregen baas: (de 'bûgings' -(e)n bij eigenskipswurden)Us wurk: tydskrift foar Frisistyk3697-111
  • Meer, Geart van der1987It is in dregen baas: (de 'bûgings' -(e)n bij eigenskipswurden)Us wurk: tydskrift foar Frisistyk3697-111
  • Postma, Obe1918Yetris 'ús ljeave heitelân'Fryslân399-101
  • Tamminga, Douwe Annes1963Op 'e taelhelling. Losse trochsneden fan Frysk taellibben. IBoalsertA.J. Osinga
  • Verdenius, Andries A1939Over de vormen van de adnominale adjectief en het lidwoord van bepaaldheid in de 17de-eeuwse Amsterdamse volkstaalDe Nieuwe Taalgids3397-108