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/r/-deletion in intensifying compound-like adjectives

Adjectives can undergo derivation with a set of intensifying prefixes. The latter have developed out of independent words, the shape of which they still have, which is why the derivations in question have compound-like features. A compound is the combination of two independent words. An indication that these prefixes are relatively independent elements is provided by the fact that they can enter into a construction with double coordination (with the coordinating conjunction ende and). The intensified adjective poer#tsjuster pitch-dark, for instance, can also occur as poer-ende-poertsjuster pitch-dark (to the highest degree). In order to be part of such constructions, the prefixes at hand must be able to stand on their own, that is, they must possess phonological independence, for which a full vowel is required. /r/-deletion in intensifying, word-like prefixes is the subject of this topic.

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Elements like poer- are termed half-prefixes by Duijff and Van der Kuip (2011:51).


Intensified adjectives with an /r/-final, word-like prefix are exemplified in (1):

Example 1

Examples of intensified adjectives with an /r/-final prefix
a. With fjoer /fjuər/ 'fire'
      fjoer#bang terrified (of)
      fjoer#benaud terrified (of)
      fjoer#skerp razor sharp
b. With poer /puər/ 'pure'
      poer#bêst choice, top quality
      poer#frjemd completely unknown
      poer#gek crazy, mad
      poer#lilk hopping mad, furious
      poer#sljocht crazy, mad
c. With smoar /smoər/ 'choking'
      smoar#dronken dead drunk
      smoar#drok very busy
      smoar#ferkâlden (all) stuffed up
      smoar#fol chock-full
d. With spier /spiər/ 'spruce sapling'
      spier#neaken stark naked
      spier#wyt as white as a sheet

All these prefixes have a long, centring diphthong. That is why one expects prefix-final /r/ to delete on a vast scale here (see /r/-deletion in complex words derived with a suffix containing the vowel schwa). This, however, is not borne out by the facts. Though /r/ may delete, it is retained in most cases, irrespective of the quality of the following consonant. This may have to do with the extra prominence of such words, together with their emotional content; compare the comparable behaviour of the /r/ of the prefix fer- when the word it is part of receives extra prominence or when it is part of curses and disguised oaths (see the second Extra in deletion of prefix-final /r/).

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If the intensifying part of an adjective is a prefix or a noun with a centring diphthong, the latter never occurs in its 'broken form' (see Van der Meer (1985:128-130) for this observation and see Breaking for more on broken forms). Words like dea#wurch /dɪə+vørɣ/ dead tired, stien#kâld /stiən+kɔ:d/ freezing (cold), kroan#dea /kroən+dɪə/ (as) dead as a doornail, smoar#drok /smoər+drok/ very busy, and spier#wyt as white as a sheet are therefore realized with a centring diphthong only. Extra prominence on words − Van der Meer (1985:128) describes the left-hand part of the above words as nouns

used in a rather heightened emotional way to indicate the degree of the quality referred to by the adjective
− appears to call for long, unbroken form.

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In case the adjective is /r/-initial − as with fjoer#read /fjuər+rɪəd/ [fjuərɪət] crimson and poer#razend /puər+ra:zənd/ [puəra:zənt] hopping mad, furious− one [r] remains. This is due to degemination.

The pattern of /r/-deletion with prefixes differs from that with suffixes. Stem-final /r/ deletes far more often when preceding a suffix with an initial coronal consonant than a non-coronal one. Prefix-final /r/ does not show this preference, that is, it may delete before any consonant (except /h/). The prefix fer- is a notable exception, since its /r/ always deletes (but, again, not preceding /h/). The process thus meets with fewer restrictions in the context of prefixes than that of suffixes. In both, however, is it variable.

  • Duijff, Pieter & Kuip, Frits J. van der2011Morfeemfinale r-deleesje yn bûgingen, ôfliedingen en gearsettingenUs Wurk: tydskrift foar Frisistyk6044-59
  • Meer, Geert van der1985Frisian breaking: aspects of the origin and development of a sound changeEstrikkenGrins/GroningenStifting FFYRUG
  • Meer, Geert van der1985Frisian breaking: aspects of the origin and development of a sound changeEstrikkenGrins/GroningenStifting FFYRUG