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Stem allomorphy

Stem allomorphy in the native Dutch lexicon is primarily a residue of phonological processes that were once active, but disappeared from Dutch as productive processes. This applies to vowel lengthening, schwa apocope, de-deletion and d-deletion. This allomorphy is lexically governed: one has to learn which allomorph is used in which complex word. Here are examples of each of these types of allomorphy:

Example 1

a. vowel lengthening
      schip [sxɪp] - schepen [ˈsxepǝn] ship / ships
      god [ɣɔt] - goden [ˈɣodǝn] god / gods
b. schwa apocope
      einde / eind [ˈɛində / ɛint] end - eind-oordeel [ˈɛintordel] final verdict but not *einde-oordeel
c. de-deletion
      broeder / broer [ˈbrudər / brur] brother - broederschap [ˈbrudərsxɑp] brotherhood
      zijde / zij [ˈzɛidə / zɛi] silk - zijderups [ˈzɛidərʏps] silkworm but not *zij-rups
d. d-deletion
      glijden / glijen [ˈxlɛidə(n) / ˈxlɛijə(n)] to glide - glijbaan [ˈxlɛiban] slide but not *glijd-baan

The two allomorphs may not have the same (range of) meanings. For instance, broeder has more meanings than broer, as broeder can also be used to denote members of  religious communities and male nurses, unlike broer. The allomorphs of a word may develop into completely different words. This is the case for, for instance, the word pairs buidel [ˈbœydəl] pouch - buil [bœyl] bump and ijdel [ˈɛidəl] vain - ijl [ɛil] thin.

Due to stem allomorphy words may have two forms. In complex words, it is often the case that only one of the forms has to be used. For instance, zijderups is the conventional compound for silk worm, and hence zijrups, although a possible compound, cannot be used.  In many cases, one of the allomorphs can only be used as part of a complex word. This applies to the allomorph ziele [zilə] of ziel [zil] soul, as in zielerust [zilərʏst] soul’s rest, to the allomorph jonk [jɔŋk] of jong [jɔŋ] young, as in jonk-vrouw /jɔŋk-vrɑu/ [ˈjɔŋkfrɑu] Lady, and the allomorph platoon [platon] of Plato [ˈplato] Plato, as in platon-ist [platonɪst] Platonist.


There is also stem allomorphy in the paradigms of the strong verbs. For instance, the [r] in the past tense forms of verliezen to lose, verloor / verloren is the reflex of rhoticisation of an intervocalic /z/.

Another reflex of diachronic phonology is the alternation between words ending in the velar nasal and corresponding stems with a velar nasal followed by /k/, as in:

Table 1
stem in -ŋ stem in -ŋk
jong [jɔŋ] young jonk-vrouw [ˈjɔŋkfrɑu] Lady, jonk-heer [ˈjɔŋkher] Esq., jonk-ie [ˈjɔŋki] young person
koning [ˈkonɪŋ] king konink-lijk [ˈkonɪŋk.lək] royal, konink-rijk [ˈkonɪŋk.rɛik] kingdom
oorsprong [ˈorsprɔŋ] origin oorspronk-elijk [orˈsprɔŋkələk] original
spring [sprɪŋ] to jump sprink-haan [ˈsprɪŋkhan] grasshopper
toegang [ˈtuxɑŋ] access toegank-elijk [tuˈxɑŋkələk] accessible

Historically, the letter sequence ng stands for a velar nasal plus voiced velar stop. This stop was devoiced in compounds and before certain suffixes, but disappeared word-finally. The long stem with final /k/ (the velar stop devoiced by final devoicing) was only kept in a number of compounds and derived words; the plural forms and new derivatives and compounds of these nouns surface without [k] (as in springmatras [sprɪŋmatrɑs] jumping mattress).

In the non-native stratum of the lexicon we encounter a great deal of stem allomorphy. For instance, the word Plato Plato has the form platon- [platon] in all derived words with non-native suffixes, such as platon-isch [plaˈtonɪs] platonic and platon-ist [platoˈnɪst] platonist. For all other affixation, the form plato [plato] is the only possible form. The extra /n/ is clearly a property of the stem, and not of the suffixes, since it recurs systematically before each non-native suffix with which the word Plato is combined, e.g. platonisme [platoˈnɪsmə] platonism. Here are some other examples of non-native stem allomorphy:

Table 2
cursus [ˈkʏrzʏs] course curs-ist [kʏrˈzɪst] course taker
filter [ˈfɪltər] filter filtr-eer [fɪlˈtrer] to filter
orkest [ɔrˈkɛst] orchestra orkestr-eer [ɔrkɛsˈtrer] to orchestrate
perfect [pɛrˈfɛkt] perfect perfection-eer [pɛrfɛkʃoˈner] to bring to perfection
regel [ˈrexəl] rule regl-ement [rexləˈmɛnt] regulations, regul-eer [rexyˈler] to regulate

For all these cases of non-native stem allomorphy, the generalization is that the stem form that occurs as an independent word is chosen as the base for the native morphology. It is only in the case of non-native suffixation that the other stem form will be used.

The stem form of geographical adjectives such as Amerikaan-s [ameriˈkans] American is not the country name (Amerika [aˈmerika] America) that the adjective refers to, but its corresponding adjective, Amerikaans. This type of stem allomorphy thus depends on the relationship of a word with another word in the relevant word family that is not its semantic base. The same holds for the derivation of female inhabitant names such as Amerikaanse [ameriˈkansə] which is derived from a stem that corresponds with the adjective Amerikaans, whereas semantically Amerikaanse is derived from Amerika(Booij 1997a,b).

The addition of a linking element to the first constituent of a compound may also be interpreted as a form of stem allomorphy, as in kind-er-wagen /kɪnd-ər-ʋaxə(n)/ pram and koning-s-zoon /konɪŋ-s-zon/ king’s son. For further information see also Booij (2002).

  • Booij, Geert1997Allomorphy and the autonomy of morphologyFolia Linguistica3125-56
  • Booij, Geert1997Autonomous morphology and paradigmatic relationsBooij, Geert & Marle, Jaap van (eds.)Yearbook of Morphology 1996DordrechtKluwer35-53
  • Booij, Geert2002The morphology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press