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Stress-neutral suffixes

Most native suffixes of Dutch are stress-neutral, i.e. they do not influence the position of the main stress of their base word. In contrast, there are also stress-shifting native suffixes and stress-bearing native suffixes.

[+]General information and examples

There are two categories of stress-neutral suffixes to be distinguished: some of them form prosodic words of their own, the so-called non-cohering suffixes, whereas cohering suffixes form a prosodic word with the stem:

Example 1

a. Cohering suffixes
      -e /ə/ (several functions)
      -el /əl/ (denom. verbalizing suffix
      -en /ən/ (plural suffix)
      -er /ər/ (several functions, plus allomorph /ar/ )
      -erd /ərd/ (creates deadjectival pejorative names)
      -erig /ərəɣ/ -ish
      -ing /ɪŋ/ -ing
      -nis /nɪs/ -ness
      -s /s/ (substantivizing suffix, plural suffix, genitive suffix)
      -sel /səl/ (creates deverbal object names)
      -st /st/ (superlative, deverbal nominalizing suffix)
      -ster /stər/ (feminizing suffix)
      -t /t/ (deverbal nominalizing suffix)
      -te /tə/ -ness
      -tje /tjə/ (diminutive, + 4 allomorphs)
b. Non-cohering suffixes
      -achtig /ɑxtəɣ/ -like
      -baar /bar/ -able
      -dom /dɔm/ -dom
      -heid /hɛid/ -ness
      -ling /lɪŋ/ -ling
      -loos /los/ -less
      -schap /sxɑp/ -ship

It is almost completely predictable whether a native suffix will be non-cohering or not. The rule is that a native suffix that could form a prosodic word of its own (i.e. suffixes that contain an A-class vowel or a B-class vowel plus a consonant), does so, except for -ing and -nis.

[+]Cohering, stress-neutral (native) suffixes

Cohering suffixes adjoin to the base word without affecting its stress pattern. Their stress neutrality is reflected in seeming violations of strong generalizations on Dutch stress: for instance, in monomorphemic words, a schwa syllable is preceded by a stressed syllable. However, this is not necessarily the case when the schwa occurs in a stress-neutral suffix. Consider the forms in (2):

Example 2

a. technisch [ˈtɛx.nis] technical
b. technischer [ˈtɛx.ni.sər] more technical

(2b) combines the stem technisch technical given in (2a) with the comparative suffix -er /ər/: in the resulting word, the schwa syllable is not directly preceded by a stressed syllable but by the unstressed syllable nis.

When several cohering, stress-neutral suffixes with only schwas are added to a base word, we may get complex words with a sequence of unstressed syllables at the right edge, as illustrated by gemakkelijker, the comparative form of gemakkelijk easy, itself derived from gemak [ɣə.ˈmɑk] easiness by means of the suffix -elijk /ələk/ (note that schwa cannot carry stress). Crucially, it should also be noted that the stress-neutrality of these suffixes does not follow from their containing schwas. For instance, in the adjective júdasserig [ˈjy.dɑ.sə.rəx] Judas-like, the stress is not on the last full vowel, as may be expected under standard stress assignment, but on the first one, corresponding with the primary stress on the first syllable of Judas Judas. So, the addition of the cohering suffixes does not influence stress placement at all.

[+]Non-cohering, stress-neutral native suffixes

Together with their base words, non-cohering suffixes form compounds of the type strong-weak. This implies that non-cohering suffixes must contain at least one A-class vowel or a B-class vowel followed by a (coda) consonant; otherwise they could not form a prosodic word on their own. With the exception of -achtig, these suffixes always start with a consonant, which makes them different from cohering suffixes, which usually either start with a vowel and or only consist of consonants.

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The non-cohering native suffixes have an internal stress pattern. For instance, in -achtig the first syllable bears stress. The other non-cohering suffixes are monosyllabic. Like monosyllabic words of lexical categories, they will automatically receive main stress, i.e. *'s at level 1 and level 2 (cf. Liberman and Prince 1977; Kiparsky 1979; Prince 1983; Halle and Vergnaud 1987). Of course, the fact that monosyllabic prosodic words have main stress is not specific for level 1, but is valid across the lexicon. Similarly, since across the lexicon, a schwa cannot receive stress, the initial stress of -achtig /ɑx.təɣ/ is predictable. Words like roodachtig reddish and eetbaar edible are compounds of two prosodic words, and thus they will be subject to the stress rule for compounds which states that the first prosodic word gets a * on line 3:

Figure 1

[click image to enlarge]

The special behavior of -loos
Note that in some cases adding the suffix -loos induces a rightward stress shift. While the suffix -loos is usually stress-neutral, it can induce a rightward stress shift when preceded by a schwa (3), or when it is followed by the suffix -heid(4).

Example 3

a. Dat heeft iets met hartstocht te maken.
This has got something to do with passion.
b. Zijn konijntje is hartstochtloos.
His rabbit is passionless.
Example 4

a. Frank is werkloos.
Frank is unemployed.
b. Werkloosheid is een groot probleem.
Unemployment is a big problem.
  • Halle, Morris. & Vergnaud, Jean-Roger1987An essay on stressCambridge, Mass.MIT Press
  • Kiparsky, Paul1979Metrical structure assignment is cyclicLinguistic Inquiry10421-441
  • Liberman, Mark & Prince, Alan1977On stress and linguistic rhythmLinguistic Inquiry8249-336
  • Prince, Alan1983Relating to the gridLinguistic Inquiry1419-100