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The prefix poer- is very productive in Frisian. It creates adjectives out of adjectives, and has an intensifying function. Examples are lilk angry > poerlilk very angry and drok busy > poerdrok very busy. The prefix has some exceptional properties. In a couple of cases, it allows for degrammaticalization, but also for further expansion by infixation. Phonologically, final /r/ is not subject to deletion.

[+]General properties

The prefix poer- is very productive in Frisian. It forms adjectives out of adjectives. Its function is one of intensification. Examples of derivations with poer- are given below:

Table 1
Base form Derivation
razend furious poerrazend very furious
swart black poerswart completely black
tsjuster dark poertsjuster completely dark
neaken naked poerneaken completely naked
allinne alone poerallinne all alone
mâl crazy poermâl very crazy
senuweftich nervous poersenuweftich very nervous
gesellich cosy poergesellich very cosy
tafallich accidental poertafallich completely accidental
bang scared poerbang very scared
benaud anxious poerbenaud very anxious
bêst well poerbêst very well
min bad poermin very bad
droech dry poerdroech very dry
fet fat poerfet very fat
gek crazy poergek completely bonkers
ferlegen shy poerferlegen very shy
frjemd strange poerfrjemd very strange
wyld wild poerwyld very wild
gleon evil poergleon very evil
sljocht crazy poersljocht very crazy
sterk strong poersterk very strong
geskikt pleasant poergeskikt very pleasant
[+]Grammaticalization and degrammaticalization

Etymologically, the prefix is probably related to French pur. The Frisian dictionaries categorize poer as an adverb. In the same vein, Sipma (1949:59) considers combinations of poer plus adjective as compounds. However, it appears that poer does not occur independently as an adverb in Frisian when it has an intensifying meaning. The only cases that could stand as counterexamples are expressions like poer op 'e romte pure in the space on the outskirts and poer derop tsjin pure there.on against completely against it, where poer modifies an Adposition Phrase (PP). These PPs are strongly idiomatic, however, and can therefore be regarded as one word. The conclusion must be that poer grammaticalized to a prefix.

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Comparison with Dutch

The Dutch equivalent for poer is puur. This word, in contrast, occurs independently as in examples like puur toeval pure coincidence purely accidental, puur goud pure gold pure gold and pure chocolade pure chocolate dark chocolate. In Frisian poer may not be used in such cases. Possible alternatives are klearebare tafal pure coincidence purely accidental, suver goud pure gold pure gold and bittere sûkelade bitter chocolate dark chocolate.

In a few cases, however, we may also observe a movement in a different direction, as a result of which the prefix turns up as an independent word, i.e as an adjective (which, however, only may be used predicatively). We could characterize this development as an instance of degrammaticalization. An example is given below:

Example 1

Hja waard poer, doe't ik dat tsjin har sei
she became angry when I that against her said
She became angry when I told her that

In this example, poer should be considered as an elliptic form of poerlilk very furious or poerrazend idem.

Degrammaticalized poer also appears in examples like the following, although with a different meaning:

Example 2

a. Hy wie poer mei har
he was crazy with her
He was crazy about her
b. De bern binne poer om iis
the children are crazy about ice
The children want to have ice-cream very badly

In the (a)-example, we may assume an elliptic form of poermâl quite crazy. The (b)-example rather points to an abbreviation of poersljocht idem.

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On the status of poerlik

In the light of the discussion above it is interesting to observe that poer has also been suffixed to poerlik completely, with the help of the suffix -lik. It seems reasonable to suppose that this occurred in the stadium that poer had not yet grammaticalized to a prefix. The derivation poerlik is used as an intensifying adverb. Examples are poerlike neaken completely naked and poerlike frjemd completely strange (both with an emphatic suffix-e).

[+]Further intensification by reduplication

As with other intensifying prefixes, further intensification can be performed by reduplication. Both occurrences of the prefix are concatenated by the conjunction en and, for instance in poer-en-poerneaken completely naked. However, in most cases the historical form ende is preferred. We then get formations like poer-ende-poerswart completely black, poer-ende-poerfrjemd extremely strange or poer-ende-poertsjuster extremely dark, to mention a few.

[+]Further intensification by infixation

The prefix poer- is one of those few elements that allow infixation. Its function is to even further intensify the adjectival base. Examples are poergleongek extremely crazy, poergekhastich extremely hasty and poerstrontmâl extremely angry. An alternative analysis would be that the prefix poer- is attached to complex adjectives. The possibly presumed base forms *gleongek, *gekhastich and *strontmâl are ungrammatical, however, and therefore formations like poer-gleon-gek cannot be analyzed as being prefixed by poer-. Instead, one may assume that the existing forms poergek very crazy, poerhastich very hasty and poermâl completely crazy act as base, and that the elements -gleon-, -gek- and -stront- have been added as infixes. See the topic on infixation for more information.

[+]Phonological properties

The prefix poer- is pronounced as [pu.ər]. As an exception, the final /r/ is not subject to R-deletion. Stress always falls on the prefix: POERswart, POERbêst, POERsterk.

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This topic is based on Hoekstra (1998:73-74) and Hoekstra (1991). In both publications, the author extensively argues for poer- having the status of a prefix.

  • Hoekstra, Jarich1991Poer op 'e romteFriesch Dagblad18-05Taalsnipels 185
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Sipma, Pieter1949Ta it Frysk IIR. van der Velde, Ljouwert