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4.2 The partitive construction of abstract quantity

An abstract noun of quantity like Masse ‘lot’ is non-referential and not concrete. It exclusively and directly refers to quantity, whether exact or vague. An example is given below:

‘n Masse Sleke.
a mass potholes
A lot of potholes.

A partitive quantity noun construction consists of the following elements from left to right:

  • A noun of quantity
  • A noun of content description

The quantity noun Masse ‘lot’ does not preserve its concrete, referential meaning in the partitive construction, unlike a referential noun like Kiste ‘box’, as it does not refer to a concrete object or form. It merely expresses that an abstract quantity of something is involved. Hence n Masse ‘a lot’ is referred to as a noun of quantity.

Partitive noun of quantity and content noun can be joined to each other just by putting them next to each other, as in the example above. The partitive noun comes first, and the content noun follows immediately. This occurs especially in case the partitive noun just indicates that a high quantity is involved. In such a case, it is not possible to join the nouns with the help of an adposition:

*‘n Masse mäd Sleke.
a mass with potholes
A lot of potholes.
*‘n Masse fon Sleke.
a mass of potholes
A lot of potholes.

Masse is even used without article and without capital. Apparently it has been reanalysed as determiner. In the examples above, the partitive noun is just an abstract high quantity noun. In contrast with partitive referential nouns, partitive nouns of quantity have restricted possibilities of modification. They do not determine the number of the construction as a whole. Content nouns in the quantificational partitive construction have restricted possibilities of modification, but they determine the number of the construction as a whole. The type of quantity noun affects the properties of the construction as a whole, even though it doesn’t determine agreement. Four types of measure nouns may be distinguished, depending on their meaning. These are discussed in the sections below.

[+]1. Nouns of high quantity

Nouns of high quantity include: n Masse ‘a lot’, n Bierig ‘a lot’, and so on. There are quite a few nouns which have developed into high quantity nouns. They are invariably indefinite, more specifically, they are preceded by the indefinite article. The example below exemplifies a construction featuring two nouns which are joined together without the use of other elements. It is therefore referred to as a bare partitive construction:

Trientje liet ‘n Masse Jeeld bäte.
Trientje let a mass money behind
Trientje left behind a lot of money.

The abstract nature of the partitive noun is evident from the fact that it can be used indiscriminately for things, as in the example above, and for persons, as in the example below:

‘n Masse Foulk.
a mass people
A mass of people.

The following example shows that it is not the partitive noun but the content noun which determines agreement on the tensed verb:

Deer sunt ‘n Masse Sleke in dän Dom.
there are.PL a mass.SG potholes.PL in the dirt.road
The dirt road has a lot of potholes.

This only holds true in case the partitive noun is in the singular. If the partitive noun is in the plural then the verb must be plural, regardless of the number of the content noun.

Deer sunt Massen Jeeld tou fertjoonjen.
there are masses.PL money.SG to earn
Lots of money can be made.
Deer gunge Masses Sukker oun.
R go.PL lots.PL sugar.SG in
Lots of sugar go in it.

In case the content noun can be recovered from the linguistic context, it can be left out. Without a following content noun, the partitive noun tends to function as a marker of high degree or high quantity:

Hie häd deer ‘n Masse tou leerd.
he has R a mass to learned
He learnt a lot extra.
In ju kute Tied häbe wie ‘n Masse skaffed.
in the short time have we a lot done
We did a lot in that short time.

Attention should be drawn to the indefinite article of the quantity noun, which is present even if the construction as a whole is plural, as in (6) above. The indefinite article may co-occur with plural nouns only if a high amount or degree is implied. This is characteristically the case in exclamative sentences in West Frisian:

Hy seach in minsken yn 'e stêd!
he saw a people in the town
He saw a lot of people in the town!

These examples show that the indefinite article has no effect on the number of the NP as a whole in these cases. This should be investigated for Saterland Frisian aswell.

[+]2. Nouns of low quantity

There are more nouns of high quantity than of low quantity. The only noun of low quantity that can be used with persons and non-persons is the noun n bitje ‘a bit’. It does not preserve its literal, referential meaning anymore. Etymologically, the word goes back to the meaning of an amount of food that can be taken in the mouth. However, the word developed into a quantifier denoting a low amount, which does not in itself refer to food or mouths or anything referential. It is so abstract as to combine respectively with verbs and adjectives, and also with nouns:

Räästjet jou ‘n bitje uut. (VP)
rest REFL a bit out
Have a bit of rest.
Die waas so ‘n bitje krum. (AP)
it was so a bit bent
It was more or less a bit bent.
‘n Bitje Suurdee truchsuurt dän hele Dee. (NP)
a bit yeast through.sours the whole dough
A bit of yeast leavens the whole dough.’

The last example seems to feature the noun of low quantity in its most literal meaning. Normally it combines with the indefinite article, but it can also combine with the definite article, as in the following example:

Mäd dät bitje Jeeld koast du niks ounfange.
with that little money can you nothing begin
With the little money, you can’t do anything.

Even more abstract is wät ‘a little’, as in the following examples:

Wät ‘somewhat’ has likewise developed in a marker of a small quantity or degree, which can modify nouns, verbs and adjectives. This has to do with the fact that interrogatives are semantically closely related to existential quantifiers. Thus some languages derive existential quantifiers from question words. This has been the case in Germanic languages, in which the neuter 3SG question word is also used as an existential quantifier: all three Frisian languages and Dutch. Now Dutch and German feature iets and etwas as basic existential quantifiers, basic in the sense that they are not related to question words. Saterland Frisian seems to have lost its basic existential quantifier. This also applies to West Frisian, but in that language it was re-introduced (eat) in the 19th century, when the written language was being developed. The historical question arises why Frisian languages tend to lose their existential quantifiers, and why Dutch features both the basic existential quantifier iets ‘something’ and the interrogative used as existential wat ‘what’. Anyhow, instead of using the basic existential quantifiers, Saterland Frisian used interrogatives as existentials instead. In the same vein, Saterland Frisian wäl ‘who’ can also mean ‘somebody’ in case it occurs in the middle field, instead of at the beginning of the clause. This used to be possible in some older dialects of West Frisian as well.

Wan me him wät Jield toukume liet.
when one him what money to.come let
When one let him have some money.

The partitive noun can be used without a following content noun being present or implied. In that case, it functions as a marker of low degree or quantity, as in the following examples:

Et siepelt ‘n bitje bute.
it drizzles a little outside
It drizzles a bit outside.
Gunge ‘n bitje uut de Stede.
go a bit out the side
Go aside a bit.

In that case, the partitive noun can be used to modify verbs, nouns and adjectives (cf. above). In case a following content noun is absent but implied, and that implied noun is a count noun, n poor ‘a pair, a few’ is preferred over n bitje ‘a bit’. This is probably due to the elsewhere principle, since n poor is more specific than n bitje. Unlike n bitje, npoor ‘a few’ can only be used with nouns. It cannot be used to modify verbs or adjectives, possibly because it selects a plural count noun. An example is given below:

‘n Poor Stripse hät ju wisse fertjoond.
a few slaps has she sure deserved
She certainly deserved a few slaps.

Incidentally, this example is interesting since Stripse ‘slaps’ is an inherently plural noun: there is no singular counterpart. Consider next the following example:

Wie wollen tousjo, dät wie ‘n poor Euro fon dän Pries ouakkedierje.
we want to.see that we a few euro of the price off.bargain
We want to see to it that we bargain a few euros off the price.

Here Euro, which is a measure noun, has a singular form, but it is semantically and constructionally a plural. Some measure nouns have this characteristic that they appear in the singular following numerals and following certain nouns of quantity (which are closely related to numerals): for more information, see .... Consider next the following example:

Iek noom eerst ‘n poor nodelke Stappe.
I took first a couple anxious steps
First I took a few anxious steps.

This example makes it clear that the content noun may be premodified by an AP. The example below makes it clear that the construction as a whole, may be postmodified by a quantifier:

‘n Poor Puunde minner kuden hier nit skoadje.
a few pounds less could here not hurt
A few pounds less wouldn’t hurt here.

Note that the measure noun Puund ‘pound’ appears in the plural here, whereas the noun Euro ‘euro’ appeared in the singular in exactly the same construction. Thus it is not the case that all measure nouns behave the same in this respect. Furthermore, Puund may remain singular following a numeral, as in: Fieuw Puund ‘five pound’. In addition, the noun of low quantity may also be followed by a partitive PP instead of a NP:

‘n Poor fon do gjucht litje.
a couple of the very small
A couple of the very small ones.

Inside the PP, the nominalised AP serves as the content part of the construction. Consider next the following example:

Säks Poor näie Hozen.
six pair new socks
Six pair new socks.

Here Poor has its basic lexical meaning of ‘a pair of two’. It is preceded by a numeral higher than one, so we should have expected a plural to follow. But Poor ‘a pair of two’ apparently belongs to the class of measure nouns which remains formally a singular following a numeral or a noun of quantity. To sum, n Poor is ambiguous between two readings. It can be a noun of low countable quantity, or it can be a measure noun meaning ‘a pair of two’. The examples discussed here make it clear that the noun of abstract quantity is mostly found in a bare partitive construction, that is, two adjacent NPs not joined together by ful ‘fill’, mäd ‘with’, or similar partitive elements.

[+]3. Nouns of exact quantity

Nouns of exact quantity do not provide a relative measure such as Kiste ‘box’ or n Masse ‘a lot’, but they provide an absolute measure, such as Liter ‘litre’, Kilo ‘kilo’. They are direct followed by the NP containing the content noun, that is, there are no partitive elements joining the two NPs together such as ful ‘fill’ or mäd ‘with’. Some examples are given below:

Do Kisten wege twiske 100 un 150 Kilo.
the boxes weigh between 100 and 150 Kilo
The boxes weigh between 100 and 150 kilos.
Die Ommer hoaldt tjoon Liter.
the bucket holds ten liter
The bucket holds ten liters.

Note that these examples do not involve a content noun following the noun of exact quantity, as the focus is on the exact quantity. What we find is that the noun of exact quantity is often preceded by a numeral, which is also quite exact. The noun of exact quantity does not determine number agreement in case it is in the singular: in that case the content noun, if any, determines the number of the construction as a whole. In this respect, nouns of abstract quantity differ from referential concrete nouns, which do determine number. However, in case the noun of abstract quantity is put in the plural, because of a preceding plural determiner like hundreds, then it does determine the number of the construction as a whole and not the following content noun.

[+]4. Numeral nouns

Numeral nouns are nouns which have an exact numerical interpretation, such as n Poor ‘a pair of two’, which was discussed in: Nouns of low quantity. Another example is n Dutsend ‘a dozen’. A further example is given below:

‘n Holich Stiech Oaiere.
a half 20 eggs
Ten eggs.

The word Stieg ‘twenty’ is a word like English dozen ‘twelve’ and West Frisian snies ‘twenty’.

[+]5. Modification and agreement of the partitive noun and the content noun

Both the partitive noun and the content noun can be modified by APs. An example is given below:

Gewaltige Massen fon foanbildjende Plonten häbe sik mäd do Jierhunnerte ansammeld.
enormous masses of peat.building plants have REFL with the centuries to.gathered
Enormous masses of peat producing plants have gathered over the centuries.

Adjectives modifying the partitive noun are characteristically intensifying adjectives, as in the example above. The two NPs are joined together by the adposition fon ‘of’, which is more likely to be used with a plural partitive noun than with a singular one. The following example makes it clear that a plural partitive noun triggers plural agreement, even if the content noun is singular:

Fjauer Koaren ful Sound wuden ienhoald.
four carts full sand were in.take
Four carts of sand were taken inside.

Partitive nouns in the singular are characteristically preceded by the indefinite article, though there are also examples with the complex article so n ‘such a’. Sometimes examples can be found with a definite article, the negative article or the universal quantifier, but this also depends on the type of partitive noun. The nature of the partitive noun (purely quantitative or not) strongly affects whether it determines agreement on the verb and its options for premodification. In the singular, some partitive nouns tend to be primarily quantificational, whereas they may be (more) referential in the plural.

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