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0 Introduction to the VP in Saterland Frisian

The Verb Phrase (VP) is a structure built around a verb. Most verbs denote a process involving participants bearing designated thematic roles. They are used to express the event taking place in a clause. For example, in the sentence below, the NP do Stierne ‘the stars’ carries the thematic role of involuntary agent:

Do Stierne glinsterje.
the stars twinkle
The stars are twinkling.

Some verbs are used as copular auxiliaries to link the verb to its copular predicate and contribute aspectual or modal meanings to the relationship between subject and predicate. The verb is a complex syntactic category, and the structural representation of the verb and its arguments is a subject of ongoing syntactic investigation. Arguments of a verb may exhibit specific forms of syntactic behaviour, which correlate with the semantic subclass to which a verb in its usage belongs.


Below an overview is given of the main topics of the VP in Saterland Frisian.

1. Characteristics and classification of VPs

The classification of verb forms is closely related to the type of construction in which they may occur. In addition, the relation between semantic subdivision and syntactic behaviour of VPs is briefly discussed.

2. Unergative and unaccusative subjects and the auxiliary of the perfect

The syntactic relation of a verb to its arguments correlates with its meaning. A basic distinction is that between unergative verbs and unaccusative verbs. Unaccusative verbs such as ankume ‘to arrive’ select weze ‘to be’ as the auxiliary of the perfect. They contrast with unergative verbs such as stete ‘to sting’, which select häbe ‘to have’ as the auxiliary of the perfect. This is illustrated in the sentences below:

Wie sunt foar dän Grummelskuur failich in Huus ankemen.
we are for the thunderstorm safe in home arrived
We got home safely before the thunderstorm.
Ju Ieme hät mie stat.
the bee has me stung
The bee stung me.’

Unaccusative verbs like ankume ‘arrive’ have non-agentive subjects, wheras unergative verbs like stete ‘sting’ have agentive subjects.

3. Evidentiality in relation to perception and epistemicity

Perception verbs such as sjo ‘to see’ form a coherent semantic class. An example of a sentence with a perception verb is given below:

Do Redelke sjo et un fraue sik. ‘The righteous see it and they rejoice.’
the righteous see it and rejoice REF
The transitive perception verb uutsjo ‘look (out)’ may participate in a verb frame alternation. It may be detransitivised, more specifically, it may lose its subject argument and be used as evidential copulas, as in the following example:
Et sjucht läip uut.
it sees bad out
It looks bad.

The sentence above is like a middle, in that the theme argument is realised as the subject, and there is no object, nor is agentivity implied by the verb. In an active transitive sentence, the theme argument is realised as an object.

4. Types of to-infinitival constituents

Non-finite clauses involving a to-infinitive do not show uniform behaviour. They may be further classified depending on their similarity to syntactic categories such as APs, PPs and clauses. They may also be classified depending on whether or not they exhibit incorporation of the verbal arguments and on the basis of their semantic interpretation. The following is an example of an incorporating to-infinitival clause (Dyk 1997:174):

Bounere, tou Pot uutskraabjen, wuden fon Hede moaked.
brushes to pot out.skraping were of heath made
Brushes, for scraping out pots, were made from heath.

The infinitival constituent has been put in boldface. Whereas full-fledged arguments normally appear on the left of the infinitival marker tou ‘to’, here they must appear as heads on the right side of the infinitival marker.

5. Predication

Auxiliary verbs are verbs with a very abstract, unspecific meaning, such as weze ‘to be’ and gunge ‘to go’. Auxiliaries comprise both modals verbs like konne ‘can’ and various types of copula verbs, such as the copula of being, weze ‘to be’ and the copula of going, gunge ‘to go’. Auxiliary verbs may select a predication that is headed by a bare infinitive or a to-infinitive, among others. There are selection restrictions on the type of infinitive that may appear in such a predication. An example is given in (7), where the auxiliary verb sitte ‘to sit’ selects to-infinitives. The verb following the infinitival marker must have the form of a gerund and it must belong to the semantic class of activity verbs:

Jo sieten tou balen mädeenuur.
they sat to talk with.each.other
They sat and talked with each other.

Various types of infinitival clauses are distinguished. Verbal complements are selected by various types of auxiliary verbs, and they are subject to varying selection restrictions. Here we will also present data involving the progressive construction (Laker & Kramer 2022). Supplementive and appositive constructions instantiate another structural realization of predication structures, but these, in contrast, are not selected.

6. The verbal paradigm, irregularity and suppletion

Suppletion can be viewed as the most extreme form of irregularity. Hence suppletion may also be referred to as superirregularity. In normal irregularity, the irregular forms can still be recognised as belonging to one paradigm, because the consonant frame is kept constant, or at least the onset is kept constant. For example, the consonant frame is preserved in an example like kwede – kwädt – kwaad, kwiest, kwieden – kweden ‘to say’ (infinitive – 3SG – past – participle). The onset is preserved in an example like häbe – häd – hied – heeuwed ‘to have’. In contrast, the verb to be exhibits suppletion in all Germanic languages, and beyond. The Saterland forms are: weze – (bän, bäst, is) – waas, wierst, wieren – wezen. They testify to the existence of more than one consonant frame, one beginning with b-, the other with w-, not to mention the form is. See J. Hoekstra (2008).

7. Verb Second and the word order in main and embedded clauses

Like other Continental West Germanic languages, Saterland Frisian is a Verb Second language. The finite verb (in bold in the examples below) is lexicalised in the second position in declarative main clauses, as in the following example:

Ju Ku hät uus ju hele Noacht tougoang heelden.
the cow has us the whole night busy held
The cow kept us busy the whole night.

In contrast, the finite verb is lexicalised as the end of the middle field in embedded clauses, as in the following example:

Uumdät ju Ku uus ju hele Noacht tougoang heelden hät.
because the cow us the whole night busy held has
Because the cow kept us busy the whole night.

There are, however, a number of specific structural environments in which an unexpected ordering is found. Thus we may find main clause ordering in examples which are semantically subordinate. Conversely, we may find the word order of embedded clauses in certain types of main clauses.

8. Various aspects of clause structure

There are not many people speaking Saterland Frisian: it is a small language, and as such there has not been much research on the language. Hence various aspects of negation are discussed in passing such as double negation, negative polarity and related phenomena.

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