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7.2 Existential quantification

Existential quantification involves expressions meaning ‘one’, ‘at least one’, and so on. Existential quantification may target various semantic objects, such as quantities, degrees, persons and things, places and moments in time. On degrees, see especially: AP. Some examples of existential quantifiers in Saterland Frisian are:

  • The indefinite article, which is also the numeral, which is also used as an existential quantifier over objects and persons: aan (MSC), een ‘one’
  • The interrogative wäl, which is also used as an existential quantifier over persons.

The sections below discuss various aspects of existential quantifiers.

[+]1. Semantic observations

The indefinite article, homophonous to the numeral, can be used without a following NP to refer to persons and things. In the following examples, this article (or determiner) refers to persons:

Wan deer aan bie was, die nit moor meekude.
when there one at was who not more along.could
When there was somebody who couldn’t come along anymore.
Aan die in Nood is, mout man hälpe.
one who in need is must ARB help
One who is in trouble, must be helped.

In the following examples, it refers to things:

Hie häd him aan roat.
he has him one given
He gave him a slap.
Wolt du noch aan häbe?
want you yet one have
Do you want to have another drink?

Note that these examples are idiomatic, a matter for further investigation. The determiner may also be part of phrases signifying ‘nobody’. In the first place, it can be preceded by the loan from German irgend ‘any’, which seems to be a free choice item. An example is given below:

Irgendaan mout ’t daach däin häbe.
someone must it but done have
But someone must have done it.

In this example, irgendaan does not seem to be different from aan. The following example may be less innocuous in this respect:

Mien Schip bergt moor Gould as irgend een fon de ganze Flotte.
my ship has more gold than any one of the whole fleet
My ship has more gold than any other of the whole fleet.

Nowadays, irgend- is well entrenched in spoken Saterland Frisian. In the second place, the existential determiner can be part of an idiomatic disjunction: een of uur ‘one or other > somebody’

Een of uur mai ’t wäil reke, die moor deertou weet.
one or other may it sure give who more it.to knows
There must be someone or other who knows more about it.

Note by the way, that the disjunction doesn’t employ the masculine form aan, but the feminine/neuter form een. See also: universal quantification for the phrase een foar uur ‘everyone’, which features the same form followed by a PP foaruur ‘other’.

A special subclass of existential quantifiers derives from interrogative pronouns. They function as interrogatives, but they can also function as existential quantifiers, especially in the middle field, that is, in the VP.

[+]2. The pronominal adjective wäkke ‘which, some’

The following examples show that the adjectival pronoun, used without a following NP, can refer to persons and things:

Iek häbe neen Swieuwelstikken, iek mout wäkke koopje.
I have no matches I must which buy
I don't have any matches, I need to buy some.
Deer wieren je wäil wäkken.
there were yes sure which
There were indeed some people.

Note that the pronoun is written with a following -n in case it refers to persons, whereas it just exhibits normal adjectival agreement in schwa when referring to things. For persons, the form wäkkene has also been encountered. Surprisingly, the pronoun can also be interpreted as an existential determiner at the beginning of the clause:

Wäkke wülen dät Speer deerap skuwe.
which wanted the rafter it.on shove
Some wanted to slide the rafter on it.

So it is not the case that its position in the clause determines its reference. Compare this to the neuter interrogative wät ‘what’. The neuter interrogative cannot be interpreted as an existential determiner at the beginning of the clause, it can only be thus interpreted inside VP.

[+]3. The pronoun wäl ‘who, someone’

The following examples show that the interrogative pronoun foar persons can be used as an indefinite quantifier for persons.

Sliep uut? Dät is wän wäl moal wäl uutlachet.
sleep out that is when who once who out.laughs
Untranslatable. That is when somebody makes fun of somebody.
Wan iek wäl Gesuundigaid wonskje, föigje iek altied Bliedskup deertou.
when I who health wish add I always joy it.to
When I wish someone good health, I always add joy.

It is not clear whether wäl and aan can always be interchanged and what the coditions on their use are. See also: Negative quantification (7.3)

[+]4. The pronoun wät ‘what, something, a bit’

This neuter pronoun is used quite generally as an indefinite quantifier, not only in Saterland Frisian but also in West Frisian and Dutch. The following examples illustrate its use as an existential quantifier, non-human, with a count interpretation:

Hie skäl ljauer foar de Skoule wät dwo.
he shall rather for the school what do
He'd rather be doing something for school.
Hie hied wät in de Taaske.
he had what in the pocket
He had something in his pocket.

It can also have a mass interpretation, as in the following example:

Reek mie wät fon dät Flaask.
give me what of the meat
Give me some of the meat.

In that case it quantifies over substance. It can refer to adjectives, in which case it quantifies over degrees of the property denoted by the adjective, see AP. Two peculiar usages are signalled below:

Dät sunt fon hiere Bäidene wät.
that are of her children some
These are some of their children.
Dät waas wät!
that was what
That was quite a thing!

The first example has the quantifier in a weird position in the clause, following the PP from which it gets its reference. The second example features an exclamative, in which the existential quantifier now receives a high degree reading. As a question word, wät ‘what’ can also be be used as an adjectival pronoun. In this use, it can also have an existential reading, as a synonym of wäkke ‘which’:

In wät Huze waas dät nit so.
in what houses was it not so
In some houses it was not like that.

Saterland Frisian has gone further than West Frisian or Dutch in not only allowing the neuter interrogative to be used as an existential quantifier, but also the interrogative for persons and the interrogative for adjectives. The existential quantifier for frequency is: insen (or the German loan moal). Some examples are given below:

Deer waas insen.
there was once
Once upon a time.
Insen waas iek deer säärm mee bie.
once was I there self with at
Once I was myself present there with them.
Insen waas in Romelse wäl sturwen.
once was in Romelse who died
Once somebody had died in Roomelse.

The frequency / time distinction can be likened to the count / mass distinction.The existential quantifier for time is: ieuwen ‘a moment’. Some examples are given below:

Du skääst ieuwen teeuwe.
you must EX wait
Just wait a moment.
Wolt du mie ieuwen ljuchte?
want you me EX light
Can you light my way, please?
Wan dät ieuwen kon, dan dwo iek ‘t.
if it EX can then do I it
If it is the least bit possible, then I’ll do it.

This existential quantifier is used for softening commands or making them more polite. In a way, it can be likened to diminutives. It is often left untranslated in English, or it can sometimes be translated as ‘please’. A variant form has the appearance of a plural diminutive: ieuwenkes ‘a moment’. An example is given below:

Koast du ieuwenkes apstounde?
can you EX up.stand
Could you stand up, please?

Its Dutch and West Frisian cognates similarly have a normal form and a diminutive form, without any difference in meaning. The German interference moal is used in the same contexts in which ieuwen is used, and from a prescriptive perspective, its use should be discouraged.

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