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5.1 Agreement of APs with a following Noun and a preceding determiner

The minimal pair below illustrates the sensitivity of adjectival agreement to number in the case of neuter singular NPs:

‘n Oold Huus.
a old house.NTR.SG
An old house.
Oolde Huze.
old House.PL
Old houses.

The examples illustrate that the form of the adjective changes in the plural, at least for neuter nouns. Incidentally, the minimal pair also shows that the indefinite determiner is absent in the plural. In addition, gender agreement on AP shows up in the singular (only). The minimal pair below illustrates the sensitivity of adjectival agreement to gender for singular NPs:

‘n Oold-en Disk, ‘n oold-e Ku, ‘n oold Huus.
an old-MSC table an old-FM cow an old.NTR house
An old table, an old cow, an old house.

In the singular, the form of adjectival agreement depends on gender.

As we will see, the presence or absence of agreement on AP is also sensitive to the lexical nature of the governing determiner. In addition, certain determiners itself must agree with the noun in a way that is similar to adjectival agreement, whereas other determiner may not thus agree. Thus there is a complex interaction of the lexical nature of the determiner with the singular number and with gender. The lexical nature of the determiner, number and gender all three come to play in explaining the distribution of the three paradigmatic forms of the attributive adjective. These three forms of the adjective are given below for the adjective oold ‘old’:

oold oolde oolden
Pattern: ZERO -e -en

However, this pattern is only present with certain determiners. With other determiners, such as the definitive determiner, the adjective takes on an invariant form in schwa.

The sections below deal with agreement of AP with a preceding Determiner or a following Noun.

[+]1. Number and gender on nouns

Both number and gender are features of nouns. Nevertheless, they do not have the same status. Number is inherently or morphologically marked on nouns:

Disk Disk-e, Mäme Mäme-n, Huus Huz-e.
table table-PL mother mother-PL house house-PL
Table tables, mother mothers, house houses.

The plural is in most cases marked by a schwa in the case of masculine and neuter words. Feminine words are in most cases marked by –n in the plural. This is a tendency in Saterland Frisian, which is even stronger in German. Gender, in contrast, is not marked on nouns. However, a lot of feminine nouns end in schwa. Thus there is a strong correlation between feminine gender and the nominal paradigm of schwa in the singular and –en in the plural. How, then, does gender become visible with masculine and neuter nouns, if not in the morphological form of the noun? In fact, masculine and neuter gender are distinguished contextually or syntactically, by means of the shape of a set of determiners.

[+]2. Number and gender on determiners

The following examples show that the definite determiner makes the gender of nouns visible in the singular:

Die Disk, ju Ku, dät Huus.
the table the cow the house
The old table, the old cow, the old house.

Gender is only visible in the singular. In the plural, all gender distinctions are absent. This is illustrated below for the definite determiner:

Do Diske, do Mämen do Huze.
the.PL tables the.PL mothers the.PL houses
The tables, the mothers, the houses.

The definite determiner is special in that the plural form is not homophonous to any of the singular forms. Its morphological paradigm thus includes four distinct forms: die – ju – dät – do.

In the examples below, it is the proximate demonstrative article which signals the gender of the noun in the singular:

Dusse Disk, dusse Mure, dut Huus.
this.MSC table this.FEM wall this.NTR house
This table, this wall, this house.
Dusse Diske, dusse Muren, dusse Huze.
these.PL tables these.PL walls these.PL houses
These tables, these walls, these houses.

In contrast to the paradigm of the definite article, the paradigm of the proximate demonstrative merely features two forms: dusse – dut. These two forms are used to distinguish the masculine singular from the neuter singular (and the neuter singular from the neuter plural). So the form of the demonstrative in schwa is used for masculine and feminine singular and for all plurals. The other form is exclusively reserved for the neuter singular.

Below follows the list of determiners making gender wholly or partly visible (necessarily in the singular) on themselves:

List of determiners making a gender distinction on themselves
The definite article
The demonstrative
The full indefinite article (which is homophonous to the numeral one)
The negative article naan ‘no’
The possessive pronouns
The determiner monig ‘many a’ (in case it is not followed by the indefinite article)

To sum up:

  • Gender and number are basic lexical features of the noun
  • Number is visible on the noun and on some determiners
  • Gender is primarily visible on some determiners
  • Gender distinctions exist only in the singular

Keeping this in mind, we can discuss the way in which attributive adjectives agree for gender and number, or fail to do so.

[+]3. Marking of number and gender on attributive adjectives

Although the noun is the source of number and gender, it is the determiner which determines whether or not the adjective exhibits agreement at all. Put differently, adjectival agreement is sensitive to the nature of the governing functional head. With certain determiners, adjectival agreement for gender is obligatory, and with others is ia absent. If there is no agreement, the adjectives takes on an invariant form marked with schwa. Consider first the case of an adjective governed by the definite determiner. The determiner itself agrees with the noun for number and gender. The adjective, in contrast, does not display any agreement and it takes on the invariant form, as illustrated below:

Die oolde Disk, ju oolde Ku dät oolde Huus.
the old.E table the old.E cow the old.E house
The old table, the old cow, the old house.
Do oolde Diske, do oolde Bäiste do oolde Huze.
the old.E tables the old.E cows the old.E houses
The old tables, the old cows, the old houses.

The adjective is marked with a final schwa, indicated in the gloss as a capital E when it is relevant. This type of unary agreement, that is, the lack of expression of gender (or any other feature), is also referred to in the literature as weak agreement. Basically, this is a misnomer, since there is no agreement for any clear-cut feature, nor is there a paradigm. At most, this –E expresses the absence of any preceding determiner triggering strong agreement. The phenomenon is peculiar because the appearance and expression of gender agreement in the singular depends on the type of determiner that is present, whereas the features themselves come from the noun. The following table summarises the main generalisations about adjectival agreement in the singular, which we will discuss :

Table 1. Gender agreement on determiners and adjectives

Table 1
Preceding determiner Gender agreement on determiner Gender agreement on adjective
ZERO indefinite - +
Indefinite article ‘n - +
Interrogative article wo how - +
Indefinite numeral / article aan + +
Negative article naan + +
Monich many (a) + +
Su(k) ‘n such + +
Possessive pronoun ~ - (+)
Possessor NP - -
älke each - -
Definite article, demonstrative + -

The word monich ‘many a’ can be followed by the indefinite numeral. If the indefinite numeral is present, monich does not show gender agreement but the indefinite numeral does. If the indefinite numeral does not accompany monich, then monich itself exhibits gender agreement. The full indefinite article aan ‘one’ is homophonous to the numeral aan ‘one’, which both trigger agreement on the following AP.

In contrast to the definite article and to the full indefinite article, the reduced indefinite article does not signal gender. It is invariantly: ‘n, a schwa followed by a nasal. The gender distinction or the gender agreement appears on the adjective:

‘n Oold-en Disk, ‘n oold-e Ku, ‘n oold Huus.
an old-MSC table an old-FM cow an old.NTR house
An old table, an old cow, an old house.

Instead of ‘n, feminine nouns regularly feature ‘ne. The appearance of gender agreement on the adjective (or article or determiner) is also referred to in the literature as strong agreement.

If there is no determiner (ZERO in the table above), gender agreement appears on the adjective. The examples below involve singular mass nouns. These do not feature any indefinite article, nor is there any other determiner present. The adjective, so to speak, introduces the NP as a whole, and, correspondingly, there is gender agreement (strong agreement):

Roden Wien un koold Woater.
red.MSC wine.MSC and cold.NTR water.NTR
Red wine and cold water.

Gender agreement on the AP takes place only if ZERO is actually interpreted as indefinite. If ZERO is interpreted as definite, then there is no agreement, and the AP exhibits the constructional attributive form in schwa. That is the reason we may find examples like the following on signs:

Seelterske Kultuurhuus.
Saterlandic culture.house
The Saterland house of culture.

The question then arises under which conditions can the definite article remain absent. This may involve the naming function of signs. The following example features an indefinite article, and, correspondingly, the adjective displays gender agreement:

Dät waas daach ‘n groten Foardeel wezen.
that was still a great.MSC advantage.MSC been
That would nevertheless have been a big advantage.

In fact, the adjective expresses both gender and number agreement in the case of masculine and neuter gender singular, seeing that the plural has a form in those genders that is different from the singular. The interrogative determiner wo ‘how’ likewise doesn’t exhibit agreement itself, but it triggers agreement on a following AP, as shown below for the MSC SG:

Wo groten Bak waas dät?
how big.MSC.SG container.MSC.SG was that
How big a container was it?

It can be gleaned from the table that it is not the case that the absence of gender agreement on the determiner triggers its presence on the adjective. Admittedly, this holds for the indefinite article and the interrogative article: they don’t bear agreement themselves, but they trigger agreement on the adjective. This does not hold of determiners in general. The determiner älke ‘each’ is like the indefinite article in not bearing agreement itself, but neither does it trigger agreement on AP. This is shown below

Uur älke loze Woud, dät do Moanskene bale.
about each.E idle.E word.NTR which the people say
About each idle word which people say.

The adjective does not have the strong agreement form for the neuter singular. So, weak adjectival agreement can also be found following determiners which themselves do not show agreement, such as the determiner älke ‘each’. The case of älke ‘each’ is interesting cross-linguistically, since it does trigger gender agreement both on itself and on the following adjective in West Frisian and Dutch. It is also interestingly that it is the form älke, and not the form älk, which has become the unchanging form used in attributive position in Saterland Frisian. It suggests that disyllabic determiners ending in schwa correlate with lack of gender agreement, so with the presence of adjectives in schwa. Nevertheless, the actual data about älke ‘each’ are more complicated than suggested here in ways not well understood and possibly involving interference.

Two cases deserve further mention because of their special behaviour. In the first place, possessive pronouns themselves display an impoverished form of gender agreement, distinguishing between masculine and the other two genders, so a two-way distinction which doesn’t focus on the neuter gender:

Min Bruur, mien Suster, mien Huus.
my.MSC brother my sister my house
My brother, my sister, my house.
Mien Brure, mien Sustere, mien Huze.
my.MSC brothers my sisters my houses
My brothers, my sisters, my houses.

This agreement is impoverished, since, unlike the agreement on the definite article, it conflates neuter gender with another gender, more precisely, with feminine gender.

However, there is some dialectal variation and variation over time, both with respect to the agreement on the possessive pronoun itself and on the agreement of a following adjective. First, the possessive pronoun itself shows more extensive agreement in the village Skäddel (German: Scharrel), marking the distinction between feminine and neuter by the presence or absence of a schwa. Second, there is variation in the adjectival agreement following the possessive pronoun. It tends to be weak, as in the following example:

Min goude Frjuund.
my.MSC good.E friend
My good friend.

Strong adjectival agreement would have been expressed by the ending –en. However, it is not unusual to find strong agreement following a possessive pronoun, so the system seems to be changing here.

Finally, the interrogative adjective wäkker ‘which’ shows an impoverished gender apardigm, that is, not a three way distinction in the singular as does the definite article, but a two-way distinction. The feminine gender is distinguished as against masculine and neuter. To illustrate, consider the following example:

Wäkker Suun, wäkke Dochter, wäkker Bouk.
which son which.FEM daughter which book
Which son, which daughter, which book.

Incidentally, the plural form is wäkke ‘which’, so homophonous to the feminine singular form. An alternative neuter form is wäkket ‘which’. In addition, the form wäkker can also be used as the default form in attributive position, even with feminine nouns like Mäme ‘mother’, so there is variation here.

Adjectives ending in –er used to never show any adjectival agreement. This includes the words linker ‘left’ and gjuchter ‘right’. However, younger speakers tend to use them with gender agreement, in the same way as wäkke ‘which’. Other adjectives in –er which do not show any adjectival agreement are geographical adjectives. It is unclear whether younger speakers drop the –r in the feminine and the plural as well. West Frisian and Dutch do not display adjectival agreement on adjectives in –er, including geographical ones. This suggests that the Saterland pattern is a recent one, as supported by Fort’s claim that it is found especially with younger speakers. This in turn suggests that it may be an interference from Low or High German.

To sum, lack of gender agreement appears on adjectives following a group mainly consisting of some definite and indefinite determiners. The definite elements include: the definite article, the demonstratives, possessive pronouns and possessor NPs. The indefinite elements include the interrogative adjective wäkker ‘which’, the indefinite article, the negative article and the numeral aan ‘one’ and the words monich ‘many a’ and suk ‘such’.

[+]4. Non-nominative demonstrative and determiners

Agreement on the adjective is never sensitive to the distinction between nominative and non-nominative arguments. Agreement on the determiner may be sensitive to the distinction between nominative and non-nominative, but only with the definite and demonstrative articles. This distinction is only present with the masculine singular:

Table 2. The distinction nominative versus non-nominative (restricted to the MSC SG of definite and demonstrative articles)

Table 2
die dän ‘the’
dusse dussen ‘this
krie krän ‘that’

Put differently, the only determiners exhibiting non-nominative case (marked with –n) are those which meet the following condition:

  • They exhibit a visible gender distinction Neuter versus Non-Neuter in the Singular of the Nominative.

The definite article and the proximate and distal demonstratives are the only three determiners having this characteristic. The characteristic presupposes that there is some connection between case and gender. There is indeed a cross-linguistic generalisation saying that if nominative and accusative case are identical in any gender, it will always include the neuter gender. This generalisation holds true, for example, of all known Indo-European languages. An example of two distinct non-nominatives is given below:

Mäd dussen Wäänt kon me beter bale as mäd dän.
with this.NOM guy can one better talk than with that
This guy is easier to talk to than that one.

The form dän clearly functions here as a demonstrative pronoun used without a following noun. This is because the distal demonstrative developed into the definite article, like in Middle West Frisian. Saterland Frisian developed a new series of distal demonstratives based on the root kr-, which derives from the expression kiek ‘see’ followed by the weakened demonstrative / definite article. This phrase developed into the root kr-, which thus received the same paradigm as the definite article:

Table 3. The distal demonstrative and its similarity to the definite article

Table 3
‘that, those’ MSC SG FEM SG NTR SG PL
NOM krie krju krät kro
NNOM krän krju krät kro
NOM die ju dät do
NNOM dän ju dät do

The following example contrasts the proximate demonstrative with the distal one:

Dusse Mon nit, man krie.
this.NOM man not but that.NOM
Not this man, but that one.

Cases of ellipsis remind us of the dual function of definite article, such as example (21) above, and the example below:

Ju Seke is ju.
the case is this
The case is as follows.
[+]5. Plural agreement on numerals

The numerals one, two and three are special in Saterland Frisian in that they all three of them bear agreement, making a distinction between the masculine on the one hand, and the feminine and the feminine and neuter, on the other hand. This is all the more surprising for the numerals two and three, since they make this gender distinction in the plural! This was also the case in Old Germanic languages like Old English, but it is remarkable that it survives to this day.

Table 4. A gender distinction in the plural of the numerals ‘two’ and ‘three’

Table 4
2 twäin two
3 träi trjo
1 aan een
‘no’ naan neen

Remember that gender is never marked in the plural on anything: apparently, the numerals two and three constitute an exception to this robust generalisation. Furthermore, the determiner naan / neen ‘no’ may take a singular or a plural. The question arises what happens when a plural masculine word follows this determiner. Will it follow the normal pattern, in which the plural is homophonous to the feminine singular? Or will it follow the pattern of the numbers 2, 3, which distinguish masculine gender in the plural? As it turns out, naan ‘no’ conforms to the normal pattern, not making a gender distinction in the plural. To illustrate, the following examples illustrate this claim:

Naan Huund, neen Laampe, neen Huus.
no dog.MSC.SG no lamp.FEM.SG no house.NTR.SG
No dog, no lamp, no house.
Neen Huunde, neen Laampen, neen Huze.
no dog.MSC.PL no lamp.FEM.PL no house.NTR.PL
No dogs, no lamps, no houses.

To return to agreement on determiners and adjectives, the chief generalisation seems to be as follows. Determiners which themselves mark the distinction between masculine versus the other two genders trigger 3-way adjectival agreement. Possessors seem to be beginning to conform to this generalisation. Determiners which themselves mark a distinction between neuter and non-neuter (definite and demonstrative articles) do not trigger adjectival agreement, nor do determiners which do not exhibit any gender distinction (such as älke ‘each’).

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