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4.4 Equative

The equative expresses a specific degree by means of the function word so ‘so’ or gliek ‘equal’. The function word ascribes this degree to the adjectival argument. The degree limit itself may be implicit, or it may be made explicit by adding an adverbial phrase or clause introduced by the complementiser as ‘as’. An example involving a personal argument is provided below:

Dät kon iek nät so goud as du.
that can I just so good as you
I can do that just as well as you.

In this example the degree limit is made explicit in the phrase as du ‘like you’. The degree of goodness of the addressed person in doing something is compared to the degree of goodness of the speaker. The implication of the construction with so ‘so’ is that it is a high degree. The following example is impersonal:

So flink as dät geen, eten Tina un Anna hiere Pudding.
as fast as it went ate Tina and Anna their pudding
As fast as it was possible, Tina and Anna ate their pudding.

Here the eating event is ascribed an equative degree of fastness that is specified, vacuously, in the idiomatic subordinated clause following the AP (as dät geen ‘as it went’). The implication is that it is a high degree.


The equative construction is built on the function word so ‘so’ or on the function word gliek(e) ‘so, as’. Both words are native to Saterland Frisian, but German only has so ‘so’ and this may have promoted the use of so ‘so’, advancing its frequency and causing it to encroach upon the domain of gliek. Below an example with gliek ‘equally’ is given:

Do bee sunt gliek oold.
the both are equal old
Both are equally old.

However, in this specific example, gliek ‘equally’ cannot be replaced by so ‘so’. Gliek ‘equally’ functions as a hidden reciprocal, in which the members of the set denoted by the subject NP (do bee) are compared to each other, and it is concluded that all members meet the degree limit. Furthermore, gliek ‘equally’ seems to differ from so ‘so’ in that gliek ‘equally’ does not imply a high degree. So, normally an equative compares two things, one expressed as a regular argument, the other expressed in a comparative phrase introduced by as ‘as’. In (3), however, both elements are joined in one argument, expressed as the subject above. It is similar to the hidden reciprocal reading of a sentence like: ‘the two boys agreed’ or ‘they were fighting (each other)’.

In (3), the degree limit is implied in the plural subject. It could me made explicit in an adverbial phrase in a different sentence as follows: ‘one is as old as the other.’ Note that English uses the adverb equally, in case the degree limit is not expressed in an adverbial phrase introduced by as ‘as’. Use of the word so ‘so’ leads to a change in meaning.

Do bee sunt so oold.
the both are so old
Both are so old.

The degree limit is now set to a high degree, without involving any specific comparison anymore. This is not the case in a negated clause with so ‘so’, as in (1), which does involve a comparison, though not internal. We speak of an equative in case a comparison is involved and otherwise, as in (4), it is just a high degree construction.

The degree limit may remain implicit or it may be specified in a clause. The degree limit may also be specified in a following clause, describing the degree in terms of a constraint or a consequence. An example of a precondition is given below:

Gerd uk, so goud un luut as dät ieuwen mäd sien littje Muule geen.
Gerd also so good and loud as that but with his little mouth went
Gerd (sang) also, as well and loud as he could with his small mouth.

Here the high degree is made out to be equal to the maximum given the constraint of Gerd’s physical restrictions. The equative can shade off further into a pure high degree construction in case the high degree limit is purely metaphorical, as in the following examples:

So dum as dät Bätereende fon n oolde Ku.
so stupid as the hind.end of an old cow
As stupid as the hind part of an old cow.

In this example, the degree limit is not literally related to the hind end of an old cow. Basically, the comparison in the as ‘as’ phrase is a rethorical device. Whatever is filled in, will be interpreted as a high degree reading of the AP preceding the comparison. This is clear from the fact that even the word wät ‘what’ itself can be used as a filler in the comparison:

Hie is so dum, as man wät.
he is so stupid as but what
He is extremely stupid.

This makes it clear that the high degree reading is due to the construction, and that the phrase following as ‘as’ (put in bold) is voided of its lexical content. It is not clear whether man ‘but’ is obligatorily in such examples. This explains the large amount of nonsensical variation in the phrase vacuously expressing a high degree. Similar remarks apply to the example below:

In do Jieren drap skällen do Pere in Pestoors Tuun so seeker weesen häbbe as dät Amen in de Säärke.
in the years it.on will the pears in Pastor’s garden as certain been have as the amen in the church
In the following years, the pears in the pastor’s garden must have been as certain as the amen in the church.

In this example, the comparison only makes sense in so far as the two things compared share a high degree of probability. The degree word so ‘so’ can also be used more abstractly without a following AP, but receiving further specification from a clause. An example is given below:

Dät koom so, as dät kuume moaste.
that came so as it come must
It turned out to be as it had to be.

The interpretation is adverbial. An empty AP could be posited following the function word, from a generative perspective. Different function words can be combined in a coordination, as below, where the two members of the coordination have been bracketed:

Wan jo man bloot [nit al tou wäit] un [so leet] ankuume, so as dät wäil gans oafter is.
when they but only not all too wet and so late arrive so as that indeed much oftener is
If only they don’t arrive too wet and so late as happens much more often.

Here the excessive degree and the equative high degree are both specified by the same degree limit, which is set by the clause ‘as happens much more often’.

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