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Classification of nouns: proper nouns

Proper nouns typically have little or no descriptive content, as it refers to an entity by its unique name. Proper nouns also usually cannot be modified or take complements. Ponelis (1979:43) divides proper nouns into two broad categories: place names, such as (1a), and proper names, such as (1b).

a. Kaapstad
Cape Town
b. Maureen

Proper nouns are distinguished from common nouns according to the principle that proper nouns by definition uniquely identify their referent, where this is not the case with common nouns. Proper nouns can refer to any number of different types of entities. One large category, distinguished specifically by Ponelis (1979:43), is place names or geographical names. Examples of different types of places' names are given in (2).

a. Johannesburg
b. Petrusville
c. Seringstraat
Syringa Street
d. KwaZulu-Natal
e. Suid-Afrika
South Africa

Place names are often the same irrespective of the language used otherwise. This is not always the case, however. For instance, (2a) and (2b) would remain the same in Afrikaans and in English. As for street names, typically the part signifying straat street (in 2c) or others such as 'drive' or 'avenue' would be in a particular language; depending on the name, however, the rest can also be translated into different languages. Names of provinces (2d) and countries (2e) are also sometimes translated into different languages.

Personal names, or the names of people, are usually not translated (3a), except for certain historical figures such as Willem van Oranje William of Orange. Personal names are sometimes used with titles or forms of address, and these would be specifically Afrikaans as well (3b-3c). A person's first name, surname, or both can be used with a title or form of address. Usually personal manes are not modified, although they can be to express endearment (3d-3e) or frustration (3f). See Proper names for more on the use of proper names with articles.

a. Anike Kotzé
b. Meneer Thabo
Mister Thabo
c. Professor Drieka du Preez
d. die ou Koos
that old Koos
e. dié Gordon darem
oh that Gordon
f. daardie vervlakste Angela
that damn Angela

Any type of object, entity, organisation, etc. can have a proper name. Examples of the names of a variety of entities are provided in (4).

a. Taalkunde
b. Kontemporêre Afrikaanse Taalkunde
Contemporary Afrikaans Linguistics
c. Praat
d. Afrikaanse Taalraad
Afrikaans Language Board
e. Van Schaik Uitgewers
Van Schaik Publishers
f. Vyf Rose Tee
Five Roses Tea
g. Wegkruipertjie
h. Hokkie
i. Vrydag
j. November
k. 1994

The boundary between proper nouns and common nouns can sometimes be fuzzy, depending on how it is used. Sometimes common nouns are used as proper nouns: (5a) is the title of a famous Afrikaans poem, and (5b) is the common noun for an object (teddy bear) being used as its proper noun. Other times, proper nouns are used as common nouns. For instance, the brand name Barbie is often used to refer to any doll that resembles the original Barbie dolls, irrespective of its brand name. Similarly, the brand name Lip Ice is often used to refer to any lip balm.

a. Vroegherfs
b. Teddiebeer
c. Barbie
d. Lip Ice
  • Ponelis, Frits A1979Afrikaanse sintaksisPretoriaJ.L. van Schaik
  • Ponelis, Frits A1979Afrikaanse sintaksisPretoriaJ.L. van Schaik
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