Reinterpretation of affixoids

In some compounds with an affixoid constituent this affixoid is reanalyzed as an adjective, as illustrated here for German and Dutch. This is a case of back formation: the first word is given the status of adjective by reinterpreting NN compounds as AN compounds. This type of reanalysis is also referred to as debonding (Norde 2009). This reinterpretation is possible because the initial nouns function semantically as intensifiers. The relevant constructional idioms are illustrated in (12), with the Dutch nouns kut ‘cunt’, reuze ‘giant’, and top ‘top’, and the German nouns Hammer ‘hammer’ (in informal and substandard German), Klasse ‘class’, and Spitze ‘top’; the reinterpretation as adjectives is given in (13):

(12) Dutch

a. kut-ding ‘bad thing’ kut-gevoel ‘bad feeling' kut-smoes ‘bad excuse'

b. reuze-dorst ‘enormous thirst’ reuze-vader ‘great father’ reuze-vriendelijk ‘very kind' c. top-conditie ‘top-condition’ top-prestatie ‘top-achievement’ top-productie ‘top-production’


d. das Hammer-gefuhl ‘the great feeling’ das Hammer-teil ‘the great thing’

die Hammer-vorstellung ‘the great performance’

e. das Klasse-fahrrad ‘the marvelous bike’

die Klasse-vorstellung ‘the marvelous performance’ das Klasse-weib ‘the marvelous woman’

f. das Spitzen-erzeugnis ‘the top product’ die Spitzen-leistung ‘the top performance’ die Spitzen-vorstellung ‘the top performance’

(13) Dutch: reuze ‘great’ kut ‘bad’

top ‘excellent’

German: hammer ‘great’ klasse ‘excellent, marvelous’ spitze ‘excellent, top’

In the case of Dutch, the linking element -e in reuze (the lexical morpheme is reus ‘giant’), is preserved in the adjectival use of these words, which confirms the source of these adjectives, reinterpretation of a noun compound constituent with a bound meaning. However, this does not apply to German where the form spitze, the form of the word in isolation, rather than spitzen is used. Note that the adjectival reinterpretation is reflected by the spelling of the German examples, as only nouns are spelled with initial capital letters.

The resulting adjectives are mainly used in predicate position (or as adverbs); this may have to with the origin of these adjectives from nouns:

(14) Dutch

a. Dat vind ik erg reuze van jullie

That find I very giant of you

‘I appreciate your doing very much’ b. Die videokaart is niet erg top

That videocard is not very top

‘That is not a very good videocard’

c. Dit vind ik erg kut

That find I very cunt

‘I find that very bad’


d. Ich finde den Film total klasse.

I find the film totally class.

‘I find that film very good.’

e. Das Konzert war ja hammer.

The concert was yes hammer.

‘The concert was fantastic.’

f. Sein Auftritt war total spitze.

His performance was totally top.

‘His performance was fantastic.’

Use as attributive adjectives is possible in informal varieties of Dutch. For instance, the word kut, originally a noun, may occur in attributive position when used as an adjective of depreciation, with the inflection typical for pronominal adjectives, and also with a superlative form (Google search, 06.03.2012). However, in German, words like klasse and spitze cannot be inflected as regular adjectives, which results in minimal pairs like (15h-i):

(15) Dutch

a. een kutt-e werk-houding a cunt-INFL work-attitude ‘a bad attitude towards work’

b. kutt-e tekenfilms cunt-INFL cartoons ‘worthless cartoons’

c. Frans is een kut-vak, maar wiskunde blijft het kut-st

French is a cunt-subject but math stays the cunt-est

‘French is a nasty subject but math stays the nastiest’

d. een heel topp-e dame a very top-INFL lady ‘an excellent lady’ e. erg topp-e film very top-iNFL movie ‘very good movie’


f. eine klasse Frau (compare eine bos-e Frau ‘an angry woman’) a class woman

‘an excellent woman’

g. ein klasse Hund (compare ein bos-er Hund ‘an angry dog’) a class dog

‘an excellent dog’

h. ein spitz-er Bleistift a sharp-INFL pencil ‘a sharp pencil’

i. ein spitze Bleistift ‘an excellent pencil’

Reinterpretation of noun affixoids as adjectives is thus an indication that language users master the relevant productive constructional idioms.

Other examples of this type of reinterpretation are the Dutch nouns doorsnee ‘lit. sectional plane, average’, luxe ‘lit. luxury, luxurious’ and standaard ‘lit. standard, common’. These three nouns all function as adjectives as well, as can be concluded from the fact that they can be modified by an adverb such as erg ‘very’, and are used as a predicate:

(16) Dat klinkt erg doorsnee ‘That sounds very average’

Een erg luxe oplossing ‘A very luxurious solution’

Ik vind hem erg standaard ‘I find him very common’

These three nouns are also used productively as the first part of NN compounds, with the meanings indicated above, and it is this productive use of a bound meaning that gave rise to their being used as adjectives. Note that the same meaning development took place in English for standard, and it may well be that the intensive contact between English and Dutch plays a role in boosting this parallel use of English standard and Dutch standaard.

Thus, this reinterpretation shows that language users grasp the compound subpatterns with these productive meanings that started as bound meanings for compound constituents.

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