The adnominal genitive

This section deals with structural aspects of the adnominal genitive fragment, which is introduced in 3.1. An explanation for the preservation of the fragment is proposed in 3.2, and a theoretical account of the construction in modern Dutch is suggested in 3.3.

The xdery fragment

In modern Dutch the default construction for connecting two noun phrases in a broadly possessive or partitive relationship is a periphrastic construction involving a prepositional phrase, namely the van-construction (6).

(6) de pioniersdagen van de nederlandse televisie

the pioneer-days of the Dutch television

‘the early days of Dutch television’ (Eindhoven, daily newspapers, 109)

As was noted in section 2, given the lack of morphological case marking, only the structure NP PP is possible;[1] the structure NP NP, in which one of the noun phrases is genitive-marked, is no longer possible (Weerman 1997: 437). Nevertheless, as exemplified in (1) and (8), modern Dutch retains an NP NP construction in which the second noun phrase is genitive-marked, which performs the same role as the default van-construction, namely connecting the two noun phrases in a possessive or partitive relationship. The present-day use of the adnominal genitive construction, along with that of other surviving genitive remnants, is portrayed in detail in Scott (2011). The most important points are reprised in this section as a basis to the analysis that follows in the rest of the chapter.

In the x der y construction, the noun phrase y is the complement of - and, often, denotes the possessor of - the noun phrase x. The matter of whether der should be considered a fixed element which simply binds x and y, or whether it is more closely linked to y, is considered later in this section. The element der was originally the genitive case definite article for singular feminine nouns and plural nouns of all genders. Following the complete loss of morphological case marking from Dutch - that is, from speech and, centuries later, writing - the element der is now exclusive to the adnominal genitive construction and to fixed phrases and names formed when the genitive was still part of an active case system (even if only in the written language). Two examples of the latter are given in (7). In short, as far as the production of novel phrases is concerned, der is not used outside the x der y construction.

(7) a. phrase:

in de loop der jaren

in the course the.GEN years ‘over the years’

b. name:

Nationale Maatschappij der Belgische Spoorwegen

national company the.GEN Belgian railways

‘Belgian National Railway Company’

It is contended here (as in Scott 2011, 2012a) that, despite its limited use compared to the van-construction, the adnominal genitive construction is productive. It fits the definitions of regularity or regular performance in the sense given by Barddal (2008: 30) and noted in 1.1 above. The use of x der y to produce novel phrases is the focus of this paper; lexicalised phrases such as those in (7) are not considered further (and are not included in the calculations made on the basis of the corpus data), although their likely role in maintaining the preservation of the familiarity of the x der y structure is acknowledged.

A study of the use of the x der y fragment in modern Dutch using data from the modern corpora listed in Table 1 identified two trends in the nature of the nouns that occur in position y: most nouns occurring in y are plural (Table 2) and, among the singular nouns, most are derivatives (Table 3) (Scott 2011); an example of the former is given in (8a) and an example of the latter is given in (8b). Each singular derived noun that occurs in y ends in a suffix that was formerly associated with feminine gender.

(8) a. de leider der Democraten

the leader the.GEN democrats

‘the leader of the democrats’ (INL 27 Mil., April 1994)

b. de bronnen der weldadigheid the sources the.GEN charity

‘the sources of charity’ (Eindhoven, popular science, 36149)

Table 2: The relative occurrence of singular and plural nouns in all attestations of xder у in the corpora (in tokens and as a proportion of the total) (adapted from Scott 2011:113)

Singular noun

Plural noun





Table 3: The relative occurrence of simplex and derived nouns among the x der у examples in which у is singular (in tokens and as a proportion of the total) (adapted from Scott 2011: 114)

Simplex noun

Derived noun





The dominance of plural nouns in y is not an epiphenomenon of a dominance of plural nouns in the language as a whole: the Eindhoven corpus, in which nouns are tagged as singular or plural, contains 93,620 singular nouns (74.1%) and 32,688 plural nouns (25.9%) (Scott 2012a: 90). Morphologically simplex nouns - i.e. those lacking a (synchronically) transparent morphological structure, whether inflectional or derivational - are rare in the data studied, accounting for just 170 (8.3%) of the 2058 tokens of x der y. It is assumed that this does not reflect a general rarity of simplex nouns in the language as a whole.

The noun heading y appears most frequently unmodified, as in (1), (7a) and

  • (8) . The noun may, however, be modified by one or more adjectives (7b, 9a), or an even more complex phrase (9b,c). The option to increase the complexity of y is accounted for in the formalisation in 3.3.3.
  • (9) a. de arm der wrekende gerechtigheid

the arm the.GEN avenging justice

‘the arm of avenging justice’ (INL 27 Mil., April 1995)

b. die der inmiddels sterk geromaniseerde kelten

those the.GEN meanwhile strongly romanised Celts

‘those of the meanwhile strongly Romanised Celts’ (Eindhoven, popular science, 35100) c. de huidige omstandigheden der tijdens de Tweede the current circumstances the.GEN during the second Wereldoorlog door de Japanse (militaire) autoriteiten world-war through the Japanese (military) authorities tot prostitutie gedwongen vrouwen to prostitution forced women ‘the current circumstances of the women who were forced to prostitution by the Japanese (military) authorities during the Second World War’ (INL 27 Mil., Sept. 1994)

  • [1] An exception to this, pointed out by one of the reviewers, is the partitive construction, e.g.een glas wijn ‘a glass wine, i.e. a glass of wine’, which does have the structure NP NP, i.e. [eenglas] [wijn]. In earlier periods of Dutch, the right-hand noun phrase was genitive-marked, e.g.een glas wyns ‘a glass wine.GEN, i.e. a glass of wine’ and den laesten droppel bloets ‘the lastdrop blood.GEN, i.e. the last drop of blood’ (both examples: EMDC, 16th-17th century).
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