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As shown in De Clerck and Colleman (2013), massa’s features in both lexical and quantifying uses as the result of ongoing grammaticalization processes. In the latter uses, the fully lexical meaning of the noun massa ‘mass’, i.e. ‘a body or quantity of matter, usually considerable in size or volume, but without a determinate or specified shape’ is semantically bleached and lends itself easily for quantitative interpretations in binominal constructions, in which N1 expresses a large quantity of N2. Lexical uses are shown in (5) and (6) and illustrate that

the body of matter itself can either be a coherent body or lump of (pliable or malleable) raw material (e.g. jelly), not yet moulded into a definite shape; or it can consist of a dense aggregation of objects (and even human beings) having the appearance of a single, continuous body. The singular concord in (5) also illustrates the head status of massa in the noun phrase. The quantifying uses illustrated in (7) to (12) show that there seem to be very few restrictions on the noun filling the N2 slot, which may be countable, uncountable, concrete, abstract and human. This may partially be caused by the original meaning of massa, whose semantically vague nature - unlike stelletje (a pair of matching items), zooitje (a stew), pile or bunch, it neither expresses a specific quantity nor a specific shape - may have facilitated processes of delexicalization.

(5) Jam is een geleiachtige massa van met suiker gekookte vruchten.

‘Jam is a jelly-like mass of fruit boiled with sugar.’ []

(6) Veelal moeten clematissen worden gesnoeid omdat ze anders nogal vlug een wilde massa hout vormen.

‘In many cases, clematises need pruning because they have a tendency to turn into a wild mass of wood.’


(7) Een massa mensen was getuige van de show, maar niemand viel iets buitengewoons op.

‘A mass of people witnessed the show, but no one noticed anything out of the ordinary.’


(8) Allez, ze krijgt er toch massas stress van.

‘Well, it does give her loads/?masses of stress.’[1] []

(9) De periode 1874-1914 kende massa’s aanslagen (ook in Belgid)

‘The 1874-1914 period witnessed loads of attacks (also in Belgium)’ []

(10) Wat een dilemma, ik ga al massa’s activiteiten hebben volgend schooljaar en eu hopelijk een thesis enzo.

‘What a dilemma, I’ll already have masses of activities next academic year and uhm hopefully a Master thesis and such.’


(11) [...] en heb ik wraak genomen door het laatste uur massa’s drank weg te geven en mensen gelukkig te maken.

‘[...] and I took revenge by giving loads of free booze during the last hour and making people happy.’


(12) Ik hoop dat er door de crisis massa’s scholieren en studenten keihard buizen, zodat ik deze zomer dik betaald bijles kan gaan geven.

‘I hope the crisis will cause masses of students to fail miserably so I can earns loads by teaching extra lessons.’


However, uses of massa and massa’s are not restricted to pure quantification within the binominal size noun construction. Closer analysis of the data reveals other contexts of use, outside the size noun construction, in which massa and massa’s function as degree modifiers. When used as degree modifiers, their meaning is still associated with and can still be paraphrased as ‘much’ or ‘a lot’ but now pertains to the degree to which a quality described is present (in combination with comparative adjectives and adverbs as in 13 and 14), or to the frequency of an action in combination with verbs, as in 15 and 16).

(13) Uhu, het kapsel is ook massas beter nu ze!

‘Uhu, the haircut is loads better now, believe me!’


(14) Toen ik extra uitleg vroeg, kreeg ik enkel als antwoord dat iedereen massa’s meer moest betalen.

‘When I asked for further explanation, the only answer I got was that everyone had to pay loads more.’


(15) Heb ik in de grote vakantie nog massas naar gekeken toen ik thuis bij mijn vader in Aruba was (Amerikaanse zenders en al).

‘I watched it loads during summer holidays while staying with my father on Aruba (American channels and all)’.


(16) We knuffelen toch al massa’s.’

‘We do hug loads, don’t you think?’


In addition to these degree modifying uses which are still quantificational, in a sense, a fair number of unambiguously intensifying uses can be attested where very or really rather than much - or in Dutch erg rather than veel - is the best paraphrase. Such uses have been attested with verbs, adjectives and adverbs, even in non-comparative form, as illustrated in (17)-(20) below. Note that in examples (19) and (20), focus is on the intensity of the event expressed by the verb, not the frequency of it (as in examples 15 and 16). Also, it should be noted that such unambiguously intensifying uses are limited to the plural form massa’s: building on Brems’s (2007a) account of English loads etc., De Clerck and Colleman (2013: 158) attribute this to the fact that the plural number adds to massa’s hyperbolic value.

(17) hihi een vriendin van mij werkt daar ook, zo interviews regelen en zo, en die heeft et massas druk, maar ze doet het indd ook graag . . .

‘Hihi a friend of mine also works there, setting up interviews and such,

and she is really busy, but, indeed, she likes doing it____’


(18) Die dudes die gewonnen hebben waren massa’s cool.

‘Those dudes that won were really cool.’


(19) Donderdagen en vrijdag suckn massas tzal we kerl.

‘Thursdays and Fridays totally suck, you bet.’


(20) Nog volk da massa’s gaat buizen?

‘More people that are going to fail big time?’


While some other Dutch size nouns also allow for degree modifying uses with comparative adjectives or adverbs, as in bakken/hopen/tonnen/stukken + meer/beter/mooier (‘loads/heaps/tons/lots’ + ‘more/better/nicer’), uses in which these size nouns are combined with non-comparative adjectives etc. are much rarer if not absent. In English, too, uses with loads, bunch, a lot and heaps have been reported on with comparative adjectives (cf. Quirk et al. 1985; Traugott 2005; Brems 2007a; Langacker 2010), though not with masses. Table 1 below gives an overview of the degree modifying and intensifying uses (as opposed to purely quantificational uses in the N1N2 size noun construction) in the different formal contexts as attested in the Ghent University student weblogs and discussion boards at (see De Clerck and Colleman 2013 for more information on data retrieval).

Table 1: Quantifying and intensifying uses of massa’s in Ghent University student weblog data



Lexical uses



Ambiguous lexical/quantifying uses



Quantifying uses



Ambiguous quantifying/intensifying[2]



Intensifying uses



Modifying a verb



Modifying an adjective



Modifying an adverb (incl. veel ‘much')









The table shows that degree modifying uses are by no means a marginal phenomenon in these data (unlike the fairly rare uses attested for English size nouns, or for any of the other size nouns in Dutch for that matter). With 66 out of 160 instances, intensifying uses account for no less than 41% of the massa’s instances culled from the Student weblogs, which testifies to the frequent and productive use of such instances in the represented language variety. In addition, uses such as (21) below where massa’s modifies weinig ‘few’ - which, obviously, does not tally well with the original lexical semantics of massa’s - underscore the substantial semantic bleaching and advanced grammaticaliza- tion as a degree modifier.

(21) Verbruikt massa’s weinig, heeft overschot van power en is ook nog eens exclusief!

‘Consumes very little, has loads of power and is exclusive on top of that.’ [;wap2]

However, while these uses are entrenched in the idiolects of the language users in our data, they are generationally and regionally restricted. While more sociolinguistic research will need to throw more light on amplitude and possible expansion, our data suggest that such uses are typical of the language of the western part of Dutch-speaking Belgium, i.e. the province of West Flanders and large parts of the neighbouring province of East Flanders. They are mainly used by young speakers in informal language, but instances have been reported of a knock-on effect on parents’ language as well (see De Clerck and Colleman 2013). This actual spread outside the peer group may trigger its actual demise as routinization and frequency affect both the hyperbolic nature of new degree modifying expressions as well as their exclusive nature as markers of group identity. In passing, no such uses were attested in Netherlandic Dutch data at all, so it seems to be a strictly Belgian Dutch phenomenon.

  • [1] The literal translation in English does not sound very idiomatic which may point to the factthat collocational broadening of English masses is more limited than Dutch massa’s. Englishmultimillion word corpora (such as the BNC and COCA) present only few examples of quantifieruses with the non-countable abstract nouns fear, hope, pain, grief, misery, etc., instances ofwhich did occur in the considerably smaller sets of Dutch data we have analyzed. In otherwords, quantifier uses of some N1 N2 combinations in Dutch may have reached a higher degreeof standardization than their English equivalents.
  • [2] These are constructions such as examples (13) to (16).
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