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oer-
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Oer- is a category-neutral Germanic prefix. It attaches to nouns producing nouns like oertaaloriginal language and to adjectives producing adjectives like oervervelendutterly boring. The general meaning when used with nouns is original, primitive, with adjectives it means a high degree of.

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Two meanings can be distinguished for oer-/ur/ ((De Haas and Trommelen 1993), (Haeseryn et al. 1997)): the meaning is original, primitive in nouns like oermensprimitive man, protohuman, oertoestandoriginal situation and oerinstinctbasic instinct, whereas the prefix denotes a high degree in adjectives like oervervelendutterly boring and oerstomextremely stupid. In all cases, the semantics is compositional and monotonous: derivations with oer- denote a subset of the reference of the base word.

  1. Nominal oer- attaches productively to Germanic and incidentally to foreign nouns (oersymbooloriginal symbol, oermytheprotomyth).
  2. Adjectival oer- attaches productively to Germanic adjectives and incidentally to foreign bases (oerkomischextremely comical, oertraditioneelutterly traditional). The connotation is neutral: the affix can be combined with positive (oergezelligextremely cosy) and negative (oerstomutterly stupid) bases.

Prefixes like oer- are independent phonological words: in nouns with oer-, the stress is on the prefix, whereas in adjectives, stress is not fixed, but the prefix carries at least a secondary accent. Syllabification respects the morphological boundary: oer.oud.

Morphological potential: adjectives with oer- have no comparative or superlative; nominalization by means of the suffix -heid is perhaps possible (the internet has a.o. oerdomheid[[oer(Aff)dom(A)](A)heid(Aff)](N)the property of being extremely stupid). Nouns with with oer- can have a plural and a diminutive, and can be basis for compounds like oertijdjungle[[[oer](Aff)[tijd](N)](N)[jungle](N)](N)the jungle of prehistory. Forms like oerconservatiefextreme(ly) conservative and oergermaansproto-germanic are hard to characterize as they can be both noun and adjective, while the corresponding adjective or noun might be derived by the other type of oer- prefixation or by conversion from the noun or adjective.

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The first oer- formations entered the language at the end of the 19th Century as direct loans from German (Etymologiebank). In the Dutch Spoken Corpus (CGN) we found the nouns (spelling not corrected): oer-aubergineoriginal egg plant, oer-Kerstmisoriginal Christmas, oeraccordeon, oerangstoriginal fear, oerbosoriginal forestjungle, oerbroodoriginal bread, oercelproto-cell, oerelandprehistoric elk, oergeluidprimitive sound, oergeurprimitive odour, oergodprimitive god, oergraanFarmer's bread, oerklankprimitive sound, oerknalprimitive bangBig Bang, oerkrachtprimal force, oerkreetarchetypical cry, oerkuifjeoriginal Tintin, oerlabyrintprimitive labyrinth, oermensprimitve man, proto-human, oermytheproto-myth, oerplaatsoriginal location, oerpraatproto-language, oerritmeprimal rhythm, oerrundprehistoric cow, Aurochs, oerslakprehistoric snail, oerstaatprimitive state, oersymbooloriginal symbol, oertaalproto-language, oertijdprehistory, oertijdjungleprehistory's jungle, oertomaatjeprimitive tomato, oervaderproto-father, oerverhaalproto-story, oerversiefirst version, oerwaarheidprimordial truth, oerwoudjungle, oerzeeproto-sea, and the adjectives oer-Hollandsvery Dutch, oer-Nederlandstypically Dutch, oerconservatiefextremely conservative, oerdegelijkextremely solid, oergeestigextremely funny, oerhollandsvery Dutch, oerkomischextremely funny, oerlelijkextremely ugly, oeroudextremely old, oersaaidead boring, oerstomextremely stupid, oertraditioneelvery traditional, oervervelendextremely boring, oervlaamsproto-Flemish, that is, more nouns than adjectives. It appears that oerwoudjungle is fully lexicalized and is no longer recognized as a derivation.

With adjectives, the prefix oer- competes with prefixes like aarts-, hyper-, super- and ultra- that have comparable meanings, as well as with other ways of amplification: adverbial (buitengewoon vervelendextremely boring), constructional (zo geestig mogelijkas funny as possible), etc.

Occasionally, we find debonding: the prefix develops a new usage as an independent adjective, as in dit is heel erg oerthis is very very oerthis is very authentic.

References:
  • Haas, Wim de & Trommelen, Mieke1993Morfologisch handboek van het Nederlands. Een overzicht van de woordvormingSDU Uitgeverij
  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
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