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-sel
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The Germanic suffix -sel derives neuter nouns. The derivations represent the Theme role, i.e. the direct object of transitive verbs ( betinketo invent > betinkselinvention) or the subject of an ergative verb (bloeieto bloom > bloeiselblossom). Usually, they denote the product or result of the action performed by the verb. This meaning aspect has such an impact that it is not necessarily so that the derived noun is an argument of the verb. An example is neukselsperm (from the verb neuketo fuck). There are also some instrument names, like droechseldesiccant from droegjeto dry.

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[+] General properties

Where derivations with the suffix -er refer to the agent of a verb, it is rather the verb's patient or theme that is referred to by -sel. The suffix also exists in Dutch, German and the Scandinavian languages. Derivations are object names, with the exception of skepselcreature, which can denote a person. All derived words have neuter gender, although stiselstarch and spruselbit, scrap shifted to the common nouns; for more background, see gender change by opacity of a suffix.

[+] Base forms

Most words ending in -sel are derived from transitive verbs. They denote the result of the action as described by the verb:


Table 1
Base form Derivation
skeppeto create skepselcreature
betinketo invent betinkselinvention
ôftrekketo extract ôftrekselextract
oerprintsjeto reprint oerprintselreprint
bakketo bake bakselbaking
mingeto mix mingselmix
skriuweto write skriuwselscribblings
slypjeto grind slypselgrindings
úttrekketo (make an) excerpt (from) úttrekselsummary, excerpt

These derivations can both refer to a concrete (cf. bakselbaking) or an abstract entity (cf. betinkselinvention).

Some intransitive verbs may also be the origin of derivations with -sel, and hence it seems as if -sel may also derive subject names:


Table 2
Base Derivation
besakjeto settle down besakselsediment, dregs
bloeieto bloom bloeiselblossom
ferskineto appear ferskynselphenomenon
ynslûpeto sneak in ynslûpselinterference
oerbliuweto be left oerbliuwselrelic, remnant
útspuieto vomit útspuiselvomit

To be more precise, these intransitive base verbs can be characterized as ergative. This results in a common feature with the transitive verbs above, i.e. that the derivation with -sel refers to a Theme role.

The nouns derived from ergative verbs can be quite abstract, and then the relation with the verb may be relatively far-fetched. Examples are ferskynsel or oerbliuwsel above.

[+] Semantic properties

The semantic contribution of the suffix can be characterized as 'product or result of the action denoted by the verb'. For example, bakselbaking is the result of the action of the transitive verb bakketo bake. In a way, this can be transferred to ergative verbs. The result of a verb like bloeieto bloom is bloeiselblossom. The focus on result has the effect that we also find derivations which do not directly reflect the direct object of the verb, but are rather a result or product in a somewhat wider sense. For example, neukselsperm can be a result of the action denoted by the verb neuketo fuck, but the concept of 'sperm' cannot act as the direct object of this verb. Other derivations in the same vein are slypselgrind(ings) (from slypjeto grind), mingselmix (from mingeto mix) or skraabselscrapings (from skraabjeto scrape).

In addition, some derivations with -sel fulfill the role of instrument. Here are some examples:


Table 3
Base form Derivation
swartsjeto blacken swartselcarbon black
smarreto spread smarselointment
fersiereto decorate fersierseldecoration
útwineto excuse útwynselexcuse

For example, one cannot execute the action of the verb smarreto spread with a smarselointment as a result. Rather, one needs the result of the derivation smarsel (the object, material) to execute the action of the verb: one needs ointment in order to spread, one needs carbon black in order to blacken, etcetera.

Quite some derivations can have a pejorative character, as is illustrated in the following examples:

Example 1

Ik ha gjin goed wurd oer foar dy skriuwsels fan him
I have no good word left for those scribblings of him
I have nothing good to say about his scribblings
Example 2

Dy nije cd is gewoan in slop ôftreksel fan 'e foarige
that new CD is just a lame infusion of the previous
That new CD is just a pale shadow of the previous one

In this pejorative use the suffix is particularly productive.

[+] Phonological properties

The suffix -sel bears no stress, since it is pronounced with a schwa: [səl]. A phonological restriction is the condition that the stem of the base verb may not end in [s] or [z]. For example, from sketseto sketch one cannot derive *sketsselsketch and a verb like lêzeto read can not be the basis foar *lêssel. The restriction does not apply to gearmjukselhotchpotch, coming from the verb gearmjuksjeto mix. As a second restriction, the base verb may not end in a syllable with a schwa, for instance *teken-sel < teken-jeto draw or *timmersel from the verb timmerjeto hammer.

[+] Morphological potentials

Suffixation with -sel may result both in mass nouns and count nouns. The latter can regularly be pluralized with the suffix -s, for example betinkselinvention > betinkselsinventions. Many count nouns also have a diminutive form (cf. -DIM). Examples are skepselcreature > skepseltsjesmall creature or smarselointment > smarseltsjeointment.

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x Literature

This topic is primarily based on Hoekstra (1998:102-103). See also Tamminga (1987), in particular for pejorative connotations.

References:
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Tamminga, Douwe Annes1987It bysûndere efterheaksel '-sel'De Pompeblêden58104
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