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-ste (superlative)

A few Frisian prepositions may be extended by the superlative suffix, i.e. -ste. In this way, these prepositions turn into an adjective, which has the syntactic restriction that it may only be used attributively. Semantically, such formations may only occur with specific reference. A further property is that they are typically used in oppositions. Examples are boppeste toskenupper teeth versus ûnderste toskenlower teeth, or it foarste tsjilthe front wheel versus it efterste tsjilthe back wheel.

[+] General properties

A few prepositions (adpositions) can be turned into an adjective by way of the superlative suffix. These are:

Table 1
Base form Derivation
boppeabove boppesteupper
ûnderunder ûndersteunder
foarbefore foarsteforemost
efterafter efterstelast
binneninside binnensteinner
bûtenoutside bûtensteouter

Actually, it is rather strange for the comparative suffix to be added to a preposition, since the comparative is usually restricted to adjectives or adverbs. In fact, it can be thought that it is rather the adverbial use of these adpositions that is suffixed here. The adpositions involved all denote a spatial position, more specifically in an opposition to one of the other derivations in this field. In addition, there is the formation middelstemiddlemost, which must have been derived from the particle middel-, which only occurs as the first element of compounds, and is related to middenmiddle.

The adjectives formed in this way are mainly restricted to attributive use:

Example 1

a. De boppeste tonne
the above-SUPL buoy
The most windward buoy
b. *Dy tonne waard boppeste
that buoy became above-SUPL
That buoy became the most windward one
Example 2

a. It foarste tsjil
the for-SUPL wheel
The front wheel
b. *Dit tsjil is foarste
this wheel is for-SUPL
This is the front wheel

An exception is the idiomatical use in sailing races, as in

Example 3

Ulbe Zwaga is/leit no boppest(e)
Ulbe Zwaga is/lays now above-SUPL
Ulbe Zaga is now in the most windward position
[+] Syntactic and semantic restrictions

In practice, these formations usually entail an opposition: 'before' versus 'after', 'above' versus 'under', 'inner' versus 'outer'. The form middelstemiddle can be seen as expressing an intermediate position between these extremes. It is striking that exclusive concepts are involved, for instance wheels of a bicycle (either front or back, in it foarste / efterste tsjilthe front wheel / the back wheel), lips (upper or under, in de boppeste / ûnderste toskenthe upper teeth / the under teeth) or tracks (inner or outer, in de binnenste / bûtenste baanthe inner track / the outer track). There are no positions in between on the scale. That may also be the reason that the comparative form is not appropriate here, i.e. *de boppe-r-e laachthe above-COMP-INFL layerthe layer more situated to the top.

[hide extra information]
x Comparison with Dutch and German

Dutch also has these superlative forms, but then only in real superlative applications, and not for situations with an opposition. Thus Dutch de bovenste verdiepingthe above-SUPL floorthe upper floor can be used for a building which is ten floors high, a use which is also possible in Frisian. If, however, there are only two floors, Dutch will use a compound, i.e. de boven-verdiepingthe above-floorthe upper / top floor. In Frisian, the superlative will likewise be invoked in such a case: de boppeste ferdjipping.

Note that German uses the comparative form instead of the superlative, for example in die obere / mittlere / untere Schichtthe upper / middle / lower level.

There is a semantic property that restricts these formations further: they can only have a specific reference, and cannot refer to a kind. Compare the following sentences:

Example 4

a. Der sit in slach yn it efterste tsjil
there sits a turn in the after-SUPL wheel
The back wheel of my bike is buckled
b. *Yn it fytsfabryk moatte no earst nije efterste tsjillen assemblearre wurde
in the bicycle-factory must now first new after-SUPL wheels assembled be
Firstly, new back wheels should be assembled in the bicycle factory

To refer to a specific kind of wheels, Frisian takes recourse to a compound, in this case eftertsjillenafter-wheel-PLback wheels. It should be noted, however, that this use of superlative forms of prepositions with a specific reference is diminishing nowadays, under the influence of Dutch.

[hide extra information]
x Literature

For a general description, see Hoekstra (1986). Special attention to the specific reference of these formations is paid in Hoekstra (1998:47-48) and in Hoekstra (2002:247-248).

  • Hoekstra, Jarich1986In boppeste tosk troch de ûnderste lippeFriesch Dagblad1-11Taalsnipels 7
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Hoekstra, Jarich2002Genitive Compounds in Frisian as Lexical PhrasesThe Journal of Comparative Germanic Linguistics6227-259
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