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aller-
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aller-/'ɑlər/ is a native non-cohering prefix that combines exclusively with adjectives in the superlative form: de allergrootste boomthe aller.great.est treethe tallest tree of all. With certain adjectives, it also allows for absolute use: dat boek is werkelijk alleraardigstthat book is really aller.nice.estthat book is really really nice.

Schema:
aller-[A-SUP]

Meaning:
  • the A-est of all, very A

Most Dutch prefixes and suffixes cannot be attached more than once; aller- does allow for iteration (just like a few other intensifying prefixes): Albert Heijn is het aller-aller-allerduurstAH is the most expensive.

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[+] Morphosyntactic properties

The prefix aller/'ɑ-lər/ combines with superlative forms of adjectives, both native (allergrootstgreatest) and non-native (allercharmantstmost charming), not only with simplex bases as in the examples just given, but also with complex ones (allergecompliceerdstmost complicated, alleraardigstnicest), and with suppletion forms (allerbest).

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aller- also combines with the ordinal number eerstfirst that has a superlative form and certain superlative properties (Barbiers 2007). Bases that have a superlative meaning but no superlative form (optimaalbest, favorietfavorite, most beloved) cannot combine with aller- (*alleroptimaal, *allerfavoriet).

aller- is an old female genitive form of the universal quantifier alall. De Haas and Trommelen (1993:436) and WNT analyse formations with aller- as compounds, but the element no longer occurs as an independent word, apart from a few fossilized expressions.

aller-, the German counterpart of Dutch aller-, is described as an excessive in Kiefer (1998: 277): "The excessive expresses the absolutely highest possible degree of a property, and it is compared only with items which have this property to a high degree; it is used for emphasis and for impressing the hearer".

De Haas and Trommelen (1993:436) suggests that the adjective opperbestupper.bestvery good is of the same type, but that cannot be the whole story, as opper- is not found with other superlatives, whereas it does occur with positive adjectives (oppermachtigupper.mightysupreme) as well as with nouns (opperbevelhebberupper.command.havercommander-in-chief, opperhuidupper.skinepidermis).

[+] Semantics and use

The meaning contribution of aller- is intensifying. Logically speaking, there cannot exist a larger house than het grootste huisthe largest house so het allergrootste huis seems to be illogical and superfluous. Therefore, the intensifying force of the prefix is more expressive, affective or emotive in meaning.

Normally, Dutch superlatives do not allow for absolute use, as is common in e.g. Italian (e.g. La casa è belli-ssimaThe house is beautiful-SUPThe house is extremely beautiful): (1a) and (2a) are ungrammatical. Superlatives with aller-, however, do allow for absolute use (Haeseryn et al. 1997;ANS), both predicatively ((1b)) and attributively ((2b)):

Example 1

a. *dat boek is werkelijk aardigst
that book is really nice.st
b. dat boek is werkelijk alleraardigst
that book is really aller.nice.st
that book is really very nice
Example 2

a. *een aardigst book
a nice.st book
b. een alleraardigst boek
a aller.nice.st book
a very nice book
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The possibility of an indefinite pronoun in the second example is a clear indication of absolute use: having a unique denotation, true superlatives select definite pronouns in their normal use.

[+] Phonological properties

aller- is non-cohering: syllabification respects the morphological boundary (alleraardigst/'ɑ.lər.ar.dəχst/very nice). The stress pattern of aller- formations is flexible; Haeseryn et al. (1997) (ANS) suggest that absolute use correlates with main stress on the base Hij kookt  allerbe'roerdst he cooks aller.terrible.sthe is a terrible cook, whereas in truly superlative use, main stress is more often on the prefix De meeste jongens zijn erg aardig, maar Jozef is de 'alleraardigste van de klasthe most boys are very nice, but Jozef is the aller.nice.st.e of the classmost boys are nice, but Jozef is the nicest of all in class.

[+] Morphological potential

aller- is one of the few prefixes that allow for iteration: Albert Heijn is het aller-aller-allerduurstAH is the most expensive, a property it shares with other emphatic intensifying prefixes like super- (supersuperbedanktthank you very very much) and mega- (een mega mega groot pakketa really big package).

References:
  • Barbiers, Sjef2007Indefinite numerals ONE and MANY and the cause of ordinal suppletionLingua117859-880
  • Haas, Wim de & Trommelen, Mieke1993Morfologisch handboek van het Nederlands. Een overzicht van de woordvormingSDU Uitgeverij
  • 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
  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
  • Kiefer, Ferenc1998Morphology and pragmaticsAndrew Spencer and Arnold Zwicky (ed.)The handbook of MorphologyOxfordBlackwell272-279
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