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3.5.2 Relativisation of the adpositional complement

The argument of an adposition may be relativised by a so-called R-pronoun. An example is given below:

Jo skulen sik foar dän Suurdee woarje, wier man Brood mäd bakt.
they should REFL for the yeast guard REL.R one bread with bakes
They should guard against the yeast which people bake bread with.

In this example, the relative R-pronoun is found by itself at the beginning of the clause. It is the object of the adposition mäd ‘with’. Note also that relative clauses are commonly found at the end of the clause, not necessarily adjacent to their antecedent.


The relative pronoun may function as complement of an adposition in the relative clause. All pronominal complements of prepositions take the form of R-pronouns, whether they are interrogative, relative or ordinary pronouns, with the exception of personal pronouns. For more information, see: R-pronouns (9). R-pronouns can thus be used as arguments of adpositions. The ordinary pronoun reserved for complements of adpositions is the R-pronoun deer ‘it / there’. This pronoun does not have any paradigm. It has the same form, regardless of the number and gender of its antecedent. It can refer to things and somewhat marginally to persons. However, deer is not much used anymore as a relative pronoun. Instead, wier is normally found nowadays, a form that is homophonous to the interrogative R-pronoun (‘where’). Some examples are given below:

Dät Skäin, wier iek ju Dore fon moaked häbe.
the barn REL.R I the door of made have
The barn which I repaired the door of.
Die Woain, wier jo mäd kemen sunt.
the car REL.R you with come are
The car which you came with.
Ätter ju Mäite, wier jie mäd mete un toudele,
after the measure REL.R you with measure and share
After the measure with which you measure and share.
Dät Boot, wier hie oane siet.
the boat REL.R he in sat
The boat in which he was sitting.

On the basis of our historical knowledge of relativisation, the hypothesis can be drawn up that the earlier relative pronoun for adpositional complements must have been deer. This hypothesis is in fact correct. Sources indicate that deer was often used instead of wier, see ###Literatuur###Ehrentraut (1854:252), Sjölin (1969:36), Aden (2022:96). An example is given below:

Dät Wieuw, deer iek dät fon kriegen häbe.
the wife REL.R I that of received have
The woman that I got it from.

The same replacement also took place in the use of deer ‘there’ as a relative pronoun of place of the category PP (Fort 2015). An example is given below for illustration:

Dät is ju Stede, deer / wier iek dät fuunden häbe.
that is the place REL.R I it found have
That is the place where I found it.

Replacement by wier ‘where’ is a language-internal development by which the interrogative R-pronoun starts functioning as the relative R-pronoun. It is a normal development cross-linguistically that interrogative pronouns begin to function as relative pronouns, ousting the the former relative pronouns. In Saterland Frisian, there is an additional way of relativising adpositional complements, which seems to be an interference from German. The original way of relativisation involves splitting the R-pronoun from the adposition (also in Old English and Old Frisian), as in the examples above, and the one below:

Die Mon, wier iek mäd boald häbe.
the man REL.R I with talked have
The man whom I talked with.

This example makes it clear that the R-pronoun can also refer to human antecedents. It is an interference from German to have the adposition accompanying the relative pronoun at the beginning of the clause, as in the following example:

Die Mon, wier-mäd iek boald häbe.
the man REL.R-with I talked have
The man whom I talked with.

This is much closer to High German, which also keeps relative pronoun and adposition together. However, R-pronoun with human antecedents are considered vulgar in German. Another system of relatives employs the definite article as relative pronoun. This we already saw with object and subject relativisation, where the relative pronoun is homophonous to the definite article. Nowadays, it is also possible to follow the German model for a relative clause built on an adpositional complement, as follows:

Die Mon mäd dän iek boald häbe.
the man with REL I talked have
The man with whom I talked.

Here, the definite article is used for the relativisation of adpositional complements. This is the form which seems to be most frequently encountered in written Saterland Frisian, the more so in recent books. This type seems to be on the rise, at the expense of the use of the native R-pronoun deer. In a way, then, the R-pronoun drops in frequency in its use as a marker of adpositional relatives, whereas the definite article increases in frequency. This brings the language more into line with German. This type of language change characteristically happens to the minority language of bilinguals.

To sum, complements in PP can be relativised in three ways. First, relativisation of PP complements can be done by inserting a relative R-pronoun at the beginning of the relative clause while leaving the adposition in its canonical position in the clause. Second, it can be done, by putting the relative pronoun and the adposition at the beginning of the clause. If the relative pronoun is an R-pronoun, it precedes the adposition. Third, if the relative pronoun is homophonous to the definite article, then the relative pronoun follows the adposition. Another difference between these modes of relativisation is that there is no visible agreement in any feature between the R-pronoun and the antecedent. The non-R pronoun, on the other hand, shows a restricted form of agreement between itself and its antecedent for person and number. The forms of the non-R relative pronoun are listed in the table below:

The relative pronoun (non-R)

Table 1
die ju dät (wät) do

As the table makes clear, there are four distinct forms of the non-R relative pronoun. They show full gender agreement in the singular, and no gender agreement in the plural. This relative pronoun is homophonous to the definite article / demonstrative. This needs to be further investigated, see also Laker & Kramer (2023).

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