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Geographical adjectives ending in -s

The suffix -s /s/ appears in a variety of adjectives (see here); a special use is in geographical adjectives such as Amsterdams Amsterdam, Haags from/of The Hague, Catalaans Catalan.

A noteworthy property of this suffix is that it often attaches not to the name of the place or region it refers to, but to the inhabitant name, witness Amerika America > Amerikaan American citizen > Amerikaans American and Palestina Palestine > Palestijn (a) Palestinian > Palestijns Palestinian. Yet, the meaning of the adjectives relates to the place and not to the inhabitant: Turks Turkish means 'from Turkey', 'belonging to Turkey' or 'associated with Turkey', not 'like a Turkish person'.

Geographical adjectives generally have a relational meaning, which implies that they are not gradeable. If such an adjective is used in comparation, the meaning is coerced from relational to qualifying ('typical of X'): de meest Amsterdamse straat the street most typical of Amsterdam. Read more here for other examples of this effect.

[+]General properties, input, stratum, productivity

Geographical adjectives in -s are productive with names of cities and countries, whether from the native placename vocabulary or beyond. If there is an established inhabitant name, the affix attaches to this name, unless it ends in -er, -(en)aar, -(e)ling or -ing. This results in two possible scenarios:

a) Inhabitant name ends in -er, -(en)aar, -(e)ling or -ing

Table 1
Place name Inhabitant name Geographical adjective
Berlijn Berlin Berlijner Berlijns
Leiden Leyden Leidenaar Leids
Brugge Bruges Bruggeling Brugs
Vlaanderen Flanders Vlaming Vlaams

b) Other type of inhabitant name

Table 2
Place name Inhabitant name Geographical adjective
Letland Latvia Let Lets
Denemarken Denmark Deen Deens
Chili Chile Chileen Chileens
Zeeland Zeeland Zeeuw Zeeuws
The affix -s is not available when the place name ends in -ië and the inhabitant name in -iër, as in Australiër Australian, Indonesiër Indonesian and Libiër Libyan. In these cases, the adjective is formed with -isch (read more here). Other adjectives that take -isch instead of the expected -s are Russisch Russian, Saksisch Saxon and Koerdisch Kurdish.

In other cases, the adjective is idiosyncratic; examples are Europa Europe > European (a) European > Europees European or Spanje Spain > Spanjaard Spaniard > Spaans Spanish.

Geographical adjectives based on inhabitant names already ending in -s constitute an interesting case, as in Fries (a) Frisian. Here the inhabitant name and the adjective are homophonous; however, they behave differently when inflected, compare de Friezen /də frizən/ the Frisians and Friese paarden /frisə pardən/ Frisian horses. In the inhabitant name, the sibilant retains its original voiced quality, while in the adjective it is devoiced by the adjectival /s/ which is then deleted by degemination.

Geographical adjectives inflect normally: they take schwa under the usual conditions (see here):

a. een Griek-s eiland
INDF Greek-N.SG island(N)SG
a Greek island
b. een Griek-se salade
INDF Greek-C.SG salad(C).SG
a Greek salad
c. Griek-se woord-en
Greek-PL word-PL
Greek words

The geographical adjectives refer to a property connected with the place name, roughly: 'from X', 'belonging to X' or 'associated with X'. This means that the inhabitant name that often serves as the base only contributes to the form, not to the meaning of the adjective (Booij 1988). Generally speaking, all geographical adjectives are relational adjectives, which means that they express an absolute property and cannot be used in the comparative and the superlative. If a geographical adjective is used in comparation, with a modifier or with the negative prefix on-, the meaning shifts to qualifying, translatable as 'typical for X'. This process is known as coercion(Pustejovsky 1991), (Pustejovski 1995), (Jackendoff 1997), (Booij 1988), (Booij 2005). Examples are:

a. Amerikaanser kon hij er niet uitzien
He couldn't have looked more American
b. zij is erg Nederlands geworden
She's become very Dutch
c. een on-Nederlandse opvatting
an opinion untypical of the Netherlands
[+]Phonological properties

The suffix -s does not influence the stress of the base word.

[+]Morphological potential

Many geographical adjectives ending in -s can be nominalized by means of conversion, resulting in the name for the relevant language: Bulgaars Bulgarian > Bulgaars Bulgarian language. Moreover, they serve as input for nominalization with the suffix -se, resulting in female inhabitant names: Hongaars Hungarian > Hongaarse Hungarian woman. Nominalization with -heid is unusual, but possible. Lastly, -s adjectives can be prefixed with on-, as demonstrated in (2c) above.

  • Booij, Geert1988Polysemie en polyfunctionaliteit bij denominale woordvormingSpektator17268-276
  • Booij, Geert1988Polysemie en polyfunctionaliteit bij denominale woordvormingSpektator17268-276
  • Booij, Geert2005The grammar of words. An introduction to linguistic morphologyOxford textbooks in linguisticsOxfordOxford University Press
  • Jackendoff, Ray1997The architecture of the language facultyCambridge Mass.MIT Press
  • Pustejovski, James1995The Generative LexiconMIT Press
  • Pustejovsky, James1991The Generative LexiconComputational Linguistics17(4)409-441
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