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Gapping in complex words

Gapping (also known as conjunction reduction) is a kind of ellipsis construction in which one or more morphemes in a complex word can be omitted when the word occurs in a coordinate construction with another identically-structured complex word. In orthographic form, the gapped word is replaced by a mark of omission (called a weglaatteken in Afrikaans; AWS-11, rule 12.37). The general condition of this type of gapping is that the gapped morpheme must form a prosodic word on its own.

Both backward and forward gapping are possible, found predominantly in subordinative compounds.

Example 1

Backward gapping: subordinative compounds
a. hardloop- en stap+skoene < hardloop+skoene en stap+skoene
running shoes and trail shoes
b. pyn- en sepsis+behandeling < pyn+behandeling en sepsis+behandeling
pain treatment and sepsis treatment
c. gebruik·s-/toepassing·s+moontlikhede < gebruik·s+moontlikhede of toepassing·s+moontlikhede
usage posibilities or application possibilities
[AWS-11, 13.53]
Example 2

Forward gapping: subordinative compounds
a. polisie+manne en -vroue < polisie+manne en polisie+vroue
police men and poice women
b. data+oordrag en -bestuur < data+oordrag en data+bestuur
data transfer and data management
c. sout+pot/-houer < sout+pot of sout+houer
salt shaker or salt container
[AWS-11. 13.53]

Backward gapping is also attested, albeit to a lesser extent, in particle verbs, and suffixed words ending in non-cohering suffixes.

Example 3

Backward gapping: particle verbs
a. in- en uit+voer < in+voer en uit+voer
to import and export
b. aan- en af+skakel < aan+skakel en af+skakel
to switch on and off
Example 4

Backward gapping: suffixed words
a. broeder- en suster·skap < broeder·skap en suster·skap
brotherhood and sisterhood
b. twee- en drie·linge < twee·ling·e en drie·linge
twins and triplets
c. heuwel- of berg·agtig < heuwel·agtig of berg·agtig
hilly or mountainous
d. Christen- en Jod·e·dom < Christen·dom en Jod·e·dom
Christianity and Judaism
e. waar- en vals·hede < waar·hede en vals·hede
truths and lies/frauds
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No previous research has been done on morphological gapping in Afrikaans. Even prescriptive grammars contain little to no information on the topic; AWS-11 has three rules with examples on the matter, viz. rule 12.37 (and remarks), 13.27 (and remarks), 13.53 and 19.16.b.

Hence, claims made about gapping in this topic are based either on the description of Dutch (see here and here, as well as details in Booij 1985; 1985), or information in AWS-11, or some preliminary and impressionistic corpus explorations. All examples are from corpora, unless explicitly indicated that it originates from other sources (e.g. AWS-11).

The following table represents some raw, unsanitised counts from corpora in VivA-KPO, calculated in September 2019. From the percentages it is clear that backward gapping is far more productive than forward gapping, and that gapping with the conjunctionen and is also far more productive than with other coordinators.

Table 1
Conjunctor Backward (n) Backward (%) Forward (n) Forward (%) Total (n) Total (%)
tot to 1,693 1% 157 1% 1,850 1%
maar but 3,257 2% 204 1% 3,461 2%
of or 14,720 10% 2,281 12% 17,001 11%
en and 120,562 86% 15,815 86% 136,377 86%
TOTAL 140,232 88% 18,457 12% 158,689 100%

[+]Other types of gapping

In addition to the above-mentioned prototypical cases, the following types of gapping were also found in corpora.

Example 5

Backward and forward gapping: subordinative compounds
a. beton+sny- en -boor+werk < beton+sny+werk en beton+boor+werk
concrete·cut- and -drill·work
concrete cutting and drilling
[12.37, AWS-11]
b. stem+instruksie- en -prosedure+dokument < stem+instruksie+dokument en stem+prosedure+dokument
voting instruction document and voting procedure document
Example 6

Forward gapping: appositive compounds
puber+seun en -dogter < puber+seun en puber+dogter
adolescent son and adolescent daughter
Example 7

Backward gapping: compounds with affixoids
a. natuur- en skei+kunde < natuur+kunde en skei+kunde
physics and chemistry
b. newe- tot hoof+aksent < newe·aksent tot hoof+aksent
secondary stress to main stress
[Le Roux (1923:50), adapted]
[The constituent newe- is a typical example of a Dutch word (nevennext to) that changed into a prefix in Afrikaans; the word hoof head already has many characteristics of an affixoid, meaning first; main, principal, senior; largest, biggest, most important.]
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Related to these examples is wis- en natuur+kunde < wis+kunde en natuur+kunde mathematics and physics, which is a coordination of two compounds with the affixoid -kunde as head. The first compound, wis+kunde mathematics has the (obsolete) adjectivewis certain as its first constituent, while the second compound, natuur+kunde physics, has the nounnatuur nature as modifier. The formation of wis- en natuurkunde cannot be a matter of word-internal coordination in the modifier position of the compound, because it is normally impossible to coordinate constituents of unlike categories. The gapping analysis predicts correctly that the phrase wis- en natuurkunde is a plural NP that would requires a plural finite verbal form in Dutch:

Example 8

Wis- en natuurkunde is moeilike vakke.
Wis- en natuurkunde zijn moeilijke vakken.
Mathematics and physics are difficult subjects

If the two constituents wis and natuur had been conjoined in the modifier position of the compound, the phrase wis- en natuurkunde would have had a singular head that requires a singular verbal form in Dutch and English.

Example 9

Backward gapping: Classic roots/combining forms
mono- en dia·loog < mono·loog en dia·loog
monologue and dialogue
(I.L. Jansen van Vuuren: Die beeld van Wilhem Adriaen van der Stel …, 1973, 126)
Example 10

Forward gapping: prefixed words (native stratum)
her- en er·kenning < her·kenning en er·kenning
recognition and acknowledgement

Forward gapping in affixed words is rare, possibly due to the fact that gapping usually involves a semantic contrast, for which prefixal meanings are not ideally suited. If it occurs, it is indeed more likely to occur involving prefixes or combining forms from the Classic stratum, as in the following example:

Example 11

Forward gapping: prefixed words (non-native stratum)
mono-, multi-, inter- en intra·dissiplinêre modelle < mono·dissiplinêre, multi·dissiplinêre, inter·dissiplinêre en intra·dissiplinêre modelle
mono-, multi-, inter- and intra-disciplinary models

We also find cases of gapping which are realised only in the orthography, as a means of economical writing. These involve either affixes (as in example (12) and (13) below), letters/graphemes (example (14) below), and abbreviations (example (15) below). All these examples are from AWS-11, rule 12.37 and 13.53.

Unlike ordinary backward gapping of suffixed word (like those in example (4) above), orthographical backward gapping involves cohering suffixes like -e, -s, or -asie, especially suffixes indicating plural, or biological gender.

Example 12

Orthographical backward gapping: suffixed words
a. som(me) < som of somm·e
sum or sums
b. keuse(s) < keuse of keuse·s
choice or choices
c. verwagting(e/s) < verwagtinge of verwagtings
(variant plural forms of) expectations
d. amput·asie/-ering < amput·asie of amput·ering
(variant lexemes referring to) amputation
e. akteur/-trise < akt·eur of akt·rise
actor or actress
[Note that the gapping doesn't follow morpheme boundaries in this case, but rather syllable boundaries.]
f. biblio·tek·aris/-resse < biblio·tek·aris of biblio·tek·ar·esse
male librarian and female librarian
[Note that the gapping doesn't follow morpheme boundaries in this case, but rather syllable boundaries.]
Example 13

Orthographical forward gapping: prefixed words
a. (on)vriendelik < vriendelik of on·vriendelik
friendly or unfriendly
b. (nie)amptelik < amptelik of nie·amptelik
official or unofficial
c. (neo-)Griekse < Griekse of neo-Griekse
Grecean or neo-Grecean

Letters/graphemes are used to indicate subtle meaning differences or spelling variations:

Example 14

Orthographical forward gapping: graphemes/letters
a. (g)ril < gril of ril
shiver or tremble
b. gemasker(d) < gemasker of gemaskerd
(variant participle forms of) masked
c. werk(s)winkel < werk+winkel of werk·s+winkel
(variant spelling forms of) workshop

Abbreviations are also found in gapping constructions, as illustrated by the following examples:

Example 15

Orthographical backward gapping: abbreviations
a. (NNS-)beurs < NNS-beurs of (enige ander) beurs
NRF bursary or (any other) bursary
b. sout- (NaCl-)oplossing < sout+oplossing of (ook bekend as) NaCl-oplossing
salt solution or (also known as) NaCl solution
[+]Some peripheral characteristics of gapping

The prototypical gapping construction involves that a prosodic word can be omitted under identity with another prosodic word in the same phrase. This explains why words with cohering suffixes are less likely to occur in gapping constructions, since cohering suffixes are not prosodic words. It is nonetheless possible to find (plenty) such corpus examples, as illustrated in (16).

Example 16

a. bessie- en spesery·agtige geure van die wyn < bessie·agtige en spesery·agtige
berry-like and spice-like flavours of the wine
[It is possible also to parse the phrase as bessie+geure en spesery·agtige geure berry flavours and spice-like flavours.]
b. Volrond, kompleks, met goed geïntegreerde vrugte- en rok·erige geure. < vrugte+geure en rok·erige geure
Full round, complex, with well-integrated fruity and smokey flavours.
[It is more likely to parse the phrase as vrugte+geure en rok·erige geure fruit flavours and smokey flavours, since ?vrugt·erig is a possible but unlikely word in Afrikaans.]
c. varswater- en brakk·erige moerasse, plaasdamme en riviere < varswater+moerasse en brakk·erige moerasse
freshwater marshes and brackish marshes, farm dams and rivers
[It is only possible to reconstruct the phrase as varswater+moerasse en brakk·erige moerasse, since *varswaterig is unattested (and unlikely) in Afrikaans.]
d. 'n melk- of melkerige afskeiding < melk+afskeiding of melk·erige afskeiding
a milk secretion or milky secretion
[It is only possible to reconstruct the phrase as melk+afskeiding of melk·erige afskeiding, since it would otherwise result in a repetitive, non-sensical phrase *melk·erige of melk·erige afskeiding.]

It is indicated in the Dutch topic that *rooi- of groenerig reddish or greenish is ungrammatical (in Dutch).

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The fact that the conditions for gapping are prosodic rather than morphological or syntactic also explains why the constituents of which one is gapped need not have identical syntactic or morphological status. For instance, in the gapped phrase varswater- en brakk·erige moerasse freshwater marshes and brackish marshes the part moerasse that is omitted is the head of the compoundvarswatermoerasse freshwater marshes, whereas it is the head of the phrasebrakk·erige moerasse brackish marshes.

Although gapping prototypically occurs in coordinative constructions, it is also possible in other kinds of (less prototypically coordinative) constructions, as illustrated by the examples in (17), arranged from more to less prototypically coordinative constructions.

Example 17

a. sowel die meerderheid- as minderheid+sienings < meerderheid+sienings as minderheid+sienings
both the majority views and minority views
b. 'n beter krieket- as rugby+speler < krieket+speler as rugby+speler
a better cricket player than a rugby player
c. … in die agter- maar ook in die voor+hoede … < agter+hoede maar ook in die voor+hoede
… in the rearguard but also in the vanguard ...
d. … dat dit nie net die produksie- maar ook die verwerking·s+proses is … < produksie+proses maar ook die verwerking·s+proses
… that it is not only the production process but also the arrangement process ...
e. 'n kwart- na 'n half+eeu gelede < kwar+teeu na 'n half+eeu
a quarter of a century to half of a century ago
f. medium- tot langtermyn+uitdagings < medium+termyn+uitdagings tot lang+termyn+uitdagings
medium-term challenges to long-term challenges

While gapping constructions prototypically contain only two coordinated constituents, it is also possible to have more constituents, as illustrated in example (11) above, as well as example (18) that contains even different conjunctions.

Example 18

Nestlé werk in alles, van voor- tot hoof- en na+geregte. < voor+geregte tot hoof+geregte en na+geregte
Nestlé works in everything, from starters, to main courses, and desserts.

Gapped compounds are distinguished from phrasal compounds in their orthographical realisation: the former is styled with a mark of omission as in example (19.a), while the latter is styled with hyphens as in example (19.b).

Example 19

a. ham- en kaas+toebroodjie < ham+toebroodjie en kaas+toebroodjie
ham sandwich and cheese sandwich
b. ham-en-kaastoebroodjie
ham and cheese sandwich
  • Booij, Geert1985Coordination reduction in complex words: a case for prosodic phonologyHulst, Harry van der & Smith, Norval (eds.)Advances in non-linear phonologyDordrechtForis Publications143-160
  • Booij, Geert1985Conjunctiereductie én nevenschikking in gelede woordenSpektator14194-195
  • Le Roux, J.J1923Oor die Afrikaanse sintaksis.Swets & Zeitlinger
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