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The suffix -ster creates nouns of common gender denoting female persons, primarily on the basis of verbal stems. Examples are wurkjeto work > wurksterfemale worker or sprekketo speak > spreksterfemale speaker. The suffix can be seen as the female counterpart of -er, with which it has also much of its distribution in common. The suffix -er, however, is more widespread after non-verbal bases.

Other suffixes creating female nouns are -e, -esse, -inne and -ske. Note also the suffix -e that derives female inhabitant names on the basis of an adjective.

There is also another suffix -ster that derives inhabitant names on the basis of place names; it can be considered as an allomorph of the suffix -er.

[+] General properties

The suffix -ster can productively be used to create female agent nouns, on the base of verbal stems. As such, the suffix -ster is the female counterpart of the suffix -er, with by and large the same distribution. It is therefore not easy to decide whether -ster is attached independently, or indirectly by way of affix substitution. Examples with a verbal base are listed below:

Table 1
Base form Derivation Corresponding to
tsjoeneto practice sorcery tsjoenstersorceress tsjoendersorcerer
toanielspyljeto act toanielspylsteractress toanielspileractor
fersoargjeto look after fersoarchsterfemale attendant fersoargerattendant
bestjoereto govern bestjoersterfemale governor bestjoerdergovernor
liedeto lead liedsterfemale leader liederleader
fertsjintwurdigjerepresent fertsjintwurdichsterfemale representative fertsjintwurdigerrepresentative
hurdrinneto run hurdrinsterfemale runner hurdrinnerrunner
As shown in the table, the verbal bases can be both simplex (e.g. tsjoenstersorceress) or complex ( toaniel-spyl-sterplay-play-SUFFfemale actor).

If -er-derivation is impossible, for instance since the base verb does not select a volitional subject, then derivation with -ster is also excluded. For example, we do not have *falsterfemale person who falls (from the verb falleto fall) but male *fallersomeone who falls is excluded, too. Nor can the reflexive verb jin skamjeto be ashamed be a basis for *skamster or *skammersomeone who is ashamed.

Although to our knowledge this has not been looked into, it may be the case that there is a phonological restriction in that certain final complex consonant clusters may resist attachment of -ster, with its initial complex consonant cluster. Take, for example the stem fisk-/fIsk/ of the verb fiskjeto fish. Attachment of -er is possible without any difficulty, resulting in fiskerfisher, but we do not have *fiskster. Likewise, a form like ?boartster (from boartsjeto play) seems odd. Stems ending in -st may have the additional problem that as a result of phonological deletion the derivation with -er and -ster are pronounced identically. An example is the pair treaster and *treastster (from treastjeto comfort), which are both pronounced as [trI.əstr̩].

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Differences from Dutch

The suffix -ster also occurs in Dutch, however, with a few differences. One is that the suffix may be attached to nominal bases formed with the suffix -aar, for example Dutch dobbel-aar-sterfemale dice player or reken-aar-sterfemale arithmetician. In Frisian, however, formations with -aar do not exist, and hence cannot serve as a base. The suffix -ster is immediately added to the verbal base in these cases, hence Frisian dobbelsterfemale dice player or rekkensterfemale arithmetician, although such formations do not seem very common.

Frisian also prefers direct attachment of -ster to the verbal base in cases where Dutch forms female nouns on the basis of a derivation with the suffix -er or -aar plus the suffix -es. Thus Dutch lez-er-esfemale reader is sterread-SUFF is Frisian (actually lês-ster, but only one <s> remains in the official orthography). Likewise, a Dutch winnaresfemale winner is a winster in Frisian.

[+] Non-verbal bases

As to -er, this suffix appears to be able to attach to non-verbal bases as well, although unproductively. The same applies to -ster, but this suffix is even more restricted. For instance, formations built on a nominal base are extremely rare, also if compared with derivations with -er or its allomorph -ner. This is shown in the table below:

Table 2
Nominal base Derivation with -er Derivation with -ster
rjochtlaw rjochterjudge *rjochtster
skipship skippercaptain *skipster
mûnemill mûndermiller *mûnster
keunstart keunstnerartist *keunstster
skulddebt skuldnerdebtor *skuldster
amtoffice amtnerpublic servant *amtster
A striking exception to this tendency is the word baaksterdry nurse, which must have been derived from the noun bakerdry nurse by affix substitution, since a putative verbal base like *bake does not exist. The derivation is tautologic, for the base baker already refers to female person.

Of the other lexical categories that can serve as a base for derivation with the suffix -er, numerals also seem to be problematic. See for example ?tweintichster next to tweintigertwenty-SUFFsomeone in his twenties. As to adjectival bases, some of the few -er-derivations can easily be transferred to -ster, for example frijwillichstervoluntary-SUFFfemale volunteer. This does not apply, however, to the adjective fuortaway, witness *fuortster. Moreover, the -er -derivations with a phrasal base are not transferrable either (cf. *twaddeklastersecond-class-SUFFgirl in the second form).

[+] Phonological properties

The suffix -ster[stər] does not bear stress and does not change the stress pattern of its base. Due to the phonological make-up of the affix, there will always be a syllable boundary coinciding with the morphological boundary.

[+] Morphological potential

All derivations created by -ster have common gender. Plurals of -ster formations are in -s, e.g. wurkstersfemale workers, sprekstersfemale speaker, etc. The formations cannot be input to derivational processes. Compounding, on the other hand, is fine. If the derivation forms the left-hand member of a nominal compound, it shows a linking element -s-, for example in ferpleechsterskleanfemale nurse's clothes.

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This topic is primarily based on Hoekstra (1998:97). The suffix is also briefly mentioned in Tamminga (1973:54-55).

  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Tamminga, Douwe Annes1973Op 'e taelhelling. Losse trochsneden fan Frysk taellibben. IIA.J. Osinga
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