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Adverbs and intensifiers used with attributive adjectives

As a general rule, attributively used adjectives of which the stem is polysyllabic inflect before the noun by default, except if the stem ends in -er, or is followed by the suffix -er, with some exceptions (cf. AP_5-0, examples (from 11). One example:

Example 1

'n geweldige storm (< geweldig)
a violent·ATTR storm
a violent storm

If, however, the adjective is used as an intensifier (adverbially) before another polysyllabic adjective, no -e formant (the schwa) is required, as in the example below:

Example 2

'n geweldig interessante geskiedenis
an enormous interesting·ATTR history
an enormously interesting history

Monosyllabic attributive adjectives to which the rules for inflection do not apply by default (see some examples here), such as groot large in the example below, are often preceded by a polysyllabic intensifier (adverb). In such cases, the schwa formant may be added to the adverb:

Example 3

Verhoudings speel 'n geweldige groot rol. (< geweldig)
relations play an enormous·ATTR large role.
Relations play an enormously large role

Inflection is traditionally linked to the distinction between word classes and realised morphologically by means of a corresponding suffix. In the case of adjectives, the function of the suffix is to indicate its prenominal position in the NP, and in the Germanic languages, depends on the gender of the relevant noun. In Afrikaans, where noun gender does not exist as a grammatical category, it is mostly the phonological form of the attributive adjective itself that determines the presence or absence of the inflectional suffix -e, or schwa.

Two major phonological categories of adjectives can be distinguished: monosyllabic and polysyllabic. Adjectives with polysyllabic stems (or morphological complexes) are mostly inflected – important exceptions are stems which end on -er, or which comprise compounds consisting of monosyllabic elements – while monosyllabic stems form different categories, based on the form of the auslaut, which allow inflection. A large component of monosyllabic stems, however, remain uninflected. (A more comprehensive discussion of this topic can be found here.)

However, inflection of adjectives does not seem to be restricted to certain phonological categories. As will be indicated, adjectives which fulfil an adverbial function in the AP, often as intensifiers, may also receive the inflectional suffix.

Inflection of adverbs and intensifiers

The structure of an AP can be rather complicated, consisting of co-occurring, stacked, or coordinately placed adjectives, where two or more adjectives are used attributively. For the present discussion, the structure consisting of only one attributive adjective, preceded by an intensifier, will be used.

While a corpus-based investigation will reveal significant variation in choice, four possible configurations could be identified:

  • The combination Uninflected form (UI) plus Inflected form (I):

    Since adverbs in Afrikaans are mostly morphologically unmarked, this combination occurs generally, for instance

    Example 4

    'n besonder interessante gesprek
    an exceptional interesting·ATTR conversation
    an exceptionally interesting conversation
  • The combination Uninflected form (UI) plus Uninflected form (UI):
    Example 5

    'n uiters siek kind
    an extreme ill child
    an extremely ill child
  • The combination Inflected form (I) plus Uninflected form (UI):
    Example 6

    'n geweldige groot aantal
    an extreme·ATTR large number
    an extremely large number
  • The combination Inflected form (I) plus Inflected form (I):
    Example 7

    'n verskriklike bedrywige oggend
    a terrible·ATTR busy·ATTR morning
    a terribly busy morning

If these examples are compared, it seems plausible that the presence of a polysyllabic element within the combination could play an important role in the decision whether to inflect or not. In example (4) the attributive adjective is polysyllabic, while the intensifier does not need marking – in addition, it ends on -er, which inhibits inflection.

In this example, the attributive adjective is monosyllabic and also does not allow inflection on the basis of its phonological form. The intensifier does not require inflection, and also does not end in a suffix. Hence both components remain uninflected.

In this example, the attributive adjective is monosyllabic and is uninflected by default, while the stem of the polysyllabic intensifier ends in a suffix, something which favours inflection. It seems that inflection is here transferred to an earlier position in the AP.

Lastly, in this example, both the attributive adjective and the intensifier consist of polysyllabic stems which favour inflection, and often occur in such a combination in the corpus, although the intensifier can (and is) often be left uninflected.

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