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Stress in nominal compounds

In nominal compounds, the rightmost constituent is a noun (N), while the initial constituent can either be

  1. another noun (N),
  2. an adjective (A),
  3. a verb (V), or
  4. a preposition (P).
Stress assignment depends on the initial constituent.

[+]General information

Stress assignment in nominal compounds depends on the word class of the initial constituent. Consider the overview below; if not indicated otherwise, the examples are taken from Langeweg (1988):

[+]NN compounds

NN compounds usually have primary compound stress on their first constituent, the second one receives secondary compound stress. This is shown in (1):

clublid [[club][lid]] [ˈklʏb.ˈlɪt] club member
wintersport [[winter][sport]] [ˈʋɪn.tər.ˈspɔrt] winter sports
staatsloterij [[staats][loterij]] [ˈstats.ˌlo.tə.ˈrɛi] state lottery
zakagenda [[zak][agenda]] [ˈzɑk.a.ˈxɛn.da] pocket diary

Next to the general pattern, there are a number of compounds showing weak-strong patterns: for instance, compounds starting with boeren peasant, rijks federal, staats state, or stads town are often stressed on their second constituent (see e.g. Gaarenstroom 1897; Van Lessen 1928, Booij 1977). Still, as shown in (2b), this is not always the case. Furthermore, there are clearly exceptional cases such as vastenavond Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday as opposed to vastendag fast day.

a. NN (exeptional)
      stadhuis [[stad][huis]] [ˈstɑd.ˈhœys] city hall
      boerenzoon [[boeren][zoon]] [ˈbu.rən.ˈzon] farmer’s son
      Rijksmuseum [[rijks][museum]] [ˌrɛiks.my.ˈze.ʏm] National Museum
b. NN (regular)
      stadgenoot [[stad][genoot]] [ˈstɑd.xə.ˌnot] fellow citizen
      Boerenoorlog [[boeren][oorlog]] [ˈbu.rən.ˈor.lɔx] farmers war, The Boer War
      rijksdienst [[rijks][dienst]] [ˈrɛiks.ˌdinst] civil service
[+]AN compounds

Compound stress is usually on the initial constituent, in some cases, however, it can also be on the second one.

a. AN (regular)
      frisdrank [[fris][drank]] [ˈfrɪs.ˈdrɑŋk] soft drink
      wittebrood [[witte][brood]] [ˈʋɪ.tə.ˈbrot] white bread
      groothandel [[groot][handel]] [ˈxrot.ˈhɑn.dəl] wholesale business
      gelijkstroom [[gelijk][stroom]] [xə.ˈlɛik.ˈstrom] DC, direct current
b. AN (exceptional)
      hoogleraar [[hoog][leraar]] [hox.ˈle.rar] professor
      vrijgezel [[vrij][gezel]] [vrɛi.xə.ˈzɛl] bachelor
      blindedarm [[blinde][darm]] [ˈblɪn.də.ˈdɑrm] appendix
      platteland [[platte][land]] [ˈplɑ.tə.ˈlɑnt] countryside
[+]VN compounds

Compounds of the structure VN always have initial compound stress.

speelgoed [[speel][goed]] [ˈspel.ˈxut] toys
zoekplaatje [[zoek][plaatje]] [ˈzuk.ˈplat.jə] picture puzzle
verpleeghuis [[verpleeg][huis]] [vər.ˈplex.ˈhœys] nursing home
reageerbuis [[reageer][buis]] [ˈre.a.xer.ˈbœys] test tube
[+]PN compounds

Like VN compounds, PN compounds are always stressed on the first syllable.

bijzin [[bij][zin]] [ˈbɛi.ˈzɪn] subclause
voorwiel [[voor][wiel]] [ˈvor.ˈʋil] front wheel
terugblik [[terug][blik]] [tə.ˈrʏx.ˈblɪk] retrospection
bovenarm [[boven][arm]] [ˈbo.vən.ˈɑrm] upper arm
  • Booij, Geert1977Dutch morphology. A study of word formation in generative grammarLisse / DordrechtThe Peter de Ridder Press / Foris Publications
  • Gaarenstroom, J.H1897De klemtoon in de Nederlandsche taalCulemborgBlom & Olivierse
  • Langeweg, S. J1988The stress system of DutchUniversity of LeidenThesis
  • Lessen, Jacoba H. van1928Samengestelde naamwoorden in het NederlandschGroningen, Den HaagWolters
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