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The prefix alder- derives adjectives. Its bases are adjectives, but only in the form of the superlative. There are two functions. One is that the derivation denotes an even higher degree than what is indicated by the superlative, hence something like the absolutely highest degree. An example is heechst highest > alderheechst highest of all (from the adjective heech high). The other meaning is a more general high degree, for example in in alderfreonlikst famke a very friendly girl. The two interpretations have consequences in the realm of possible determiners and stress.

[+]The highest degree of all

The prefix alder-, pronounced as [ɔldər], can be attached to the superlative form of an adjectival base, which is characterized in Frisian by the suffix -ste. The function of the prefix is to indicate an absolute degree, even higher than is expressed by the superlative. For example, the superlative form of heech high is heechste highest. However, the adjective can get an even higher degree than that, by adding the prefix alder- to the superlative adjective. We then get the form alderheechste highest of all. Of course, the use of the prefix may also have an emotional function.

More examples of derivations with alder- are given below:

Table 1
Base Superlative Derivation
ien one earste first alderearste first of all
freonlik friendly freonlikste friendliest alderfreonlikste friendliest of all
goed well bêste best alderbêste best of all
heislik awful heislikste most awful alderheislikste most awful of all
let late lêste last alderlêste last of all
min bad minste worse alderminste worst of all
Reinforcement by reduplication

This highest (emotional) degree can even be reinforced by iterating the prefix alder-. In this way, one can encounter forms as alderalderheechste, alderalderalderheechste, etc. This pattern is an instance of reduplication.

There is also a variant alderbalder-, for instance in alderbalderbêst extremely good or alderbaldermoaist extremely beautiful. The inserted /b/ may have developed from the preposition by by, in the former construction alder by alder.

[+]A general high degree

Besides surpassing the superlative the prefix alder- can still have another function, i.e. as an intensifying prefix in a more general sense. A common feature still is the requirement that only superlative forms may function as base. An example is

Dat famke lake alderfreonlikst
that girl laughed PREF-friendly-SUP
That girl laughed quite friendly

There are some major differences with what could be called the "super-superlatives" that have been dealt with above. One concerns the input. The "super-superlatives" can take any possible superlative form. Formations with the general high degree interpretation, however, only occur with adjectives denoting a subjective property, i.e. a property which cannot be established with a measurement instrument. Adjectives like freonlik friendly, ôfgryslik awful and prachtich beautiful denote such subjective properties. That is the reason why one can speak of in alderfreonlikst famke a very friendly girl, in alderôfgryslikste film an extremely bad movie and alderprachtichst waar very beautiful weather. In contrast, an adjective like heech high, for instance, denotes an objective property, and it is therefore impossible to speak of *in alderheechste beam.

The difference in meaning creates a syntactic difference. The real superlative denotes something that is one of a kind. Therefore only the definite article is allowed. The meaning of a general high degree allows for wider possibilities, and now in alderfreonlikst famke with the meaning a very friendly girl is quite conceivable.

Another difference between the alder- superlatives and the alder- intensifying adjectives concerns stress. The superlatives always have stress on the prefix (a), while the intensifying adjectives can also have stress on the adjective (b). Compare:

a. Dat famke is it ALDERfreonlikst
That girl is the friendliest of all
b. In ALDERfreonlikst famke
A very friendly girl
b.' In alderFREONLIKST famke
A very friendly girl
Derivation and inflection

The requirement that alder- takes the superlative form of the adjective as input conflicts with the general tendency that inflectional morphology appears outside derivational morphology. Something comparable can be observed with respect to the comparative degree, also in relation to derivational prefixes.


This topic is based on Hoekstra (1993).

  • Hoekstra, Jarich1993AlderfreonlikstFriesch Dagblad27-02Taalsnipels 249
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