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The prefix aarts- derives nouns from other nouns. Two types of derivations can be composed with the prefix. An example of the first type is biskop bishop > aartsbisskop archbishop, where the derivation refers to a person with the highest ranking. An example of the second type is dogeneat scoundrel > aartsdogeneat arrant knave, where the derivation describes a person in a highly negative way.

[+]General properties

The prefix aarts- takes nominal bases. It is pronounced as [a:ts]. The prefix comes from the Greek word archi first, highest and is related to English arch- and Dutch aarts-. Two types of derivation can be distinguished.

No adjectival bases

In German and Dutch, the comparable prefix may also take adjectival bases, as for instance in Dutch aartsconservatief very conservative (< conservatief conservative) or German erzdumm very stupid (< dumm stupid). This is impossible in Frisian: *aartskonservatyf or *aartsdom. Instead, one must use an independent adverb for expressing a comparable high degree, preferably enforced with an emphatic ending -e, for example in ôfgryslike konservatyf very conservative or grouwélige dom very stupid.

[+]Social functions

The prefix aarts- primarily takes bases denoting persons that have a certain, mostly higher, social function. The derivation then refers to the person within the group that has the highest ranking:

Table 1
Base form Derivation
biskop bishop aartsbiskop archbishop
hartoch duke aartshartoch archduke
ingel angel aartsingel archangel
fijân enemy aartsfijân arch-enemy

Furthermore, there is the word aartsfader patriarch or its variant aartsfaar, possibly a loan from Dutch since the common Frisian word for 'father' is heit; the older form fader, also shortened to faar, is now obsolete.

In this pattern, the stress is fully on the prefix, for example in AARTSbiskop archbishop.

[+]Negative value

There is a second but related use of aarts- in which it can take a few bases that denote a person having a negatively valued property. Here, the prefix has an intensifying function. Examples are dogeneat rogue > aartsdogeneat arrant rogue or domkop blockhead > aartsdomkop real blockhead. Here, the main stress is on the base, however with extra prominence on the prefix.

From earts- to earst

With respect to the second type, the prefix aarts- [a:ts] has been pronounced as earts- [ɪ.əts] for a certain length of time, along the lines of a regular phonological change in Frisian. The prefix became confused with the ordinal and adjective earst [ɪ.əst] first. A favourable circumstance was also that the stress in the derivation resembled the pattern found in a phrase consisting of an adjective followed by a noun. As a consequence, expressions like in earste(n) dogeneat a real rogue or in earste(n) domkop a real dunce came into existence, with the inflectional suffix -e) or the emphatic suffix -en). The use of in earste(n) a real later extended to positive evaluations, for example in in earste(n) hurddraver a firstclass runner, in earste(n) leafhawwer fan klassike muzyk a serious fan of classical music, etcetera. One could possibly qualify this development as a case of degrammaticalization, where we see an affix developing into an independent word.


This topic is based on Hoekstra (1998:66) and Tamminga (1973:177-179), who documents the transition aart- > earts- > earst. This development was first noticed in Van Blom (1889:52).

  • Blom, Philippus van1889Beknopte friesche Spraakkunst voor den tegenwoordigen tijdLeeuwardenJ.W. Muller
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Tamminga, Douwe Annes1973Op 'e taelhelling. Losse trochsneden fan Frysk taellibben. IIA.J. Osinga
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