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4.6 Noun incorporation

Noun incorporation is the process by which the object of a verb is not realised in the syntax but in the morphology, as a part of a compound with the verb. Noun incorporation may be found not only with to-infinitives but with all untensed forms of the verb. An example of noun incorporation is given below:

Bit du mäd mie fierst tou Ho-hoaljen.
until you with me go to hay-get
Until you go with me to fetch hay.

Verbal particles, that is, selected bare adpositons, may also be incorporated, see Dyk (1997). Dyk mainly writes about West Frisian, but he also presents some data from Saterland Frisian, based on Kramer’s (1992) dictionary.


Noun incorporation is a process which takes place in the interface between syntax and morphology. It can both be analysed as a syntactic process and as a morphological process. Below we present some examples of to-infinitives involving incorporation. Consider first the example below:

Woaks bruukte me tou Boomäntjen.
wax used one to tree.graft
Wax was used to graft trees.

The to-infinitive again lacks a middle field. It is a transitive verb which has incorporated its direct object, which thus appears in the morphological component. Thus it is realised as part of verbal compound, and it occurs to the right of the infinitival marker. If it were realised in the syntax, it would be found to the left of the infinitival marker, and it could have been accompanied by an article. The following example is interesting, as it involves the incorporation of more material than just an object:

Bjuntspier wuud uk brukt tou Piepeskeenmoakjen.
bent.grass was also used to pipe.clean.make
Moor grass was also used to make pipes clean.

Here both the direct object and the adjective that is predicated of it (skeen ‘clean’) have been incorporated into the infinitival verb. The to-infinitive clearly functions as an infinitive of purpose here, and there is no progressive aspect, as was seen to occur in case the infinitival adjunct combined with the auxiliary of body posture, to sit. The following example illustrates the use of the to-infinitive as a pure infinitive of purpose without any elements accompanying it in the syntax, so without a middle field:

Bounere, tou Pot uutskraabjen, wuden fon Hede moaked.
brushes to pot out.skraping were of heath made
Brushes, for scraping out pots, were made from heath.

The infinitival constituent is not selected. It is found in the postnominal field, as an optional adverbial. The subject of the to-infinitive seems to be controlled by the preceding instrumental noun Bounere ‘brushes’. The infinitival verb must then be analysed as a middle. What is interesting about this example is that not only the object but also the selected adposition uut ‘out’ has been incorporated. Again this underlines the fact that this type of to-infinitive lacks a syntactic middle field. No extra material may be present in the syntax, unless it has been incorporated. And incorporation is only possible with a subset of elements selected by the verb, such as nominal objects, selected object predicates and selected bare adpositions.

In West Frisian, we find this type of to-infinitival construction especially when a person is away from the present location in order to engage in some activity. Such examples also exist in Saterland Frisian, as is clear from the sentence below:

Foar loange Tied geen in Strukelje moal ‘n Mon wai tou Boomoutakjen.
for long time went in Strukelje once a man away to tree.off.branch
A long time ago in Strukelje, a man went away to cut off branches from trees.

What is remarkable here, is the use of the adposition wai ‘to’. Does it have its original meaning ‘away’? However, this meaning is usually expressed by the Low German loan wäch ‘away’, and the adposition wai has shifted its meaning to the contrary of ‘away’, signifying movement in the direction of the topic location rather than away from it. It could also be argued that the adposition in (5) is an inchoative marker, signalling the start of an action. This would be comparable to the West Frisian (now obsolete) idiomatic use of the combination of verb and adposition hinnegean ‘go to’ meaning to begin or start out. The to-infinitival constituent has the familiar characteristics: it is found to the right of main clause middle field, of which the boundary is marked by the adposition wai ‘away’. The infinitive lacks a middle field, and both the object and the predicated adposition have been incorporated into the infinitival verb.

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