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Compounding or composition is the combination of two free morphemes, i.e. two words into a new word. The words wetter water and kraan tap can be put together to form the compound wetterkraan wetter-kraan watter tap, i.e. a tap which can deliver water. Compounding is different from derivation since in that type of word formation a bound morpheme, i.e. an affix, is involved. The word wetterich water-SUFF watery is complex, as it contains the elements wetter and -ich.The latter cannot occur on its own, which a word can, hence it is an affix.

In the Frisian part of Taalportaal, the definition "combination of two words into a new word" is taken literally, or, for that matter, naively. It has some consequences for what is subsumed under the heading "compounding". It comprises, to name but one thing, cases of univerbation, the merging of two adjacent words that frequently co-occur in a phrasal context. An example is combinations of adjective and noun as in platdak plat-dak flat roof. The point is worth mentioning since Hoekstra (1998), the only monograph on Frisian word formation, treats cases of univerbation separately from "real" compounding as such. Dealing with univerbation under the heading compounding does not imply, however, that this type of combination is not mentioned when it is appropriate to do so. A different view would be to consider particle verbs as (idiomatic) phrases which can be merged into words in specific circumstances.

Another consequence of a naive concept of composition is that particle verbs are also seen as instances of compounding and not as prefixed verbs, although such a view can sometimes be found in the literature. Examples of particle verbs are ynjitte in-pour to pour in or omfetsje around-catch to enclose. They contain the prepositions yn in and om around, which occur as separate words. Furthermore, elative compounds like stienkâld very cold are treated as compounds: witness the existence of the words stien stone and kâld cold, although semantically their intensified meaning could potentially be a typical product of derivation.

Although compounding is defined here as the combination of words, it should be stressed that only the root of the word is involved in the process of creating a new word. Inflectional endings are therefore disregarded. This also implies that features represented by such endings cannot be read off from the compound. For example, a compound like hûnehok dog-LK-kennel dog kennel can refer to a building meant for housing one dog, but more dogs is also possible. The element -e- in the example hûnehok is not a plural morpheme; the plural of hûn dog is hûnen dog-PL dogs, hence with the ending -en. Rather, -e- in hûnehok is a linking element, a joint between the two proper parts of the compound. Linking elements occur in particular, although not exclusively, in compounds consisting of two nouns, in which no fewer than six different forms can be distinguished.

It should also be observed that certain allomorphs occurring also in plural forms do not necessarily point at plurality in the compound. Breaking is a phenomenon in point. A plural form is often broken, for instance in fuotten feet, where the singular is foet foot. The compound fuotlingte foot length, although it has a first member showing breaking, can only refer to the length of one foot.

In a few places the treatment crosses the borders of compounding proper. This is the case with binominal expressions like pinne en papier pen and paper, which are more or less lexicalized and have properties not uncommon to compounding. Nevertheless, as they contain a conjunction, they should be viewed as syntactic constructs. Next to such combinations of two nouns plus a conjunction, we also have biverbal and biadjectival expressions.

Compounds which have a head are called endocentric compounds. The head, usually the right-hand element in Frisian, determines the morpho-syntactic properties of the compound as a whole. For example, if an endocentric compound has a head that is a noun, then the gender and the plural ending of the compound are the same as the gender and plural form of the head noun. The non-head functions as a semantic modifier of the meaning of the head constituent. The compound as a whole is a hyponym of what is denoted by the head. An example of an endocentric compound is wetterkraan water tap. The compound has common gender because the head kraan is also common, and head and compound both show -en as plural ending. Semantically, a wetterkraan is a kind of tap, but in a restricted sense, as it should have some relationship with wetter water.

There is also a class of compounds in which both members have equal weight semantically. One condition for such coordinate compounds is that both members belong to the same lexical category. Examples are nominal skoalmaster-dichter schoolmaster-poet for someone who is both a schoolmaster and a poet, or adjectival grien-blau green-blue for a colour that is both green and blue (or somewhere in between those colours). We find coordinate compounds not only with nouns and adjectives, but also with verbs.

The semantic interpretation of endocentric and coordinative compounds is relatively straightforward. This is different with so-called exocentric compounds, where the semantic relation is often metaphoric. So, a langpoat long-leg is not a kind of leg, but this compound refers to an insect, of the species daddy longlegs to be precise (members of which have long legs, indeed). In addition, it may also refer to birds with long legs, like the stork, the heron and the godwit. Next to the fact that the semantic interpretation of exocentric compounds is less transparent, sometimes they also do not inherit the formal features of the constituent parts. This involves gender in particular, where the compound rather follows the animacy hierarchy than the gender of the right-hand head. The noun ear ear, for example, is neuter, but plants like hazze-ear hare-LK-ear woodwort or skieppe-ear sheep-LK-ear sea lavender have common gender. Exocentric compounds can be found in nominal compounds with the patterns NN (noun + noun), VN (verb + noun), AN (adjective + noun) and NumN (numeral + noun).

As mentioned above, elative compounds are also deviating semantically. This type can be found in the various patterns of adjectival compounds, where the modifier, be it a noun, verb or adjective, intensifies the adjectival head. An example is stienkâld stone-cold very cold.

A very special type are synthetic compounds. An example is readkleurich red-colour-SUFF red-coloured. Such tripartite formations consist of two words, and therefore they could be qualified as compounds, indeed. However, the third part is a suffix, which gives them derivational properties. It is mainly because of their name that synthetic compounds are dealt with here, under the heading of compounding.

As can be observed in every Frisian text or dictionary, compounding is an omnipresent phenomenon in Frisian. It is a prominent means of increasing the stock of words. Yet, not all compounding patterns are equally important in this respect. Some are simply unproductive while for instance the endocentric NN compounds occupy the other end of the spectre. Frisian compounding resembles the picture of other Germanic languages, but also differs in some important respects. Verbal compounding (noun incorporation) is productive, and Frisian has a special class of genitive compounds, which is lacking in other languages.

The impression of productiveness is enhanced by the feature of recursivity. A compound can be the input for a new act of compounding, etcetera, and so on. For example, the key of a car is an autokaai car-key. If you put that in a purse, you have an autokaaibeurs car-key-purse. If you always lay this on a certain board, then this is the autokaaibeursplanke car-key-purse-board. In principle this process could go on indefinitely.


The treatment of Frisian compounds is primarily organized according to the lexical category that is the output of the compounding process. More details on composition can therefore be found by following the corresponding links:

  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
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