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Conversion can be defined as the derivation of a word without any phonological change of its base word. In Dutch, conversion from nouns to verbs is very common and productive: fietsbicycle (N) > fietscycle (V), hamerhammer (N) > hamerhammer (V), zonsun (N) > zonto sunbathe (V). Other types of conversion are much less productive or have a restricted domain of application.

[+] Introduction

Conversion is a directional process, linking an input and an output form that are formally but not semantically identical Don (1993), Booij (2002: 134-136), Bauer (2013: 545), that is, conversion is comparable to derivation, but there is no affix, at least not a visible one. For this reason, many researchers see it as a special case of derivation; the term zero-affixation is used as a synonym for conversion (e.g. in Marchand (1969: 359 ff), cf. also Smessaert (2013: Ch. 6)).

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A completely different position is taken in De Belder (2011). Working within the Exo-Skeletal variant of the Distributed Morphology framework Halle (1993), Borer (2003), she maintains that lexical items have no syntactic category in the lexicon and only get one after being inserted into syntactic structure.

[+] Types of conversion in Dutch

There are various types of conversion in Dutch; conversion into verb is the most frequent and the most productive. Below is an overview, sorted according to output category:

  • Output category verb. As Booij points out, all verbs that are the result of conversion have regular (weak) inflection.
    • Conversion into verbs, or "verbification", is productive in Dutch ("you can verb almost any noun"), at least for simplex nouns. Booij (2002:135) describes the general semantics of N-to-V conversion as 'to V, with N playing a role in the action denoted by V'. He writes "Due to the very general meaning contribution of the conversion construction, the range of specific meanings of conversion verbs is enormous." The meaning classes he distinguishes are illustrated in the table below:
      Table 1
      Meaning Base Noun Resulting Verb
      to behave as N ijsbeerpolar bear ijsbeerpace up and down
      moedermother moedermother
      tuiniergardener tuiniergarden
      make into N bundelbundle bundelbundle
      knechtservant knechtto subjugate
      to do something with N huishouse huislive
      schroefscrew schroefscrew
      computercomputer computerwork with a computer
      zonsun zonsunbathe
      to produce N bigpiglet bigpig
      bloesemblossem bloesemblossem
      jongyoung one jonggive birth

      Most of the converted nouns are simplex ones, or compound nouns with a simplex head such as voetbalfootball, to play football. It is not easy to find derivationally complex nouns that feed conversion; a case in point is tuinierento garden from the derived noun tuin.iergardener.

      In Dutch and many other European languages, children use this kind of conversion productively from a young age Clark (1993: Ch. 11).

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      According to Booij, "The semantic versatility of this word-formation process [...] is certainly an important cause of its high productivity." On the other hand, semantic versatility could also work against productivity, as the meaning of the verb can be too underspecified to be useful.

    • Conversion from adjectives is not productive, but there are quite a few verbs that are the result of conversion of adjectives. Again, various meaning classes can be distinguished:
      Table 2
      Meaning Base Adjective Resulting Verb
      to make A witwhite witwhiten
      zuiverpure zuiverpurify
      openbaarpublic openbaarreveal
      to become A rotrotten rotrot
      bruinbrown bruintan
      to behave in an A manner snelfast snelhurry
      sufdrowsy sufdoze
      This process is not productive: one cannot take just any adjective like grootbig, large and turn it into a verb - possibly because the process is blocked in this case by the much more productive proces of ver- prefixation: vergrootto enlarge is fine. Some verbs converted out of adjectives have more than one meaning, e.g. the verb from the adjective krombended, crooked can mean 'to become bended', 'to make bended' and (with a reflexive pronoun) 'to bend onself, to incurve'.
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      There are a few verbs that result from conversion of bases from other categories: pronominal bases are found in jijen en jouenbe on (over-)familiar terms (< jijyou.NOM, jouyou.OBL, a conjunction in marento keep raising objections (< maarbut), and interjections in bonjourento say goodby, to throw out (< Fr. bonjourfarewell), sakkerento swear (ultimately from French sacre Dieuholy Lord or something like that) (Smessaert (2013: 85)). Smessaert claims that jammerento wail also derives from an interjection (jammeralas), but it is also possible that both the verb and the interjection are conversions of the noun jammersadness (that is used as an adjective as well, cf. Etymologiebank).

  • Output category noun
    • A few native adjectives can be used as nouns, the meaning is usually 'something that has the property A', gender is neuter: het natthe wet can be used to refer to anything that is wet, from beer to the sea; cf. also in het witin the white(dressed) in white, in het langin the longin a long dress, het geheelthe whole, in het openbaarin the publicpublicly, in het geheimin the secretsecretly, een naakta nude, het origineelthe original. As the examples show, adjectives functioning as nouns are of neuter gender, selecting the article het.

      Many non-native adjectives can also be used as nouns of common gender, denoting personal names, e.g. crimineelcriminal, liberaalliberal, virtuoosvirtuoso (Smessaert (2013: 82)).

    • Three classes of verbs can be converted into nouns:
      • simplex verbs: haathate > de haatthe hatred, stroomstream > de stroomthe stream; the electricity, loopwalk > de loopthe walk, the course, huivershiver > een huivera shudder. Input verbs are usually monomorphemic, monosyllablic, native; output nouns are of common gender, and usually denote the process or the result.
      • prefixed verbs: ontbijtont-bijt, start to bitehave breakfast > het onbijtbreakfeast, verblijfver-blijfstay > het verblijfthe stay. Output nouns are usually of neuter gender, with a few exceptions like de verbouwthe cultivation, the rebuilding < verbouwcultivate, rebuild and de herbouwthe process of rebuilding < herbouwre-buildrebuild.
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        Conversion is not the only way to turn verbs into nouns. From the prefixed verb verhuisver-huismove (house) both the conversion form verhuis and the suffixed form verhuizing exist; the former, however, is rarely found outside the South of the language area (Brabant and Belgium). Meaning specialisation occurs as well in the case of doublets: whereas beschrijvingdescription is the unmarked nominalization for the verb beschrijfdescribe, the conversion form beschrijf is a technical term in the Belgian real estate world.

      • particle verbs: aan.bouwon-buildto build, to attach > de aanbouwthe process of build, the annex, uit.groeiout-growto grow out > de uitgroeithe grow, the outgrowth. Output nouns are of common gender.
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      As haat and comparable monomorphemic cases are systematically of common gender, just like the particle verbs like aanbouw, whereas the conversions of prefixed verbs such as ontbijt are almost exceptionless of neuter gender, we have to assume (at least) two different subtypes of V-N conversion.

    • All infinitives can function as nouns, gender is always neuter (het zingenthe singing, het geventhe giving, het slaanthe hitting). The argument structure of the verb is often preserved, where arguments are either expressed as lefthand parts of compounds or as proposition arguments: het pianospelenthe piano.playthe pianoplaying, het roken van sigaren door hooglararenthe smoking of cigars by professors, het wandelen daarheenthe walking in that direction.
    • Participles do not convert into nouns, as they take a suffix -e if they function as nouns (just like ordinary adjectives): het gedanewhat has been done, het zijndewhat is.
    • A few prepositions have been converted into nouns, e.g. de voors en tegens van deze aanpakthe pros and cons of this approach; new cases are unlikely.

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      Trivially, almost any piece of language can be used as a (neuter) noun when used metalinguistically: het "van" van mijn buurman bevat een andere "a" dan mijn "ga zitten"the "van" of my neighbour contains a different "a" than my "ga zitten"my neighbour's "van" has a different "a" than my "ga zitten".

  • Output category adjective is extremely rare.
    • Only a few nouns have turned into adjectives: there are some (foreign) names of materials that can also be used as noun premodifiers (but do not show adjectival inflection): een aluminium fietsan aluminium bike, een jute zaka burlap sack, een mohair truia mohair sweater. Another group consists of names of members of religious orders such as kartuizerCarthusian that can be used both as a noun and as and adjective (Smessaert 2013: Ch. 6).
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      Constructions like English New York State of Mind (a 1976 song by Billy Joel) are impossible in Dutch. Of course, it is not impossible to express this kind of meaning in Dutch, e.g. by turning the noun into an adjective by means of suffixation (het echte Amsterdamse gevoelthe real Amsterdam feeling), or by means of compounding (het echte Amsterdamgevoelthe real Amsterdam feeling).

    • Verbal stems cannot be used adjectivally.
    • Past participles of transitive and ergative verbs freely function as adjectives, both attributively and predicatively: een gevallen vrouwa fallen woman, een vrouw, eenmaal gevallena woman, once fallen. Regular ("weak") participles show adjectival inflection een verkocht schilderija sold painiting, de verkocht.e bruidthe sold bride. Verbal arguments may carry over: de door moeder stijf geklopte roomthe through mother stiff whipped creamthe cream that was whipped by mother. Participles of intransitive verbs cannot function as adjectives: *de geademde luchtthe breathed air. Present participles of most verbs can be used as adjectives as well, mainly attributively: een vallend.e stera falling star (showing inflection), het hijgend(e) hertthe panting deer (?de ster is vallendthe star is falling, ?het hert is hijgendthe deer is panting are very strange). Various present participles, however, have lexicalised into "normal" adjectives: het bevel klonk dringendthe command sounded urgent (< dringto push, to press).
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      The present participle lopendwalking can occur in a special construction with a form of the verb of bezijn or verbs of locomotion such as komencome and gaango where it functions as a manner adverb: Ik ben lopendI am walkingI am here by foot, we zijn lopend gekomenwe have walking comewe came by foot (in various dialects one finds the variant lopens/lo-pəs/). Other verbs seem impossible here.

      Smessaert (2013: 84) observes that meaning specialization can go hand in hand with change of the stress pattern, another sign of lexicalization, e.g. aan'houdendcontinuous (< 'aanhoudento persist, to arrest), opvliegendquick-tempered (< 'opvliegento fly up).

  • Some prepositions (mostly used in more formal registers) originate as participles: gedurendeduring (cf. English during, German während, French durant), overwegend(e)considering, hangendepending, gegevengiven.
  • At least four verbal stems have developed uses as discourse particles: hoorhear, komcome, kijklook, zegsay(Kirsner 1990, De Vriendt 1995, Van Olmen 2013).
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    It is unclear whether these particles are the result of conversion: it may also be the case that they have a clausal origin. This analysis seems particularly appropriate for (sentence-final) hoor that might be derived from a tag question hoor je?hear youdo you hear me? do you understand?. For dialects, other particles with a verbal origin have been described, e.g. denkthinkI presume; in Afrikaans, glo (ultimately from Dutch geloofbelieve) has developed into a full-fledged modal particle possibly, I think.

[+] Modelling conversion in Dutch

There is no lack of analyses of morphological conversion (Bauer 2013:563 ff). Zero-affixation, that is the postulation of an affix without phonological content that responsible for the change in category and meaning, is among the oldest theoriess. Marchand (1969: 359 ff) gives an historical foundation for zero-derivation: following Jespersen, he suggests that the loss of endings gave rise to derivation by a zero-morpheme. Synchronically, however, there are various problems with the approach: it is impossible to decide whether it is a zero-prefix or a zero-suffix, zeroes tend to proliferate (one for deverbal nouns of common gender, another one for neuter nouns, one for denominal verbs, one for de-adjectival verbs, etc.), and it is hard to imagine how language learners could ever learn to master the mechanisms.

[+] Directionality, etc.

The direction of conversion is not always easy to decide. The assumption of a direction 'N to V' is confirmed by the fact that this is a relatively productive relationship: Dutch nouns from various semantic subgroups can be converted into a verb, whereas the opposite is much more rare. According to Booij (2002: 135), the direction of this form of conversion is also revealed by the fact that in such cases the verb always has the default conjugation, even if there is an ablauting verbal root related to the noun. For instance, in addition to the ablauting verb prijzento praise we find the noun prijsprice with the corresponding regular verb prijzento price. Another indication of the direction of the conversion is phonological make-up. Simplex Dutch verbs consist of either one syllable, or two syllables, the second of which contains a schwa. Therefore, verbs like papegaaiento parrot and dominoënto play dominoes, which have a more complex phonological composition, betray their nominal origin, and have been converted from the nouns papegaaiparrot and dominodominoes respectively.

[+] Subcategory conversion

The notion conversion might be extended to cases where there is no change in category, but in subcategory. For instance, it is often possible to use a causative verb formed by means of the causative affixes ver- or -iseer as an intransitive verb as well:

Example 1

a. De zon ver.geelt het wasgoed
The sun turns the laudry yellow
b. Het wasgoed ver.geelt
The laudry turns yellow
Example 2

a. De regering stabil.iseer.t de situatie
The government stabilizes the situation
b. De situatie stabil.iseer.t
The situation stabilizes

Another type of category-internal valency change is the formation of middle verbs on the basis of verbs that occur with an object or a prepositional adjunct that denotes an instrument, a location, or an external circumstance:

Example 3

a. Wie schilt de aardappelen?
Who peels the potatoes?
b. Deze aardappelen schillen gemakkelijk
These potatoes peel easily
Example 4

a. We gaan gezellig wandelen in de regen
We go nicely walk in the rain
b. Regenweer wandelt niet gezellig
Rainy weather does not walk nicely

As argued in Booij (1992) and Ackema and Schoorlemmer (1994,1995), this intransitive use of verbs cannot be a matter of syntax, but requires a lexical rule that applies to the lexical conceptual structure of verbs that express an action: the resulting middle verbs do not express an action, but a property. These middle verbs usually require some evaluative expression to be present in the clause in which they occur that specifies how well the subject can be involved in the event.

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Directionality is again an issue here: which usage of the verb was first, which one is derived? Do we want to regard other verbs that have both transitive and intransitive uses (e.g. ik ruik de kaasI smell the cheese - the kaas ruiktthe cheese smells) as cases of conversion as well?

  • Ackema, Peter & Schoorlemmer, Maaike1994The middle construction and the syntax-semantics interfaceLingua9359-90
  • Ackema, Peter & Schoorlemmer, Maaike1995Middles and nonmovementLinguistic Inquiry26173-197
  • Bauer, Laurie, Lieber, Rochelle & Plag, Ingo2013The Oxford Reference Guide to English MorphologyOxford University Press
  • Bauer, Laurie, Lieber, Rochelle & Plag, Ingo2013The Oxford Reference Guide to English MorphologyOxford University Press
  • Belder, Marijke de2011Roots and Affixes: Eliminating lexical categories from syntaxUtrechtThesis
  • Booij, Geert1992Morphology, semantics and argument structureRoca, Iggy (ed.)Thematic structure: its role in grammarBerlin/New YorkForis Publications47-64
  • Booij, Geert2002The morphology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Booij, Geert2002The morphology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Booij, Geert2002The morphology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Borer, Hagit2003Exo-skeletal vs. Endo-skeletal Explanations: Syntactic Projections and the LexiconThe Nature of ExplanationChicago University Press
  • Clark, Eve V1993The lexicon in acquisitionCambridge University Press
  • Don, Jan1993Morphological conversionRijksuniversiteit te UtrechtThesis
  • Halle, Morris & Marantz, Alec1993Distributed Morphology and the Pieces of Inflection The View from Building 20Cambridge, MAMIT Press111--176
  • Kirsner, Robert and Jeanine Deen1990Het mes snijdt aan twee kanten. On the semantics and pragmatics of the Dutch final particle hoorThe Low Countries: Multidisciplinary studiesLanhamUniversity Press of America1-12
  • Marchand, Hans1969The categories and types of present-day English word formationMünchenBeck
  • Marchand, Hans1969The categories and types of present-day English word formationMünchenBeck
  • Olmen, Daniel van2013The imperative of saying as a pragmatic marker in English and DutchJournal of Germanic Linguistics25247-287
  • Smessaert, Hans2013Basisbegrippen morfologieBasisbegrippen taalkundeLeuven/Den HaagACCO
  • Smessaert, Hans2013Basisbegrippen morfologieBasisbegrippen taalkundeLeuven/Den HaagACCO
  • Smessaert, Hans2013Basisbegrippen morfologieBasisbegrippen taalkundeLeuven/Den HaagACCO
  • Smessaert, Hans2013Basisbegrippen morfologieBasisbegrippen taalkundeLeuven/Den HaagACCO
  • Smessaert, Hans2013Basisbegrippen morfologieBasisbegrippen taalkundeLeuven/Den HaagACCO
  • Vriendt, Sera de1995Kom, kijk, zeg als interjectieVan geen kelintje vervaardVUB Press
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