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4.3 Superlative

The superlative adjective is distinguished from the positive degree of the adjective by the addition of a designated element, generally the suffix -ste, see Morphology. The superlative is normally used to express the highest degree (maximative), as in:

Dät waas dät fluchste, dan hieden wie Wille.
that was the nicest then had we fun
That was nicest. Then we had fun.
'N groten Tuun mäd do fluchsten Bloumen.
a big garden with the nicest flowers
A big garden with the most beautiful flowers.

The superlative in (1) picks out one from a set, which has the highest degree of the property described by the superlative. This set is referred to here as the superlative complement. In (1) above, the superlative complement consists of a set of activities, one of which is the nicest. The earlier context makes it clear that this set of activities activities involves different varieties of work in the moors. The superlative in (2) refers to a set of flowers, which belong to the nicest flowers in various subgroups. These subgroups may be pragmatically inferred to be other gardens.

The sections below deal with superlatives in more detail.

[+]1. Superlative complement

Depending on its structural environment, the superlative receives its interpretation in tandem with the superlative complement. The superlative complement is the set used for comparing various degrees, one of which is the superlative degree. In the attributive construction, as in (2) above and (3) below, the noun following the superlative determines the superlative complement.

Een fon do litjeste Gebode.
one of the smallest commandments
One of the smallest commandments.

In (3), the superlative applies to degrees of a property of members of the set of commandments. If the superlative is plural, then it may pick out more than one candidate from the set meeting the superlative degree, as in (2) above.

In a nominalised example as in (1) above, there is no overt following noun, and the set of elements from which the superlative element is picked, must therefore be inferred from the context, that is from the previous discourse or from knowledge of the world.

The superlative complement is normally expressed as a following NP in an attributive construction. Alternatively, it may be expressed as a PP containing an NP expressing the candidates whose degrees are compared, or put differently, the set to which the superlative is restricted. In the following examples, the superlative complement has been bracketed:

Dät Fluchste [fon aal] was ...
the nicest of all was
The nicest thing of all was ...
Die Grootste [fon jou] skäl jou Tjoner weze.
the greatest of you shall your servant be
The greatest among you shall be your servant.

If the superlative complement is overtly expressed in a PP, it is usually a phrase containing the unmarked preposition fon ‘of’ followed by a universal quantifier, a personal pronoun or a definite NP. Superlatives can be reinforced by the form aller-, as in examples like allerlääste ‘last’, allerbääste ‘allerbeste’, and so on. This prefix derives from the universal quantifier, which is semantically related to the superlatives in a way which is not yet well understood.

[+]2. PP superlatives: Preposition + Definite Article + Superlative

Superlatives may also be nominalised and appear in a PP built upon a designated Preposition. Thus, certain superlative constructions have the syntactic form of PPs. The designated Preposition is ap ‘on’. Various superlative adjectives may appear in this construction:

Ap‘t maaste died him sien Woud seer, jo skulen him nit moor fon Ounsicht tou Ounsicht sjo.
on.the most did them his word pain they should him not more of face to face see
They were hurt most by his word, that they wouldn’t see him anymore face to face.
Sien trjoue Tjoonste in Ephesus koanst du sälwen ap t bääste.
his faithful service in Ephesus know you self on the best
You yourself know best about his faithful service in Ephesus.
Wie häbe dän Komer ap’t ruugste ap Stede moaked.
we have the room on.the roughest on order made
We made the room in order in the roughest way.
Do Suldoaten wuden ap’t uterste kwäld.
the soldiers were on. the extreme.SUP tormented
The soldiers were tormented in the most extreme way.
So as do Bäidefloagen uur n Wieuw kume, ju ap ‘t Lääste gungt.
so as the birth.pains over a woman come she on the last goes
So as the birth pains seize a woman, as she goes unto the last.

The examples make it clear that the PP functions as a superlative adverbial. The last example above involves an expression in which the superlative PP functions as an obligatory verbal complement. The expression is used for denoting the last moments of time before giving birth. It seems that the superlative must be in the form of a PP in case it is used as an adverbial modifying a clause.

The PP superlative based on the preposition ap ‘on’ is a native form, which was possibly restricted in usage (compare West Frisian). Saterland Frisian also features a PP superlative that must have been borrowed from German but which is now firmly entrenched in the language. It has the form of the word am followed by the superlative. This am is the German contraction of the preposition an ‘to’ and the dative form of the definite article dem ‘the’.

Die Hedehunich die am ljoosten koped wädt. un am juursten betoald wädt.
the heath.honey that SUP preferred.SUP bought is and SUP expensive.SUP paid is
The heath honey that people like to buy best.
Also am bästen is fon dät jele Wierträit.
so SUP good.SUP is of that yellow copper.wire
So the best is that type of yellow copper wire.
Skäddel je wät moor, am maasten je in Hollenerfehn.
Scharrel what more SUP much.SUP still in Hollenerfehn
In Scharrel still a bit more, still most in Hollenerfehn.
Wät dan am langsten uurbleeuw dät wieren do Skinken.
what then SUP long.SUP over.stayed that were the leg.bones
What then remained longest, were the leg bones.

Interestingly, the lexicographer Marron Fort avoided this German type of superlative in his translation of the New Testament, suggesting he considered it a loan from German. Even so, this type of superlative is the unmarked superlative in the Kramer Archive, which partially consists of a body of transcribed spoken Saterland Frisian.

[+]3. NP superlative

The word bääst ‘best’ can appear in a NP superlative, which has an adverbial function in the VP. An example is given below:

Hie siet in Nood un ruup aal sien Bääst.
he was in need and shouted all his best
He was in trouble and shouted the best he could.

The translation could also be: as best as he could. The translation makes clear that the standard for comparison is not a set of actual shoutings by various persons, but a set of potential shoutings.

[+]4. Other aspects of superlatives

Unlike comparatives, superlatives do not enter into the partitive construction. This may be due to the contrary semantic specifications of the partitive adjective construction, on the one hand, and the superlative, on the other hand.

The contrary of a maximal superlative is a minimal superlative as in ‘least intelligint’. However, this type of lowest degree superlative, which is inherently periphrastic, seems to be absent in Saterland Frisian.

A superlative meaning does not necessarily have a superlative form, if the meaning of the word itself is clear enough. To illustrate, consider the following example:

Ju is toumäts ju oankelde, ju die dät fertälle kon.
she is perhaps the only.one who you that tell can
She is perhaps the only one who can tell you that.

Here West Frisian has the somewhat vacuous superlative form iennichste ‘only.SUP’. Such a form is also found in Saterland Frisian, though not in the example above. There is a form: eentsigste ‘only’, which ends in –ste like superlatives, though Fort gives the lemma without schwa. An example is given below:

Do bee sunt do eentsichste Kaptains, do iek kanne.
the both are the only captains that I know
Those two are the only captains that I know.

The superlative always seems to end in –ste nowadays. A lexicalised superlative like bääst ‘best’ is an exception:

Dät is nit tou bääst.
that is not too best
That is not very good.

Periphrastic superlatives seem to be absent from Saterland Frisian.

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