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Exocentric NN

Some endocentric NN-compounds allow for a meaning that is not directly offered by the right-hand head. A boerelul farmer-LK-penis, for example, is a farmer's penis, if interpreted endocentrically. However, the most common meaning of this compound is asshole: it denotes a person, and not a kind of penis. In this interpretation, the compound is exocentric. Exocentric NN-compounds are frequently used to refer to persons, often in a pejorative way, but also to plants and animals.


Endocentric NN-compounds form a type of compounding that is extremely productive in Frisian. One contributing factor is its semantic transparency and broad applicability. For instance, an ezelsear donkey-LK-ear donkey ear is clearly the ear of a donkey. Endocentric compounds always refer to a subset of what is denoted by the head. Donkey ears are a subset of ears in general.

The compound ezelsear can, however, also have an entirely different meaning, as it may also refer to a folded down corner of a book page, a phenomenon for which English invokes another animal, cf. the compound dog ear. Such a folded part of a piece of paper cannot be considered as being an ear in a literal sense. It lacks, for example, the main function of an ear: a body part that has the function to pick up auditive signals. The similarity with the folded page, then, is rather in the form of the ear of a donkey. We thus see a different semantics of the compound, and also one that is not always highly transparent, as is the case in this example of ezelsear.

This way of naming can have a wide range of applications. For example, a pau-each peacock-eye is not only the eye of a peacock, but also a small oval window. A hinnekont chicken-LK-bum is also a type of ladies' hairdo, which is high-shaven in the neck. Elements like kont bum, with a sexual or excremental connotation, are relatively popular in exocentric compounds. Such compounds often have a pejorative meaning, as in boerelul farmer-LK-penis asshole. In particular, exocentric compounds referring to persons are often pejorative. A wâldknyn wood-rabbit, for instance, is a term of abuse for an inhabitant of De Wâlden, the eastern part of the province of Fryslân. Other examples denoting persons are húshin house-chicken for someone who likes to stay at home, and burdbaarch beard-pig: a man with a heavy beard.

Exocentric compounds are also a popular means to give names to biological species. Hazze-ear hare-ear, mûze-ear mouse-LK-ear and skieppe-ear sheep-LK-ear are all names of plants. A goudeachje gold-eye-DIM is a bird, a pau-each peacock-eye is (also) a butterfly, and a seebaarch sea-pig is a fish.

These examples make it clear that the right-hand constituent of the compound does not function as the head in a semantic sense. In addition, as far as gender is concerned, this is not a formal requirement either. That is, the formations rather seem to obey the animacy hierarchy. We can observe this effect if the right-hand constituent has neuter gender, as is the case with ear ear.N ear and each eye.N eye. In contrast, the name of the butterfly pau-each is common gender, as are the names of plants with ear as their right-hand member. Also names of things like eazelsear dog ear and pau-each oval window are common for many speakers. However, the tendency of transition to common gender can be overruled by gender-determining affixes. That is the reason why the name of the bird goudeachje gold-eye-DIM lesser white-fronted goose is neuter, due to the diminutive suffix-je.

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