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Coordinate NN

In contrast to endocentric NN compounds, where the two constituents have a different role, i.e. that of head and modifier, we can also encounter compounds in which both elements have equal semantic weight. These are called coordinate compounds or copulative compounds. The two constituents form a coordination, however without a coordinative conjunction. An example is skoalmaster-dichter schoolmaster-poet. This compound refers to someone who is both a schoolmaster and a poet.

[+]General properties

Coordinate compounds are characterized by the fact that both constituents have equal semantic weight. Examples are skoalmaster-dichter teacher-poet, kening-stêdhâlder king-viceregent and skriuwer-ponghâlder writer-treasurer. Coordinate compounds have an exocentric interpretation, mainly referring to persons. The word skoalmaster-dichter does not refer to a specific kind of poet, as it would do if it were endocentric, but rather to a person who performs the functions of skoalmaster teacher and dichter poet. The exocentric compound therefore predicates an external semantic head.

Coordinate compounds can also be used to denote objects, like radio-kasetterekorder radio-cassette recorder, rum-cola rum-coke or kafee-restaurant café-restaurant. Somewhat special are neighbouring place-names that are presented as one unit, as Peazens-Moddergat or the railway station Grou-Jirnsum.

An important restriction for a coordinate compound is the requirement that both members should have equal gender, as is the case in the examples above. If the genders clash, then we get an unacceptable result, for example when we combine the neuter noun (it) orakel (the oracle) with the common gender noun (de) dichter (the) poet. A compound like *it orakel-dichter, or *de orakel-dichter for that matter, would be unacceptable. However, if a gender-discriminating determiner is lacking, nouns with different genders can nevertheless be found in a coordinate compound, for instance in utterances like orakel-dichter Kalma hie grutte ynfloed oracle-poet Kalma had great influence or kafee-bar "It Hoekje" café-bar "It Hoekje". In the latter example kafee café itself is neuter whereas bar bar is common.

Coordinate compounds do not necessarily consist of two members. They can be expanded, without requiring a binary structure, in contrast to what we see with endocentric compounds. So, a kafee-restaurant may be extended to hotel-kafé-restaurant hotel-café-restaurant, again with equal status of the members of the compound.

Stress is another discriminating factor with respect to endocentric compounds, which have their main stress on the first member. Coordinate compounds, on the other hand, have primary stress on the right, with a strong secondary stress on the left-hand member, however. In case of three constituents, the first and second member are stressed equally.

Despite these differences with endocentric compounds there is also a parallel, in that the morpho-syntactic properties of both compounding types are determined by the right-hand member. The plural form of tolk-oersetter interpreter-translator is tolk-oersetters, for instance, and not *tolken-oersetter, or *tolken-oersetters with even two plural endings.

[+]Morphological potential

Coordinate compounds are also possible in the modifier position of an endocentric compound. An example is heit-soanrelaasje father-son relation, in which the coordinated nouns heit father and soan son are subordinated to the head-noun relaasje relation. Some examples of coordinate compounds in modifier position are given in the table below:

Table 1
first constituent (N) second constituent (N) subordinated to endocentric compound (NN)
pjisk peach sinesappel orange sop juice pjisk-sinasappelsop peach-orange juice
mage stomach term intestine kanaal canal mage-termkanaal gastrointestinal tract
haat hate leafde love ferhâlding relationship haat-leafdeferhâlding love-hate relationship
kosten costs baten benefits analyze analysis koste-bate-analyze cost-benefit analysis
tin tin lead lead legearing alloy tin-leadlegearing tin-lead alloy
hert heart long lung masine machine hert-longmasine heart-lung machine
Wumkes Wumkes Folkertsma Folkertsma bibel bible Wumkes-Folkertsmabibel Wumkes-Folkertsmabible; the bible as translated by Wumkes and Folkertsma
Tsjonger Tsjonger Linde Linde delling valley Tsjonger-Lindedelling Tsjonger-Lindevalley

However, the semantics of such formations is different, as the head noun often denotes some type of connection or relation. The modifier position of subordinate compounds is a non-referential position, so coordinate compounds in that position may also denote two or more persons, things etc. The effect is that coordinate compounds in a modifier position are often inconceivable if they occurred as a coordinate compound on their own, since they would exclude each other. For example, we have the existing word mage-termkanaal gastrointestinal tract, but a coordinate compound *mage-term stomach-intestine is impossible since there is no such thing that is a stomach and an intestine at the same time. An exocentric interpretation may sometimes nevertheless be available. For example, a word like skoalmaster-dichter-skriuwerij teacher-poet-writing can be interpreted as correspondence between a teacher and a poet but also in an exocentric way as writing of a person who is teacher and poet.

Coordinate compounds can also be input for suffixes. An example is -eftich, as in skoalmaster-dichtereftich like a schoolmaster-poet. Such derivations also have an exocentric interpretation.

Bare binominal expressions

To a certain extent coordinate compounds resemble bare binominal expressions. These consist of two bare nouns, however, explicitly coordinated by a coordinating connective. Some examples are given below:

a. Heit en soan giene te fiskjen
dad and son went to fish
Dad and son went fishing
b. Hja krige pinne en papier en begûn te skriuwen
she got pen and paper and started to write
She grabbed a pen and paper en started writing
c. Hja kinne meiinoar as hûn en kat
they can with.eachother as dog and cat
They are like cat and dog
d. Wat wolst ha: kop of munt?
what will.you have: head or coin
What do you want to have: heads or tails?
e. Men seach dêr mûs noch minske
one saw there mice nor human
One saw nobody there

The expressions mentioned above have become more or less fixed, although it should be said that the pattern is fairly productive in Frisian as long as the restriction is obeyed that the two nouns both denote persons or things which are related to each other in a specific situation or environment. Put together, they express one concept, and in this respect these combinations have word-like properties. This is formally supported by the fact that articles are lacking and that the stress is on the second noun, whereas stress is distributed equally in phrasal conjunctions. On the other hand, the presence of a coordinative conjunction does point to a phrasal status, as does the possibility of pluralization:

a. Hja die sokken en skuon oan
she did sock.PL and shoe.PL on
She put on socks and shoes
b. Wy wosken gesicht en hannen
we washed face and hand.PL
We washed our face and hands

There are also some cases which syntactically move one step up to a phrasal status in that they allow an article, although semantically the combination is felt as a unity. The gender of the combination equals that of the second member. Take (de) hynder-en-wein (the) horse-and-wagon, in which the combination of a wagon towed by a horse is seen as one concept. The definite article de agrees with the common gender of wein wagon, and not with neuter hynder horse. The other way round is (it) kop-en-pantsje (the) cup-and-saucer in which kop cup is common and the diminutive pan-tsje saucer-DIM takes neuter gender by default. This is reflected by the neuter definite article it.


This topic is based on Hoekstra (1998:30-31). The extra on binomial expressions is based on Hoekstra (1998:32-33). A nice collection of such expressions can be found in Tamminga (1975). He also points to the fact that many pairs are just synonyms or antonyms. Many of them also show rhyme or alliteration.

  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Tamminga, Douwe Annes1975Op 'e strún nei wurdpearenDe Pompebledden4651-53
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