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The survival and use of case morphology in Modern Dutch



The purpose of this research

The aim of this chapter is to explore the usefulness of a Construction Grammar approach in accounting for morphosyntactic phenomena which are not the unmarked, default variant in any given situation. Such phenomena, despite their marginality, may nonetheless be regular in the sense defined by Barddal (2008: 30) as “[t]he application of a morphological pattern to create new word forms of already existing words” (with reference to morphology) and “[t]he application of a syntactic process to create new instances of already existing syntactic patterns” (with reference to syntax). The chapter focuses on one regular but marginal construction in modern standard Dutch; it is exemplified in (1), in which the relevant parts are in boldface.

(1) a. een nieuw hoofdstuk in de geschiedenis der verkeerstechnologie

a new chapter in the history the.GEN traffic-technology

‘a new chapter in the history of traffic technology’

(INL 27 Mil., March 1994)

b. Neem de maat van de breedte der plastic zakken.

take the measurement of the width the.GEN plastic bags

‘Measure the width of the plastic bags.’ (INL 27 Mil., October 1994)

This construction, in which the genitive definite article der connects two noun phrases, is one of several in modern Dutch which developed from the now defunct genitive case. Some constructions, such as possessive -s (2a) and the partitive construction (2b), preserve the former genitive ending -s which is now used as an invariant marker (see Booij2010: 211-231).

(2) a. Albertiens hart Albertien.poss heart

‘Albertien’s heart’ (Eindhoven, novels and short stories, 21549)

uw vaders handen your father.POSS hands

‘your father’s hands’ (Eindhoven, news magazines, 7846)

b. iets heel lastigs

something very difficult.PART ‘something very difficult’ (from Booij2010: 226)

In contrast, the genitive fragment studied here - referred to here both as the adnominal genitive construction and, on account of its structure, as x der y - maintains an agreement relationship between the determiner der and the noun in y; this agreement seems to resemble the relationship that would have held when the case system was intact (for more justification on this, see Scott 2011, 2012a).

Within a Construction Grammar framework, and on the basis of general usage-based principles, this chapter addresses the manner of the preservation of the adnominal genitive construction, and the structural and pragmatic aspects of its present-day use. Having sketched out the diachronic development of case morphology in Dutch, this chapter addresses the synchronic structural characteristics of the adnominal genitive construction in modern Dutch. Then, on the basis of 16th-19th century corpus data, a usage-based explanation is proposed for how the x der y construction was able to survive while morphological case marking was otherwise lost from Dutch. The focus then shifts to the present- day language: first, a structural explanation within Construction Grammar is posited to account for the productivity of the x der y construction, then the pragmatic meaning of the construction, and the consequences of using it in various registers, are considered.

  • [1] I thank audience members at the Construction Grammar of Dutch workshop in Leiden and theInterfaces in Language III conference in Canterbury for their useful feedback and suggestions.The work here builds both on the paper presented in Leiden and on Scott (2014: Chapter 5).The data and examples presented here overlap to a degree with those in Scott (2014); however,the analysis presented here has a different focus. This research was carried out as part of aLeverhulme Early Career Research Fellowship.
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