v53: underbar

So far, most of my words have been short ones, but now it’s time to step up the pace a little and learn some morphology. Don’t worry, morphology (word structure) is fun! Morphology works like this – here are a bunch of words related to “snow”:

It snowed yesterday. There is snow on the ground. Tomorrow, it may snow; it will be snowy and snowflakes will fall from the sky.

Technical point 1. Word: there are five words related to snow; we can probably agree that there are four different words (although, five is arguable). Lexeme: I’m pretty confident there are four lexemes represented above; a lexeme is the set of words representing a particular part of speech (noun, verb, adjective, …), so we have snow/snowed (verbs), snow (noun), snowy (adjective), and snowflake (noun). Basically, a lexeme is a single dictionary entry. Lemma: the basic wordform in a lexeme set, or the headword in a dictionary; so if you look up snow (verb), you’ll also find snows and snowed. There should be a separate entry for snow (noun), which incorporates snows (plural).

Technical point 2. You may want to talk about morphological processes. Inflection is about changes within a lexeme set, such as snow -> snowed. Derivation is about changing lexemes (or parts of speech), such as snow -> snowy. Compounding just puts words together, such as snow -> snowflake.

But don’t worry too much about the above, let’s just make some words. Actually, previously we’ve looked at inflections for adjectives and nouns, and compounding, so this week it’s got to be derivations. Derivations are fun, and so are adjectives.

In Swedish as in English, common adjectives don’t have much morphological structure: bra (good), stor (big), vit (white), and so on. However, there are some specific word endings used to make adjectives. I’ll quickly dispense with -isk, for obvious reasons: aromatisk, turkisk (that is, -ic and -ish in English). Real Swedish adjectives end in -bar or -lig:

brännbar (combustible)
förutsägbar (forseeable)
sårbar (vulnerable)
underbar (wonderful)

behaglig (pleasant)
farlig (dangerous)
molnig (cloudy)
möjlig (possible)
ryslig (dreadful)

This is not a comprehensive list (I don’t have a reverse dictionary), and I’ve saved some of the best for future posts, but there are some interesting things here. First, ryslig is derived from rysa (to shiver). Second, the -bar words are generally equivalent to English words ending in -able or -ible, that is, the adjective describes an action that can be performed on the noun it modifies. Except for underbar (related to the noun ett under (a wonder) and the verb undra (to wonder)). Or not? If a thing is wonderful, is it full of wonder, or is it something you can wonder about (wonderable)? Go and wonder about that while I wonder about next week’s word, which will unfortunately not be “wonderful”.

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Published in: on December 29, 2009 at 14:04  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I think your Swedish will be “rysligt bra” soon!

  2. The strange thing is that we have both Underbar (Wonderful), as commented on in the blog, but also Underlig (Strange) which falls in the second category of adjectives.

  3. […] Time to finish discussing adjective morphology. As a commenter pointed out, as well as underbar (wonderful), Swedish also has underlig (strange). But in case you might start thinking you discern […]


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