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Micro-variation, contact and change: the absentive in Frisian and Dutch

  • Myrthe Bergstra (Utrecht University)
Thursday 14 February 2019
P.N. van Eyckhof 2
P.N. van Eyckhof 2
2311 BV Leiden


In both Frisian and Dutch we find the absentive, a syntactic construction to express the
absence of a subject. The absentive is formed (in these languages) by a finite form of to be and
an infinitive (a bare infinitive in Dutch, a te-infinitive in Frisian).

In this talk, I will argue that the absentive can be analyzed as a case of go-deletion,
following Abraham (2008). That is, the examples below actually include a silent form of
perfective go:


Jan is te fiskjen gongen                                              Frisian
Jan is to fish.inf   gone
“Jan is off fishing”


Jan is gaan     vissen / Jan is vissen gegaan          Dutch
Jan is gone      fish.inf / Jan is fish.inf gone
“Jan is off fishing”

Besides being able to explain the meaning of the absentive, I will argue that this analysis is the
key in another problem: it explains the differences that we find between the Dutch and Frisian
absentive: 1) why Frisian included a to-infinitive, rather than a bare infinitive, 2) why the finite
verb in the absentive can also be gean (“go”) or a modal verb in Frisian, and 3) why the Frisian
absentive can have a passive interpretation.

Finally, I will present some data showing that the absentive in Frisian is changing
under influence of Dutch, but that this does not mean that the Frisian system is lost.

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