Descriptive genitives or adjectives? Head shift with 'slags' and 'sorts' in the works and letters of August Strindberg


  • Caroline Morris


Headshift, adjectives, descriptive genitives, degree modifiers, prescriptivism


This paper looks at head shift with slags (“kind of”) and sorts (“sort of”) in the writings of August Strindberg, compared to those of his contemporaries and newspaper texts from the 20th and 21st century. Slags and sorts are followed by a noun can be preceded by a determiner. Initially slags and sorts were classified as descriptive genitives and agreed with the determiner which would be neuter with slags and common gender with sorts. These Degree Modifiers are however also used as adjectives, that is they are no longer the head of the phrase. This role is transferred to the following noun, thus the term “head shift”. In these cases the gender of the determiner agrees with the noun. Headshift can be measured by calculating how frequently the determiner agrees with the noun and with slags/sorts. A corpus investigation shows that Strindberg uses slags/sorts as adjectives in his early works and letters, but later treats them as descriptive genitives in line with the prescriptivist guidelines of the early twentieth century, which did not approve of the forms with headshift. Among his contemporaries headshift is less frequent of does not occur at all, in modern usage it is more frequent and acceptable. There is also a preference for the use of common gender nouns with sorts and neuter nouns with slags, which is most apparent in Strindberg’s writings.