In minimalisearder yn 'e Burmania-sprekwurden


  • B. Slofstra



In Early Modern Frisian, the word combination næt ien (literally: ‘not one’, ‘not a’) had a rather specific meaning. When someone said (s)he “understood næt ien bijt (‘not a bit’) of yesterday’s sermon”, (s)he meant to convey in a rhetorical way that the whole sermon was incomprehensible to him (or her). Expressions like (not) a bit are known as minimisers in the linguistic literature. In present-day Westerlauwers Frisian, the identical word combination net in (‘not a’) normally has a different meaning. As a result, today’s readers are prone to misinterpret these Early Modern mini¬miser expressions. Likewise, the same readers would easily overlook the very similar word combination næt en (‘not a’) in Early Modern Frisian, where the determiner ien is spelled as en. This looks like a completely innocuous spelling variant in Early Modern Frisian, since orthography was anything but standardised in that period. But in reality, this apparently meaningless spelling variant had a pragmatic function. The spelling en was exclusively used in rhetorical contexts, primarily in combination with mini¬misers, but also in as-similes (‘as tall as a (en) giant’) and with such in predicates like: (he is) such a (en) (fool). In this article, a rhetorical expression listed in the 1641 Burmania Proverbs is used as a case in point. (The Burmania Proverbs constitute an anonymous collection of Frisian proverbs and expressions, in the vein of Erasmus’ Adagia.) The linguistic discoveries discussed in this article lead the way to an improved inter¬pretation, which is absent in a recent authoritative, scholarly commentary on these Proverbs.