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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton November 10, 2017

Cherchez la femme: Two Germanic suffixes, one etymology

  • Piotr Gąsiorowski EMAIL logo
From the journal Folia Linguistica


The origin of the Germanic suffixes forming occupational titles and agent nouns – masculine *-ārijaz (the ancestor of Modern English -er) and its feminine counterpart reflected in Old English as -estre and in Modern as -ster – is an old problem in Germanic historical morphology. The masculine “agentive” suffix, which occurs in all the subgroups of Germanic, is generally presumed to be of Latin origin, though it occurs mostly with native derivational bases even in the earliest attested Germanic languages; the latter is believed to be native, but has no accepted etymology, and its limited range of occurrence in Germanic remains unexplained. It will be argued that the two suffixes are etymologically connected in a hitherto unsuspected way, that the traditional opinion about the origin of *-ārijaz should be revised, and that both suffixes have interesting Indo-European cognates outside Germanic.


I wish to express my gratitude to the editors and four anonymous reviewers. I have done my best to improve the argument by implementing their suggestions and responding to their criticism. I am especially indebted to Muriel Norde for her helpful comments on the final draft of the article. All remaining flaws, errors and infelicities are entirely my own.


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Published Online: 2017-11-10
Published in Print: 2017-11-27

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