The Grammar of Giants

Late-stage debonding of kæmpe ‘giant’ in Danish


  • Rasmus Puggaard Universiteit Leiden



degrammaticalization, language change, morphology, corpus linguistics, Danish


It is a common process of language change for free morphemes to become bound morphemes, but the inverse process (termed ‘debonding’ by Norde 2009) is much rarer. Previous studies have found that lexemes with the original meaning ‘giant’ (German Riesen, Dutch reuze) have historically grammaticalized as prefixes, and subsequently debonded into free morphemes with the same bleached meaning as the prefixes (Van Goethem & Hiligsmann 2014; Norde & Van Goethem 2014). Using a synchronic corpus of written Danish (KorpusDK), this paper shows that the Danish word kæmpe, originally ‘giant’, is in the late stages of a similar process of debonding. By investigating the morphological and syntactic patterning of kæmpe, the paper shows that kæmpe has indeed debonded, and occurs as a free-standing semantically bleached adjective, but that it does not yet exhibit fully prototypical adjectival behavior. All three functions of kæmpe remain in use: a noun with the specific meaning ‘giant’, a semantically bleached prefix, and a corresponding semantically bleached adjective. This would argue against an account relying on abrupt category change, and it is proposed that kæmpe has reached its current status through gradual analogy-driven change.


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How to Cite

Puggaard, R. (2020). The Grammar of Giants: Late-stage debonding of kæmpe ‘giant’ in Danish. Scandinavian Studies in Language, 11(2), 21.