Brill’s Language & Linguistics Blog

Pancake sentences

While I was collecting publications for the Linguistic Bibliography, the term “pancake sentence” popped up several times, which made me realize two things:
1) I’m peckish for pancakes
2) I have no idea what pancake sentences are…
Since the second item does not require me to leave my desk, I decided to investigate that one (and maybe have some pancakes later as a reward!)

A pancake sentence describes the phenomenon of the unexpected use of the singular neuter on the adjective, which is encountered in mainland Scandinavian languages (Danish, Norwegian and Swedish). The name stems from the prototypical example below, taken from Enger (2004):

Pannekak-er      er            god-t.                    (Norwegian Bokmål and Nynorsk)

Pancake.F-PL     is             good-N.SG

‘Pancakes is good.’

The expected agreement pattern, namely Pannekakene er gode (both F-PL) occurs as well, but according to Enger, the unexpected pattern above is common and grammatical, and is generally seen as agreement (and not as disagreement) in current linguistic discussions.

Since this phenomenon is sufficiently described and documented, the discussion now mainly focuses on how to capture it in a theoretical framework. So far, several accounts have been offered including generative grammar and construction grammar analyses. However, the name “pancake sentence” probably speaks to everyone’s imagination because it seems to have stuck!

Eline van der Veken
Editor-in-chief of Brill’s Linguistic Bibliography

Bibliography

Enger, Hans-Olav: Scandinavian pancake sentences as semantic agreement. – Nordic journal of linguistics 27/1, 2004, 5-34.

Enger, Hans-Olav: Scandinavian pancake sentences revisited. – Nordic journal of linguistics 36/3, 2013, 275-301.

Haugen, Arne; Enger, Hans-Olav: Scandinavian pancake constructions as a family of constructions. – Cognitive linguistic studies, 1/2, 2014, 171-196.

Josefsson, Gunlög: Peas and pancakes : on apparent disagreement and (null) light verbs in Swedish. – Nordic journal of linguistics 32/1, 2009, 35-72.

Josefsson, Gunlög: Pancake sentences and the semanticization of formal gender in Mainland Scandinavian. – Language sciences 43, 2014, 62-76.

Josefsson, Gunlög: Scandinavian gender and pancake sentences : a reply to Hans-Olav Enger. – Nordic journal of linguistics 37/3, 2014, 431-449.

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