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Segmental structure of superheavy syllables

Superheavy syllables have several characteristics concerning their segmental make-up, restrictions on their occurrence within a prosodic word, and their behaviour in stress assignment (superheavy syllables are strong stress attractors).

Whether or not a syllable counts as superheavy depends on its rhyme structure. Superheavy syllables contain either an A-class vowel plus one consonant (AC), a diphthong plus a consonant (DC), or a B-class vowel plus two consonants (BCC). Furthermore, there can be an additional coda consonant following the first consonant, in rare cases even two; these post-consonantal positions are almost exclusively occupied by coronal obstruents. In morphologically complex words, extended superheavy syllables occur at a more regular level.

A basic superheavy syllable can be followed by up to two consonants. A detailed treatment of the exceptional rhyme types in Frisian can be found in The size of the word-internal and word-final syllable rhyme, Word-final sequences of three consonants, and Word-final rhymes of four and five positions.

Another important characteristic of superheavy syllables is their restriction to the final position in a prosodic word: non-final superheavy syllables do not occur.


An overview of the three different minimal types of superheavy syllables is given below. These minimal structures are termed 'basic superheavy syllables' here.

Example 1

a. AC
      baan /ba:n/ job
      boom /bo:m/ pole
      tiid /ti:d/ time
b. DC
      rein /rajn/ rain
      goud /ɡɔwd/ gold
      smous /smɔwz/ sheeny, Yid
c. BCC
      werf /vɛrv/ shipyard
      sjerp /sjɛrp/ syrup
      skelf /skɛlv/ warped, twisted

Next to the basic structures AC, DC, and BCC, the superheavy syllable of a monomorphemic word can contain up to two additional consonants, mostly coronal obstruents. The cases with two additional consonants are quite rare. These extra consonants may be assumed to form an appendix to the syllable. Superheavy syllables extended with additional consonants are called 'extended superheavy syllables' here.

Example 2

a. AC + C
      feest /fe:st/ party
      baarch /ba:rɣ/ pig
      waarm /va:rm/ hot
      dûns /du:ns/ dance
      sêft /sɛ:ft/ soft
b. DC + coronal C
      neist /najst/ next to
      weind /vajnd/ headland
      oant /oənt/ till
      pleats /plɪəts/ farm
c. BCC + coronal C
      erts /ɛrts/ ore

See the following topics for more on the representation of superheavy syllables in general and their behaviour in Frisian in particular:

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