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The clitic allomorph 'e/ə/ of the definite article de/də/the

The definite article de/də/the has the allomorph e/ə/, which shows up after monosyllabic words ending in a non-continuant segment. The relation between de and e is the subject of this topic.


The definite article de/də/the has the allomorph e/ə/, which shows up after monosyllabic words ending in a non-continuant segment. Some examples are provided in (1):

Example 1

Examples of the occurrence of 'e'
Fan de/e iene dei op de/e oare
Hy hong tsjin de/e muorre
Wy kamen fan de/e oare kant
Oantekeningen yn de/e marzje

In the examples above, e combines with prepositions. This is the most striking combination; also, it is only after prepositions that the allomorph is reflected in the spelling: <'e>. But e is not restricted to prepositions. Take the word om, which is both a preposition and a complementizer, as the examples in (2) show:

Example 2

Examples of the combination of 'om' with 'e'
a. Dokter kaam om e oare dei
doctor came at (preposition) the other day
The doctor came every other day
a.' Dokter wie fan doel om e oare dei wer te kommen
doctor was of aim for (complementizer) the other day again to come
The doctor intended to come again the next day
b. It giet om e tekst
it goes around (preposition) the text
It is the text that it is all about
b.' Hy die syn bêst om e tekst te begripen
he did his best for (complementizer) the text to understand
He did his best to understand the text

Sentences (2a,b) sound far more ‘natural’ than (2ai,2bi). In the former, om and e belong to one and the same syntactic constituent, viz. a prepositional phrase, whereas they belong to separate constituents in the latter.

The use of e instead of de is optional. The only exceptions are some fixed expressions, exemplified in (3):

Example 3

Examples of the obligatory use of 'e' in fixed expressions
om 'e/*de nocht
op 'e/*de doele (wêze)
op 'e/*de tiid
fan 'e/*de moarn
(confer the phrase it grutste part fan de/e moarn the biggest part of the morning where both de and e are fine)

Because it consists of no more than the vowel schwa, e cannot stand on its own. A word in Frisian may not begin with schwa, so e has to find a host word to its left or, put differently, it is an inherent (en)clitic (see Cliticization). That is why it cannot occur in the configurations in (4):

Example 4

configurations in which 'e' cannot occur
a. Separated from the host word by a pause
Set de ljedder mar tsjin de/e muorre / Set de ljedder mar tsjin ... de/*e muorre put the ladder just against the wall Just put the ladder against the wall
b. In enumerations with contraction
Hy hie it einekroas yn de/e mûle, de/*e eagen, it hier he had the duckweed in the mouth, the eyes, the hair The duckweed was in his mouth, his eyes, his hair
c. With preposition stranding
Der hinget in skilderij oan de/e muorre there hangs a painting on the wall There is a painting hanging on the wall
De/*e muorre hinget in skilderij oan the wall hangs a painting on There is a painting hanging on the wall

The relation between base form and allomorph can be expressed as follows:

de ~ e relation

Figure 1

[click image to enlarge]

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For some speakers, the condition on the context − a monosyllabic word ending in a non-continuant − may be relaxed, with respect to both the monosyllabicity and the non-continuancy requirement. To them, combining, for instance, the prepositions oer/uər/over, above and ûnder/undər/under with e is all right:

Example 5

Wy rûnen oer de/e brêge
we walked over the bridge
We walked over the bridge
De ko moat ûnder de/e bolle
the cow must under the bull
The cow needs (the services of) the bull

It is unknown whether this holds for non-prepositions as well.

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The allomorph e is quite common after monosyllabic prepositions ending in /n/ and /m/: fan/fɔn/of, oan/oən/on, tsjin/tsjɪn/against, yn/in/in, and om/om/round. /n/ and /m/, thus, show the same behaviour as plosives. It is often noted in the phonological literature that nasal consonants count as non-continuant segments.

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