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Is the complex segment /ts/ an affricate?

This topic discusses the synchronic phonological status of the cluster /ts/. Though /ts/ is likely to have functioned as an affricate once, there are reasons to believe that it no longer does so at present or, put differently, that is has got the same status as the other complex segments.


In complex segments and complex segments as single units, /ts/ has been treated on a par with the other /s/ + plosive (and plosive + /s/) clusters, which consist of two segments in underlying representation and surface as complex segments. A separate discussion of /ts/, however, is justified, for there are indications that this cluster might be viewed as an affricate (see Lin (2011) on affricates in general).

In the first place, /ts/ has often developed out of /k/, see the examples in (1):

Example 1

tsjettel /tsjɛtəl/ kettle (cf. Dutch ketel )
tsjef /tsjɛf/ chaff (cf. Dutch kaf )
lyts /lits/ (< litik ) little, small
maits /majts/ (< madik ) maggot, grub(worm)

On the basis of the above pattern, it might be concluded that /ts/ is a single segment. It should be kept in mind, though, that /ts/ in (1) is the outcome of a historical process of palatalization and assibilation, which is no longer productive in Frisian.

Secondly, the pairs of words in (2) — which have an unclear dialectal distribution — only differ in the presence of /ts/ vs. /k/:

Example 2

elts ~ elk /ɛl{ts/k}/ each, every; everyone
folts ~ folk /fol{ts/k}/ people
lilts ~ lilk /lɪl{ts/k}/ ugly; angry
ljurts ~ ljurk /ljør{ts/k}/ lark
melts ~ melk /mɛl{ts/k}/ milch, milking (of cattle)
melts(e) ~ melk(e) /mɛl{ts/k/ to milk
triltsjer ~ trilker /trɪl{ts(j)/k}ər/ barge-pole

In these words as well, /ts/ has developed out of /k/. The forms with /ts/ are becoming obsolete (see also Tamminga (1987)). In Standard Frisian, however, the form elts is more or less being propagated, because of distancing from Dutch, which has elk here. But on no account is there a productive pattern of alternation here.

Thirdly, hypocoristics may have /k/ where the full form of the Christian name has /ts/ (see Visser (2010:48-49)):

Table 1: /ts/ and /k/ in the full form of names and their hypocoristic counterparts
Full form Pet name
Jetske Jekke
Jitske Jikke
Tsjitske Tsjikke
Lutske Lukke
Wytske Wike (Wykke)
Martsen Makke
Grytsje Kike
Pytsje Pike
Tsjeardsje Keke / Kekke

[show extra information]

The spelling -<kk>- is not intended to represent geminate /k/, it only indicates that the vowel preceding /k/ is short. Due to degemination (see degemination), forms like Jekke have a single [k]: /jɛtskə//jɛkkə//jɛkə/. These hypocoristics have developed into names in their own right, so there no longer is a derivational relation between, for instance, Jetske and Jekke.

From a historical point of view, /ts/ is secondary and /k/ is primary in (1) and (2) above. This seems to be the other way around in /ts/ and /k/ in the full form of names and their hypocoristic counterparts. A (gradual) change from /ts/ into /k/, however, is unlikely. It may safely be assumed that in the formation of hypocoristics the cluster /ts/ of the full form was simply replaced by /k/. In order for this to be possible, there must have been an identification of /ts/ with /k/. The disjunctive lexical representations of some verb stems — with final /k/ and /ts/, see below — may have helped paving the way for this.

A fourth argument can be based on the following set of verbs, all with an infinitive ending in /-a(:)jtsjə/ ( <a(a)itsje>), /-o:jtsjə/ (<oaitsje>), or /-{a/ɛ}jtsjə/ (<eitsje>):

Example 3

la(a)its(je) to laugh
koaits(je) to cook; to boil
loaits(je) to look
ploaits(je) to pick, to pluck
meits(je) to make
reits(je) to hit
smeits(je) to taste
weits(je) to watch

These verbs display an alternation between [k] and [ts] in the paradigm: [ts] occurs in case the inflectional suffix is -je (infinitive; first person singular present tense; all plural persons present tense; imperative), [k] occurs in all other inflectional forms, in point of fact, before schwa (see paradigm of class II). The full paradigm of la(a)itsjeto laugh is given in the table below:

Table 2: Paradigm of la(a)itsjeto laugh
Present tense Past tense Past participle Imperative
ik la(a)itsjeI laugh ik lakeI laughed ik haw lakeI have laughed la(a)itsjelaugh!
do lakestyou laugh do lakestyou laughed
hy lakethe laughs hy lakehe laughed
wy/jim/hja la(a)itsjewe/you/they laugh wy/jim/hja lakenwe/you/they laughed

The stem vowel also shows alternation, as becomes clear from the following overview:

Table 3: The stem vowel alternations
Infinitive 2nd ps. sg. present tense Plural past tense Past participle
la(aitsje) lakest[la:kəst] laken[la:kən] lake[la:kə]
koaitsje kôkest[kɔ:kəst] kôken[kɔ:kən] kôke[kɔ:kə]
loaitsje lôkest[lɔ:kəst] lôken[lɔ:kən] lôke[lɔ:kə]
ploaitsje plôkest[plɔ:kəst] plôken[plɔ:kən] plôke[plɔ:kə]
meitsje makkest[makəst] makken [makən] makke[makə]
smeitsje smakkest[smakəst] smakken[smakən] smakke[smakə]
reitsje rekkest[rɛkəst] rekken[rɛkən] rekke[rɛkə]
weitsje wekkest[vɛkəst] wekken[vɛkən] wekke[vɛkə]

There is some system in these alternations: /ts/ is preceded by a long vowel + glide sequence, viz. /a:j/ or /o:j/, or by a falling diphthong, viz. /{a/ɛ}j/, which also ends in the glide –[j]; /k/, on the other hand, is preceded by a monophthong. The long vowel + glide sequence /a:j/ alternates with the long monophthong /a:/, whereas /o:j/ alternates with /ɔ:/. In the case of /a:j/ ~ /a:/ the long vowel remains constant; in the case of /o:j/ ~ /ɔ:/, there is a qualitative (height) difference, though /o:/ and /ɔ:/ share their backness specification. There are no simplex words ending in /-*o:jk/ and /-*ɔ:ts/, with which this verb alternation is consistent. The falling diphthong /{a/ɛ}j/ alternates with the short monophthong /a/ in case it is preceded by /m/, with /ɛ/ in the other cases (it is hard to see which connection there is between /m/ and /ɛ/). It is the head portion of the (complex) vocalic sequence that appears to be the constant factor here.

Although no more than eight verbs are involved, there is a true pattern here. All underived verbs with an infinitive ending in /-V(V)jtsjə/ have a paradigm in which /-k/- and /-ts-/ and the complex vocalic sequences and the monophthongs alternate in the way shown in paradigm of la(a)itsjeto laugh and the stem vowel alternations above.

Originally, the stems of the verbs in (3) ended in /-k/, which allows for a straightforward comparison with the corresponding verbs in the other West Germanic dialects (cf. Dutch lach(en)/lɑx/to laugh, kok(en)/kok/to cook; to boil, plukk(en)/plʏk/to pick, to pluck, mak(en)/mak/to make, rak(en)/rak/to hit, smak(en)/smak/to taste, and wak(en)/ʋak/to watch; loaitsje has a parallel in English look/lʊk/. Due to a process of palatalization and assibilation, stem-final /-k/ turned into [ts] when ending up before the palatal glide /j/ of the suffix -je. Besides, between the monophthong and /k/ (or /ts/) the glide /j/ developed.

One may wonder whether this is still the synchronic state of affairs in Frisian (see also Tiersma (1979:112-115) . That is to say, do the verbs at hand still have a stem-final /-k/, which turns into [ts] before -je? Or are there reasons to believe that nowadays the verbs at hand display stem allomorphy, so that the verb la(a)itsje for instance has the disjunctive lexical representation /l{a(:)jts/a:k}/, together with a statement concerning the distribution of the allomorphs?

A first argument for stem allomorphy is that the alternation between /k/ and [ts] is no longer productive. The lists of examples in (1), (2), and /ts/ and /k/ in full names and their hypocoristic counterparts form closed, non-extendable classes. This means that the alternation is unlikely to increase its scope.

A second argument is that some of the above verbs have undergone leveling, in two directions. In the first place, in some dialects the form with the monophthong followed by /k/ has spread throughout the paradigm, as a result of which la(a)itsje, koaitsje, loaitsje, ploaitsje, and weitsje have been replaced by laakje, kôkje, lôkje, plôkje, and wekje, as shown in the table below for laakjeto laugh:

Table 4: Paradigm of laakjeto laugh
Present tense Past tense Past participle Imperative
ik laakjeI laugh ik lakeI laughed ik haw lakeI have laughed laakjelaugh!
do lakestyou laugh do lakestyou laughed
hy lakethe laughs hy lakehe laughed
wy/jim/hja laakjewe/you/they laugh wy/jim/hja lakenwe/you/they laughed

Secondly, in some dialects the verbs became members of a different weak class (see two classes of weak verbs), viz. from verbs of class II they turned into verbs of class I (see paradigm of class II and paradigm of class I, so that laaitsje for instance became laaitse, see the table below:

Table 5: Paradigm of laaitseto laugh
Present tense Past tense Past participle Imperative
ik laaitsI laugh ik laaitsteI laughed ik haw laaitstI have laughed laaitslaugh!
do laaitstyou laugh do laaitstestyou laughed
hy laaitsthe laughs hy laaitstehe laughed
wy/jim/hja laaitsewe/you/they laugh wy/jim/hja laaitstenwe/you/they laughed

As the tables above show, laakje and laaitse have fully regular paradigms — of the second and the first weak class, respectively —, so paradigm regularization might be viewed as one of the driving forces behind the changes at hand. However this may be, these regularizations are easier to understand if disjunctive lexical representations are assumed.

[show extra information]

Only base verbs with a stem ending in /-jts/ have the alternation between /ts/ and /k/. Weak verbs whose infinitive ends in –[tsjə] due to the regular insertion of [s] between stem-final /t/ and the suffix -/jə/je (see /{s/z}/-insertion between /{t/d}/ and /jə/) do not. Take pleitsjeto make a plea (for), derived from the noun pleitplea; it does not have forms like *(do) plekkest(you) make a plea and *(ik haw) plekke(I have) made a plea, but instead (do) pleitest and (ik haw) pleite. Whereas the sequence /ts/ in pleitsje is derived, it is part of the stem for the verbs in (3).

[show extra information]
x Paradigm of kôgjeto chew

For some class II weak verbs, stem-final <g> (/-ɣ/) assimilated to suffix-initial /j/, with concomitant loss of suffix-final schwa. This rendered the -je-forms of the class II paradigm indistinguishable from the comparable forms in the class I paradigm. This resulted in the following paradigm for the verb kôgje/kɔ:ɣjə/to chew:

Table 1: Paradigm of kôgjeto chew
Present tense Past tense Past participle Imperative
ik koaiI chew ik kôgeI chewed ik haw kôgeI have chewed koaichew!
do kôgestyou chew do kôgestyou chewed
hy kôgethe chews hy kôgehe chewed
wy/jim/hja koaiewe/you/they chew wy/jim/hja kôgenwe/you/they chewed

The first person singular present tense, all plural persons present tense, and the imperative fit in with a weak class I, the other forms with a class II weak verb.

It will come as no surprise that this mixed paradigm has frequently been regularized in the direction of a weak class I verb; all verbs whose stem ends in /-j/ belong to the weak class I declension, as observed by Hoekstra (1998:152). The regularized verb stems no longer contain the cluster -ts, as exemplified by the paradigm of koaieto chew in the table below:

Table 2: Paradigm of koaieto chew
Present tense Past tense Past participle Imperative
ik koai I chew ik koaideI chewed ik haw koaidI have chewed koaichew!
do koaistyou chew do koaidestyou chewed
hy koaithe chews hy koaidehe chewed
wy/jim/hja koaiewe/you/they chew wy/jim/hja koaidenwe/you/they chewed

The following verbs show this behavior: loegje ~ loeie/lu:ɣjə ~ lu:jə/to pile up, to heap up, ploegje ~ ploeie/plu:ɣjə ~ plu:jə/to plough, roegje ~ roeie/ru:ɣjə ~ ru:jə/to grub up, to uproot, droegje ~ druie/druɣjə ~ drʌyə/to dry, fernoegje ~ fernoeie/fərnu:ɣjə ~ fərnu:jə/to content, to satisfy, to please; kôgje ~ koaie/kɔ:ɣjə ~ ko:jə/to chew, skôgje ~ skoaie/skɔ:ɣjə ~ sko:jə/to view, to survey, tôgje ~ toaie/tɔ:ɣjə ~ to:jə/to drag, to lug.

Furthermore, the table below lists nine strong/irregular verbs with a stem ending in /-ɛk/, which have a past participle ending in /-øtsən/ (<-utsen>), a pattern which the verb strike /strikə/to iron has joined:

Table 8: Irregular verbs with stem ending in /-ɛk/
berekk(e) berutsen to cover up (a fire) – covered up
brekk(e) brutsen to break – broken
dekk(e) dutsen to cover - covered
rekk(e) rutsen to stretch - stretched
sprekk(e) sprutsen to speak - spoken
stekk(e) stutsen to stab, to sting – stabbed, stung
strekk(e) strutsen to stretch - stretched
trekk(e) trutsen to make an extract (from) – made an extract (from)
wrekk(e) wrutsen to avenge - avenged
strik(e) strutsen to iron - ironed

Diachronically, /-øtsən/ has developed from /-ukin/, which might be considered as an indication that /ts/ is a single segment here.

Again, this is a true pattern. All strong/irregular verbs with a stem ending in /-ɛk/ have a paradigm in which /k/ and /ts/ alternate as in the table above. Analyzing this alternation as an instance of synchronic palatalization and assibilation would ran into the same problems as with the verbs in (3) above. Therefore, disjunctive lexical representations are also posited for the verbs at hand.

Stem tense regularization is an extra argument for such representations (see also Tiersma (1979:114-115)). Take the verb brekketo break, which had the principal parts brek/brɛk/ (present tense stem) – briek/briək/ (past tense stem) – bruts(en)/brøts/ (past participle). Many spreakers have replaced the original past tense stem briek by bruts (brekkebrutsbrutsen), which means that a verb with three stems has been reduced to a verb with only two. According to Tiersma, the past participle is unmarked in comparison with the past tense stem, which may explain the direction of this regularization. But again, the latter is easier to understand if disjunctive lexical representations are assumed.

All in all, none of the above cases of the /k/~/ts/ alternation call for a synchronic palatalization and assibilation process. Diachronically, however, this process is involved in the transition from /k/ to /ts/, which can be inferred from the fact that the change only took place if /k/ preceded a front vowel (see Lin (2011)). The first stage must have been that /k/ fronted as a result of co-articulation. The fronting proceeded so far, that at a point in time (original) /k/ became virtually indistinguishable from [t], after which it was reinterpreted as such. After that, /t/ was affricated. The synchronic facts, however, point to a re-analysis of /ts/ from affricate to obstruent cluster.

/s/ + plosive sequences behave as (two-rooted) complex segments in Frisian. If /ts/ is analyzed as such as well, Frisian has one homogeneous system of complex segments, which is to be preferred. So, although /ts/ is likely to once have functioned as an affricate, there are arguments that it no longer does so at present.

Word-initially, the cluster /ts/- has the distributional property that it must precede the vowel /i/ (/i/, /i:/, /iə/, or the front glide /j/). This is expressed by the following morpheme structure constraint ('M' denotes 'morpheme'):

/ts/ Constraint
if: M(ts, then: M(tsi/j
The /ts/ constraint is the synchronic reflex of a diachronic palatalization and assibilation process which affected [k] and [t] when they preceded a front vowel. As such, it is the price to be paid for the decision not to analyze initial /ts-/ as an affricate.

[show extra information]

It should be noted that the word-final sequence /-ts/ does not have the limitation that it must be preceded by /i/, as shown by the words below:

Example 4

bats /bɔts/ (garden) shovel
pleats /plɪəts/ farm
klets /klɛts/ slap, smack
koets /kuts/ rowantree; rowanberry
smots /smots/ pulp
luts /løts/ loop; braid(ing)
maits /majts/ maggot, grub(worm)

An indication that Frisian has one system of two-rooted complex segments is the fact that the order in which /s/ and the plosive appear in stems may have contrastive function, see the examples in the tables below:

Table 9: a1. in stem-initial position
tsienten stienstone
tsjitter(je)to twitter stjitter(je)to stutter
tsjoertether stjoersteering wheel

Table 10: a2. in stem-final position
gutsgouge gustbarren, unserved
taatsround-headed nail taasttouch; fingermark
lytslittle lystlist; frame

Table 11: b. /ks/ vs. /sk/
boksloud-speaker; (play)pen boskbundle; wood
fikssturdy; firm fiskfish
eksex eskash

Table 12: c. /ps/ vs. /sp/
hypsblow, damage hyspduck
hipsthriving, healthy hispduck
wipsflop, plop wispwisp (of straw)
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1998Fryske wurdfoarmingLjouwertFryske Akademy
  • Lin, Yen-Hwei2011Affricatesvan Oostendorp, Marc and Ewen, Colin J and Hume, Elizabeth and Rice, Keren (ed.)The Blackwell Companion to Phonology1: General issues and segmental phonologyMaldenWiley-Blackwell367-390
  • Lin, Yen-Hwei2011Affricatesvan Oostendorp, Marc and Ewen, Colin J and Hume, Elizabeth and Rice, Keren (ed.)The Blackwell Companion to Phonology1: General issues and segmental phonologyMaldenWiley-Blackwell367-390
  • Tamminga, Douwe Annes1987Oer 'tsiistsjetteltsje' en noch wat.De Pompeblêden5827
  • Tiersma, Pieter M1979Aspects of the phonology of Frisian based on the language of GrouMeidielingen fan de stúdzjerjochting Frysk oan de Frije Universiteit yn Amsterdam4
  • Tiersma, Pieter M1979Aspects of the phonology of Frisian based on the language of GrouMeidielingen fan de stúdzjerjochting Frysk oan de Frije Universiteit yn Amsterdam4
  • Visser, Willem2010Flaainammen yn it FryskUs wurk: tydskrift foar Frisistyk591-78
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