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Complex vowel sequences

Apart from long and short monophthongs, Frisian has diphthongs, tautomorphemic sequences of two (different) monophthongs. Besides that, a stem can also contain sequences of three or four vowels. This section provides overviews of both kinds of vocalic sequences.


Apart from long and short monophthongs, Frisian allows for combinations of monophthongs in one and the same morpheme. A diphthong, for example, is a combination of two different tautomorphemic vowels, which end up as the nucleus of a syllable. The phonetic implementation of such a sequence is a tautosyllabic unit of two vowels, between which there is a smooth articulatory transition. The Frisian diphthongs are shown in (1).

Example 1

The Frisian diphthongs
a. Falling diphthongs
/aj/ rein rain
/ɛj/ nij new
/ʌɥ/ buis tube
/ɔw/ blau blue
/oj/ floite whistle
b. Centring diphthongs
/iə/ stien stone
/yə/ flues membrane
/uə/ koel cool
/ɪə/ beam tree
/øə/ freon friend
/oə/ koal cabbage
c. Rising diphthongs
/ja/ ljacht light
/jɛ/ frjemd strange
/jɔ/ ljocht light
/jɪ/ ljisk groin
/jø/ pjuts prick
/jo/ rjocht right
/jy/ njúnt(sje) to hum
/ju/ stjûne stem
/wa/ kloarkje to suck
/wɛ/ swel swallow
/wɪ/ twirre whirl
/wø/ swurd sword
/wo/ luorkje to suck
/wi/ dwyl dizzy
[show extra information]

The close vowels (vocoids) /i/, /y/, and /u/ are assumed to underlie the glides [j], [ɥ], and [w]. This is in line with Booij (1995:8-9), who specifies the Dutch glide /j/ as "a palatal vocoid, with the same phonetic properties as the [i] except that it occurs in consonantal positions in the syllable; it has a shorter duration than the [i]". For the sake of convenience and exposition, however, the glides are transcribed as /j/, /ɥ/, and /w/ throughout, also in underlying representations.

A stem can also contain sequences of three or four vowels, which are made up of a glide and a long vowel or diphthong. This is shown in (2):

Example 2

Sequences of three or four vowels
a. Rising diphthong + glide
/woj/ muoike aunt
/waj/ moaist most beautiful
b. Long vowel + glide
/u:j/ bloei blossom
/o:j/ roai alignment
/a:j/ aai egg
/i:w/ ieu century; age
c. Glide + long vowel
/ju:/ stjûne stem, stern
/jo:/ skriuw(e) to write
/ja:/ ja yes
/wi:/ swiid superb
/we:/ dwep(e) to gush
/wa:/ twa two
d. Glide + falling diphthong
/jɔw/ fjouwer four
/jʌɥ/ oan'e jui wêze to whirl
/wɛj/ swij(e) to keep silent
e. Glide + centring diphthong
/wiə/ swiet sweet
/juə/ tsjoen enchantment
/wɪə/ kwea evil; harm
/joə/ tsjoar tether
f. Glide + long vowel + glide
/ja:j/ jaai(e) to scud
/ju:j/ joei(e) to frolic
/wa:j/ swaai(e) to wave

See the following topics:

  • Booij, Geert1995The phonology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
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