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Diphthongs in Frisian
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Monophthongs cannot combine in every logically possible way to form a diphthong. The sonority profile of the vowel sequence determines to which diphthong type the sequence relates, namely:

  1. a falling diphthong,
  2. a centring diphthong, or
  3. a rising diphthong.
These three diphthong types are the subject of this topic.

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Monophthongs cannot combine in every logically possible way to form a diphthong. In a vowel sequence, one of the vowels is always most prominent, i.e. it acts as the head of the diphthong, whereas the other acts as the on-glide or off-glide. The head has a longer duration than the non-head and it is also the head through which stress is realized. Only the least sonorous vowels, viz. the close vowels and schwa, function as non-heads in Frisian.

A glide in a long vowel + glide sequence is intermediate between a vowel and a consonant: melodically it is a vowel, but structurally it functions as a consonant in occupying a position typical of consonants, viz. the syllable coda. A glide in a diphthong, however, does belong to the nucleus, as is clear from the fact that it cannot be resyllabified as the onset of the following syllable. A glide in a diphthong, therefore, is not a vowel which occupies a position in the syllable margin, it is just the least sonorous component of the nucleus.

The sonority profile of the vowel sequence determines into which diphthong type the sequence translates. The diphthongs of Frisian are given 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, stern
/wa/ kloarkje to suck
/wɛ/ swel swallow
/wɪ/ twirre whirl
/wø/ swurd sword
/wo/ luorkje to suck
/wi/ dwyl dizzy

In the falling and centring diphthongs (1a,b), the head is the left-most vowel; it is followed by a (less sonorous) glide or schwa. With the rising diphthongs (1c), it is the other way around: the diphthong starts with the glide and ends with the more sonorous vowel, which is also the head of the diphthong. These diphthongs thus determine their head by sonority.

Frisian has some morphemes with a sequence of two close vowels, see (2):

Example 2

Examples of morphemes with a sequence of two close vowels
kwyt /kwit/ rid (of), deprived (of)
dwyl /dwil/ dizzy
swyl(je) /swil/ to windrow
stjûne /stjunə/ stem, stern
jûn /jun/ evening

In this case, sonority cannot be the decisive factor as regards headship. However, the following generalization pertains here:

A tautomorphemic sequence of two close vowels translates into a rising diphthong
In rising diphthongs, the right-hand vowel is the head, the left-hand one is the on-glide. Diphthongs consisting of a sequence of two close vowels thus determine their head by position.

If the system of long and short monophthongs is symmetrical (see long and short monophthongs: a different view), we expect the system of diphthongs to be symmetrical as well. There is a symmetrical division between the falling and centring diphthongs in that the former have an open or half open vowel and the latter a half close or close vowel as their first component.

The rising diphthongs consist of a glide, /j/ or /w/, and a short monophthong. In principle, every short monophthong is appropriate as the second member of a rising diphthong.

References:
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