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The resolution of hiatus between /a(:)/ or schwa and a following vowel

This section deals with how hiatus between the vowel /a(:)/ or schwa (/ə/) and a following vowel is resolved. This is done by the insertion of the glottal stop, which ends up as the onset of the right-hand syllable.


Examples of the resolution of hiatus between /a(:)/ or schwa and a following vowel are given in (1):

Example 1

Examples of the resolution of hiatus between /a(:)/ and schwa and a following vowel (the vowels in hiatus have been underlined in the underlying representations)
Isaäk /izaak/ [(i)(za.)(ʔak)] Isaac
Israel /ɪsraɛl/ [(ɪs)(ra.)(ʔɛl)] Israel
aorta /aɔrta/ [(a.)(ʔɔr)(ta)] aorta
ta-eigenje /ta+aiɣənjə/ [(ta)(ʔaj)(ɣə̃)(jə)] to appropriate
beëagje /bə+ɪəɣjə/ [(bə)(ʔɪəɣ)(jə)] to aim at

The central vowel /a(:)/ is neutral with respect to the front-back dimension (see characterization of the short monophthongs), hence it cannot trigger the insertion of the front glide /j/ or the back glide /w/. Schwa being a virtually featureless, minimally specified vowel (see schwa's phonological representation), it is also unable to determine the quality of a following glide. Hiatus then is resolved here by the glottal stop [ʔ], a segment which does not have supralaryngeal features of its own (see the glottal plosive /ʔ/). This results in a good syllable contact, whereas lengthening of short /a/ ensures that the quantity of the syllable it heads is in accordance with the Rhyme Constraint).

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The Close Vowel Constraint demands that if a native morpheme contains a sequence of two adjacent vowels, one of these is [+close], whereas the Place Constraint demands that if such a morpheme contains a sequence of a (half) open and a close vowel, both are either front or back (see constraints on diphthongs). A falling diphthong thus must be 'organic'. Since /a/ is a central vowel, it should be able to form a falling diphthong with both the front glide /j/ (/i/) and the back glide /w/ (/u/). This is borne out by the facts: the diphthong /aj/ does occur, the diphthong [aw] did occur, but made way for /ɔw/. So, whereas the centrality of /a/ does not prevent it from being part of the system of organic falling diphthongs, it does prevent /a/ from triggering the insertion of a homorganic glide in the context of vocalic hiatus. There seems to be a difference then between figuring in static phonological generalizations and actively triggering a phonological process.

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When singing a song one may be forced to spread a single vowel of the lyrics over several notes. Professional or semi-professional singers are able to realize this vowel as one vowel throughout (legato), which, of course, results in a very long vowel. But less trained singers find themselves forced to break the vowel up into smaller portions, thereby realizing every note as a separate syllable. This creates a configuration of vocalic hiatus, which is repaired by the insertion of /h/. A Frisian example is the final line of the lyrics of the anthem: dyn âlde eare, o Fryske/frisk+ə/[fri.hiskə]grûn/grun/[(ɡru)(hu)(hu)(hu)(hu)(hu)(hun)]your ancient honour, o Frisian soil. The lyrics of the Dutch national anthem contain the line de koning/konɪŋ/[(ko)(ho)(ho)(ho:)(nɪŋ)]van Hispanje heb ik altijd geëerdthe king of Spain have I always honoured. There is no relation between the quality of the vowel and /h/, so the latter is a pure hiatus filler here. The insertion of /h/ is not obligatory. As is to be expected, /h/ always occupies the syllable onset (see the glottal fricative /h/).

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In Frisian orthography, only the glide [w] is written, see the examples in the following table:

Table 1
dowen/do:+ən/[do:wən]pigeons (cf. dopigeon)
blauwe/blɔw+ə/[blɔ.wwə]blue (inflected) (cf. blaublue (uninflected))
grouwe/ɡrɔw+ə/[grɔ.wwə]big (inflected) (cf. groubig (uninflected))

Before the spelling reform of 1980, the glide [j] was written as well, illustrated in the table below:

Table 2
aeijen/a:j+ən/[a:jən]eggs (cf. aeiegg)
moaijer/mwa:j+ər/[mwa:jər]more beautiful (cf. moaibeautiful (uninflected))
bloeije/blu:j+ə/[blu:jə]to flower (infinitive; all plural persons present tense) (cf. bloeito flower (verb stem))
muoije/mwoj+ə/[mwo.jjə]to regret (cf. muoito regret (verb stem))
neijer/naj+ər/[najjər]closer (cf. neiclose (uninflected))
buijich/bʌy+əɣ/[bʌjjəx]showery (cf. buishower)

In accordance with the Dutch spelling system, such words are nowadays spelled without <j>: aaien, moaier, bloeie, muoie, neier, and buiïch. In buiïch the unity of the suffix must be respected, which leads to the spelling , consisting of two adjacent spelling signs i, with a diaeresis over the second one.

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