• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show full table of contents
Repairing the outcome of vowel reduction

Vowel reduction results in an ill-formed or less favoured phonological configuration in case it affects 1) a word-initial vowel, 2) a vowel following /h/, 3) a vowel in a closed syllable and in a syllable with a complex onset. A configuration of schwa 1) in word-initial position, 2) following /h/, 3) in a closed syllable and in a syllable with a complex onset is in need of some sort of 'repair'. The repair strategies employed are the subject of this topic.

[+] Repairing the reduction of a word-initial vowel.

Since a word cannot begin with schwa, a word-initial vowel cannot reduce, which is illustrated in (1):

Example 1

Examples of words with unreducable, initial vowels
a'part /apat/ separate; unusual [*əpat]
a'kasia /aka:zia/ acacia [*əka:zija]
i'dee /ide:/ idea [*əde:]
I'daard /ida:d/ name of a village [*əda:t]
al'tyd /ɔltid/ always [*əltit]
oe'ral /urɔl/ (< /uərɔl/ ) upset, shaken [*ərɔl]
oe'rémis /ure:məs/ (< /uəre:məs/ ) excited; elated [*əre:məs]

Vowel reduction, however, appears to be such a forceful process that some unstressed, short, word-initial vowels did undergo reduction. The resulting schwa, however, could not endure in word-initial position, for it was replaced by a short full vowel. Some examples of this are given in (2):

Example 2

Examples of loanwords with an initial full vowel which replaced a reduced vowel
e'noarm /e:nwarm/ enormous [ə] noarm [i/o/u] noarm
o'ranje /o:rɔnjə/ orange, amber [ə] ranje [u] ranje
e'gaal /e:ɡa:l/ even [ə] gaal [i] gaal

Another possibility is that j/j/ was inserted before schwa, see (3):

Example 3

Examples of loanwords with /j/ preceding a reduced vowel
Eu'ropa /øəro:pa/ Europe [ə] ropa [jə] ropa
e'staal /ɛsta:l/ (< 'etalon ) sample [ə] staal [jə] staal

But schwa could also delete, as in the words in (4):

Example 4

Loanwords with a deleted reduced vowel
attrap'pearje /atrapjɛrjə/ catch in the act [ə] trappearje trappearje
e'klips /e:klɪps/ eclipse [ə] klips klips
[show extra information]

The form klips mainly shows up in the compounds moanne#klipseclipse of the moon, sinne#klipseclipse of the sun and klips#rymshort verse containing a clever play on words.

There is one case, see (5), where the reduced vowel was replaced with the non-native affix eks-:

Example 5

Loanword in which the reduced initial vowel is replaced with the non-native affix eks-
cheeky, sassy

So, although there is a strong tendency for short, unstressed vowels to reduce − in whichever position − the ban on word-initial schwa appears to be stronger.

[+] Repairing the reduction of a vowel following /h/

/h/ only precedes vowels (see the glottal fricative /h/), but not schwa, so a vowel following /h/ cannot reduce. This means that the highlighted vowels in the words in (6) cannot, and do not, undergo reduction:

Example 6

Examples of words with the initial sequence /h/ + short full vowel
ha'meie / homeie (drive) gate
ha'byt habit
ha'boes here's to you!
he'raut herald
hy'draulysk hydraulic
his'toarje history; story
hoe'ra hurray, hooray, hurrah

Though a vowel is more reduction-prone in an open than in a closed syllable, reduction does not occur here. Neither does it in the words in (7):

Example 7

More examples of words with the initial sequence /h/ + short full vowel
ham'boai oboe
har'moanika accordion; harmonika
her'foarming reformation
her'metysk hermetic
hor'loazje watch
hor'tinsje hydrangea

Schwa would end up in a closed syllable here, which is a less favoured configuration. However, the coda consonant is /m/ or /r/, both of which belong to the set of unmarked schwa codas (see schwa). This means that the impossibility of vowel reduction here is solely to be ascribed to the presence of /h/.

In this case as well, vowel reduction appears to be such a forceful process that some unstressed, short vowels following /h/ did undergo reduction. But the resulting configuration was repaired, which was achieved in various ways, as illustrated in (8):

Example 8

Examples of the repair of the sequence /hə/
a. By replacing schwa with a short full vowel
horloazje watch [hər] loazje [hə] loazje [ha] lloazje (~ [a] lloazje )
hortinsje hydrangea [hər] tinsje [hə] tinsje [ha] ttinsje [a] ttinsje
b. By deleting /h/ and by replacing remaining word-initial schwa with a full vowel
horribel horrible [hər] ribel [hə] ribel [ə] ribel [u] ribel
c. By deleting the word-initial sequence /hə/
histoarje history; story [hə] stoarje stoarje
d. eks-
histoarje history; story [hə] stoarje [ɛks] stoarje
[show extra information]

In case schwa is replaced with the full vowel /a/, preceding /h/ may delete (see the glottal fricative /h/), as the examples in (8a) show.

[show extra information]

The personal pronoun him/hɪm/him has the reduced variant em/əm/, as in dat ha'k em[hakm̩] ferteldthat I have told him. In this case, the forbidden sequence /hə/ is repaired by deletion of /h/. Confer the Dutch personal pronoun haar/ha:r/her, which has the reduced variants er/ər/ and der/dər/, but not her/hər/!

[+] Repairing the reduction of a vowel in a closed syllable and in a syllable with a complex onset

If the full vowel of a syllable with a single onset and a single coda undergoes reduction, schwa ends up in a less favoured configuration. The single onset is fine, less so is the fact that schwa is in a closed syllable. There are words in which the latter configuration is repaired by moving the coda consonant to the onset. It is especially with /r/ that this movement took place, and predominantly in loanwords. Examples are given in (9):

Example 9

Examples of /r/ moving from coda to onset in a syllable with a reduced vowel
kar'biel jack-rafter [kər] biel ~ [krə] biel
kar'wei job, chore [kər] wei ~ [krə] wei
par'fors absolutely [pər] foarst ~ [prə] foarst
bar'bier barber [bər] bier ~ [brə] bier
ter'myn convulsion, spasm [tər] myn ~ [trə] myn
oppera'teur bell-wether, ringleader op [pər] teur ~ op [prə] teur
ker'bintich stiff (with old age) [kər] bintich ~ [krə] bintich
ker'bûstich windy, blustery [kər] bûstich ~ [krə] bûstich

Moving /r/ from coda to onset resulted in an open syllable, which is an improvement. At the same time, however, the schwa syllable acquired a complex onset, which is a change for the worse, even though the onset has the ideal shape of obstruent + liquid. There are, so to speak, conflicting interests here. This may be the very reason that moving /r/ was not obligatory, so that forms which do and do not show the traces of it occur side by side, as shown by the doublets in (9). Here as well, vowel reduction manifests itself as a forceful, virtually inescapable process.

If the full vowel of a syllable with a complex onset (obstruent + liquid) undergoes reduction, schwa also ends up in a less favoured configuration, for in the unmarked case a schwa syllable does not begin with a consonant cluster. There are words ‒ only loanwords in this case ‒ in which this was repaired by moving the right-most onset consonant to the coda. Examples are given in (10):

Example 10

Examples of a liquid moving from the complex onset to the coda in a syllable with a reduced vowel
a. From a complex onset with /r/ as right-hand member
pro'bearje to try [prə] bearje ~ [pər] bearje
pro'sint per cent, percent [prə] sint ~ [pər] sint
pro'fessor professor [prə] fester ~ [pər] fester
ynstru'mint instrument yns [trə] mint ~ ys [tər] mint
distri'búsje distribution dis [trə] búsje ~ dis [tər] búsje
agre'mint garnish, ornament ak [krə] mint ~ ak [kər] mint
à pro'pos apropos ap [prə] po ~ ap [pər] po
b. From a complex onset with /l/ as right-hand member
suppli'ant supplicant sup [plə] jant ~ sup [pəl] jant
employ'earje to employ ym [plə] earje ~ ym [pəl] earje
bible'teek library bi [blə] teek ~ bi [bəl] teek

Moving the liquid from onset to coda results in an onset occupied by a single consonant, which is an improvement. At the same time, however, the schwa syllable acquires a coda, a change for the worse. Here as well there appear to be conflicting interests, and here as well this may be the reason that moving the liquid is not obligatory, which results in doublets.

In both cases, vowel reduction creates a schwa syllable. The latter, however, has to accommodate more consonants than it does in the unmarked case. Such a situation is best remedied by the deletion of /r/, especially when /r/ is in the syllable coda, since this results in an open syllable. This is what occurs in a fair number of (loan)words, as illustrated by the examples in (11) (see /r/-deletion for the deletion of /r/ in general):

Example 11

Examples of words with a deleted coda-/r/
portret portrait [pər] tret [pə] tret
probearje to try [prə] bearje [pər] bearje p [ə] bearje
kwartier quarter [kwər] tier [kwə] tier (→ [kə] tier )
akkordearje to agree ak [kər] dearje ak [kə] dearje
operateur bell-wether op [pə] [rə] teur op [pər] teur op [pə] teur
sekretaris secretary sik [krə] taris sik [kər] taris sik [kə] taris (→ siktaris )
porslein china(ware) [pər] slein [pə] slein
grifformeard Reformed grif [fər] meard grif [fə] meard
[show extra information]

Although both liquids can undergo movement, this happens far more often to /r/ than it does to /l/. This is nicely illustrated by the (loan)word flu'wielvelvet, with the reduced variant f[lə]wiel, which in its turn has the variant f[ər]wiel, in which /l/, in moving from onset to coda, has turned into /r/. See also kolo'nelcolonel, with the variant kernel. The change from /r/ to /l/ is not attested. This asymmetry may have to do with the fact that /r/ has a centralizing effect on a preceding vowel, which /l/ has not. Though schwa is an indeterminate, minimally specified vowel, it does have a central position in the vowel space, so that schwa and /r/ go together well. /r/ has a stronger centralizing effect on a preceding than on a following vowel. Within one and the same syllable, /r/ and a preceding vowel belong to one and the same constituent, viz. the rhyme, whereas /r/ and a following vowel belong to different constituents, viz. the onset and the rhyme. This may explain why movement of /r/ from onset to coda (see (10)) is more common than the other way around (see (9)).

[show extra information]

Since a schwa syllable prefers to have a sonorant consonant as a coda, vowel reduction in words like kompin'saasjecompensation, pavil'joenpavilion and amal'gaamamalgam ought to be more likely than in words like anek'doateanecdote and adop'tearjeto adopt. This, however, runs counter to fact (though reduction in adoptearje gives a slightly worse result). In the native words trepp[ət]teapot (from the compound trek#pot, the literal meaning of which is brewing pot) and jitt[ək]vinegar, reduction resulted in a schwa syllable with a voiceless plosive as a coda, a highly disfavoured configuration. Apparently, vowel reduction does not always result in optimal phonological structures.

[show extra information]

If a word is always realized with a reduced vowel, it may be assumed that this schwa has become part of the underlying representation. The original full vowel, however, may still show up in derived forms. Examples are mande['mɔndə], which occurs in the fixed collocation yn 'e mandejointly, communally, together and as the left-hand member of a few nominal compounds, like mande#guodcommon property and mande#lâncommon land, and grouwel['ɡrɔ.wəl]horror, next to which stand mandélich[mɔn'de:ləx]common, communal and grouwélich[ɡrɔ.w've:ləx]horrible, gruesome. Confer the Dutch nouns genie[ʒə'ni]genius and minister[mi'nɪstər]minister with the derivatives geniaal[ɣe:ni'ja:l]brilliant and ministerieel[ministɪ.ri'je:l]ministerial.

    Suggestions for further reading ▼
    • Dutch
    • Frisian
    • Afrikaans
    Show more ▼
    • Dutch
    • Frisian
    • Afrikaans
    • In prenominal position
      [83%] Frisian > Morphology > Inflection > Adjectives
    • Cardinal numbers
      [82%] Frisian > Morphology > Inflection > Numerals
    • Quantifiers
      [82%] Frisian > Morphology > Inflection > Numerals
    • Case
      [81%] Frisian > Morphology > Inflection > Nouns
    • Number
      [81%] Frisian > Morphology > Inflection > Nouns
    Show more ▼
    • Dutch
    • Frisian
    • Afrikaans
    • Hebben ''to have'' + infinitive
      [82%] Dutch > Syntax > Verbs and Verb Phrases > 5 Projection of verb phrases IIIb:Argument and complementive clauses > 5.2. Infinitival argument clauses > 5.2.3. Bare infinitivals
    • 3.3.2. Accusative/PP alternations
      [82%] Dutch > Syntax > Verbs and Verb Phrases > 3 Projection of verb phrases II:Verb frame alternations > 3.3. Alternations of noun phrases and PPs
    • 1.3. Inflection
      [81%] Dutch > Syntax > Verbs and Verb Phrases > 1 Characterization and classification
    • 6.2.3. Special cases
      [81%] Dutch > Syntax > Adjectives and Adjective Phrases > 6 Predicative use of the adjective phrase > 6.2. Complementive use of the adjective
    • 4.1.3. Other constructions
      [81%] Dutch > Syntax > Nouns and Noun Phrases > 4 Projection of noun phrases III: binominal constructions > 4.1. Binominal constructions without a preposition
    Show more ▼