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Vowel reduction in word-final position

Though schwa is allowed in word-final position, vowel reduction in that position hardly occurs. It is the subject of this topic.


Reduction of short, unstressed word-final vowels hardly occurs. It is only with difficulty that we are able to find examples of it. In fact, the words in (1) seem to be the only instances.

Example 1

The cases of vowel reduction in word-final position
'aloëe /-e:/ aloe alew [ɪ] aalw [ə]
gu'ano /-o:/ guano gujan [o] kejan [ə]
'proaza /-a:/ prose proaz [a] proaz [ə]
pi'ano /-o:/ piano pian [o] pian [ə]
kom'mando /-o:/ command kommand [o] kommand [ə]
py'jama /-a:/ pyjamas pyjam [a] pyjam [ə]
'healwei /-aj/ halfway healw [i] healw [ə]
'Sara /-a:/ Sarah Sar [a] Sar [ə]

The realization of a final schwa here − with the exception of healweihalfway and pyjamapyjamas − is not common. It is, or is becoming, obsolete and it also sounds a little awkward.

Reduction of a word-initial vowel is impossible, which links up with the fact that schwa is not allowed in that position. This, however, does not hold for the word-final position. Not only has Frisian many schwa-final words − chiefly nouns −, schwa also functions as a frequently occurring suffix and it is the final segment of a few frequent suffixes as well. All this means that schwa-final words are quite common. Reduction of short, unstressed word-final vowels then is expected to be a genuine possibility, but this is not the case. Vowel reduction seems to avoid the edges of a word or, put differently, the word edges seem to resist change in case they consist of a vowel. In essence then vowel reduction is a word-internal phenomenon.

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Most words in (1) have stress on the prefinal syllable, so that reduction results in a final trochee. This is different for 'aloëealoe, which has initial stress. Therefore, the vowel (/o:/) of the middle-most syllable must have undergone (quantitative and qualitative) reduction and deletion (al[o:]weeal[o]weeal[ə]weeaalwee), which paved the way for shortening and reduction of the final vowel (aalweeaalw[ɪ]aalw[ə]).

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Vowel reduction seems to avoid the edges of a word or, put differently, the word edges seem to resist change in case they consist of a vowel. This is different for word-final consonants, as shown by (the effects of) Final Devoicing and Regressive Assimilation (see Regressive Place Assimilation (Nasal Assimilation), Regressive Voice Assimilation: type 1, and Regressive Voice Assimilation: type 2). There is a vowel-consonant asymmetry here.

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The loanword petielelarge flat dish has acquired a word-final schwa (confer the schwa-less Dutch counterpart pateel). Schwa-final nouns are de-words (see gender), so the addition of schwa to this de-word is an overcharacterization of its common gender. At the same time, it is indicative of the integration of this noun into the Frisian grammatical system. The case at hand once more shows that schwa is by no means uncommon in word-final position.

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