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Schwa deletion as a synchronic process: how to deal with word-internal hiatus

Derivation and the ordering of words in syntax may result in the juxtaposition of vowels, i.e. in a configuration of vocalic hiatus. Sequences of two adjacent vowels − identical or not − are downright forbidden or highly dispreferred in Frisian. In most cases therefore vocalic hiatus is in need of repair. In general, this is achieved by glide insertion, not by vowel deletion. The impossibility of the latter links up with the property of vowels that they are the head of their syllable, as a result of which vowel deletion entails the collapse of an entire syllable. Schwa, however, is a virtually featureless, minimally specified vowel (see schwa's phonological representation), so it is unable to determine the quality of the glide which is to resolve vocalic hiatus. That is the reason why schwa is the only vowel which may undergo deletion in this configuration. How this kind of schwa deletion proceeds is the topic of this section.

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See Casali (2011) for a general overview of the different strategies employed by languages to resolve vocalic hiatus.

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Some older loanwords show the effects of the deletion of a full vowel in the context of hiatus, which may have been followed by vowel reduction (Visser (2000:161-162)):

Example 1

bibl /io:/ teek bibl [ə] teek library
f /io:/ let f [ə] letten violet
k /o:o:/ peraasje k [o:] peraasje co-operative society

Word-internal hiatus is strictly forbidden in Frisian. It may arise due to derivational and/or inflectional processes, in which schwa is often involved. There are several cases in point, some of which will be considered here. Firstly, Frisian has many nouns ending in schwa. They are pluralized with the suffix -en (/-ən/), see the examples in (2):

Example 2

Examples of the pluralization of nouns ending in schwa
kisten /kɪstə+ən/ [kɪstn̩] chests; coffins
matten /mɔtə+ən/ [mɔtn̩] mats
skeppen /skɛpə+ən/ [skɛpm̩] shovels; scoops
dobben /dobə+ən/ [dobm̩] water hole in the land
balken /bɔlkə+ən/ [bɔlkŋ] beams; staves; bars
planken /plaŋkə+ən/ [plaŋkŋ] planks; shelves

Secondly, nouns ending in a centring diphthong are also pluralized with -en, exemplified in (3):

Example 3

An example of the pluralization of a noun ending in a centring diphthong
rye breads

Thirdly, the adjectival suffixes -ich (/-əɣ/) and -en (/-ən/) may attach to nouns ending in schwa or a centring diphthong, see the examples in (4):

Example 4

Examples of adjectives derived with the suffix -ich from nouns ending in schwa or a centring diphthong
dobbich /dobə+əɣ/ [dobəx] pockmarked
breaïch /brɪə+əɣ/ [(brɪ.)(jəx)] smelling/tasting of rye bread
strieën /striə+ən/ [(stri.)(jən)] straw, made of straw

The above cases are best analyzed as instances of schwa degemination. Schwa is the only vowel which may undergo deletion in the configuration of vocalic hiatus. Schwa degemination then is the restricted vocalic counterpart of the general process of consonant degemination (see degemination).

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Of the two adjacent schwas in breaen/brɪə+ən/rye breads, breaïch/brɪə+əɣ/smelling/tasting of rye bread, and strieën/striə+ən/straw, made of straw one is left. Though this is an improvement, a configuration of vocalic hiatus still remains. Following and triggered by the front vowels /ɪ/ and /i/, hiatus is resolved by the insertion of the front glide [j]: [(brɪ.)(jən)], [(brɪ.)σ(jəx)σ], and [(stri.)(jən)] (see the resolution of hiatus between a monophthong and a following vowel).

Fourthly, a noun-final schwa deletes when preceding a vowel-intial suffix, examples of which are given in (5):

Example 5

Examples of noun-final schwa deletion before a vowel-initial suffix
elite - elitêr /e:litə+ɛ:r/ [e:litɛ:r] elite-elitist
rankune - rankuneus /raŋkynə+ø:z/ [raŋkynø:s] rancour-vindictive
Rome - Romein /ro:mə+ɛjn/ [ro:mɛ.jn] Rome-Roman
synoade - synodaal /sinoədə+a:l/ [sino.da:l] synod-synodal

These are instances of prevocalic schwa deletion (see Booij (1995:67-68) as to Dutch). Now, the above words belong to the non-native stratum of the lexicon. Since loanwords − both the base words and its derivatives − enter Frisian through the mediation of Dutch, it is questionable whether prevocalic schwa deletion has any active role to play in Frisian (morpho)phonology.

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The Dutch word pair code/kodə/ - coderen/kodə+erən/[koderən]code-encode is rendered as koade/koədə/ - kodearje/koədə+jɛrjə/[ko.djɛrjə] in Frisian. Though the suffix -ear(je) begins with the glide /j/, the final schwa of koade is not carried over in the derivative kodearje. This makes it all the more likely that both koade and kodearje have been borrowed from Dutch in their entirety.

  • Booij, Geert1995The phonology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Casali, Roderic F2011Hiatus resolutionvan Oostendorp, Marc and Ewen, Colin J and Hume, Elizabeth and Rice, Keren (ed.)The Blackwell companion to phonology3Wiley-Blackwell1434-1460
  • Visser, Willem2000Frjemd wurdt eigener. Oer de âlde Frânske lienwurden yn it FryskIt Beaken62141-218
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