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The glides
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Glides form the transition between vowels and consonants. They are considered as the close vowels /i/, /y/, and /u/, which are realized as [j], [ɥ], and [w] when not part of the syllable nucleus.

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The glides form the transition between vowels and consonants, which is also manifested by the distributional fact that they are always adjacent to a vowel. They are considered here as the close vowels /i/, /y/, and /u/ in so far as these do not have the function of syllable head or head of a diphthong, in which case they are realized as [j], [ɥ], and [w]. So, /i,y,u/ are realized as either [i/y/u] or [j/ɥ/w], depending on their position in the syllable, not on their inherent feature specification.

Having the smallest amount of inherent sonority, i.e. being the most consonant-like vowels, it is no coincidence that the close vowels act as glides. In languages in which there is a regular alternation between vowels and glides, half closed and half open vowels become close when functioning as a glide (see Harris (1985) for Spanish and Booij (1989:326-327) for Icelandic). It is only as the syllable head or as the head of a diphthong that a vowel can fully display its vocalic properties; when not in the head position, there is an automatic decrease in both sonority and duration. The vowels [i]/[u] and the glides [j]/[w] have much in common, so that the latter easily derive from the former: [w] is a labio-velar sound, which also holds for the vowel [u], whereas [i] and [j] share their closeness and frontness.

The analysis of glides as underlying close vowels has a number of advantages over considering these as separate segments.

In the first place, it simplifies the underlying segment inventory. Besides, it also accounts for the fact that [i]/[u] and [j]/[w] do not, and cannot, stand in phonological opposition to each other.

Secondly, the Obligatory Contour Principle prohibits identical adjacent segments. From this it follows that [j] and [w] can neither precede nor follow [i(:)] and [u(:)], which is confirmed by the facts. In older stages of Frisian, [j] could precede /i:/ and /iə/, to which the old spelling of the words <tsjiis>cheese, <tsjien>ten, <tsjier>chink, and <tsjiere>to quarrel testify. These words have lost their glide in the course of time and their spelling has changed accordingly, so nowadays they are written as <tsiis>, <tsien>, <tsier>, and <tsiere>, respectively. It is only in <jier>year that the sequence [ji] can be heard; this word, however, is generally pronounced as [iər], which renders it indistinguishable from <ier>vein, blood vessel. Loan words from Dutch may contain [ʃ], as do machine[maʃinə]machine, Chili[ʃili]Chile, China[ʃina]China, and Chinees[ʃine:s]Chinese. The non-native sound [ʃ] is likely to have been reinterpreted as the sequence [sj], which resulted in the forbidden sequence [ji]. Through deletion of [j], the common pronunciation of the above words has become [masine]/[məsinə], [sili], [sina], and [sine:s]. If [j]/[w] and [i]/[u] are looked upon as independent segments, the OCP cannot be invoked for an explanation of the above patterning.

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Because /y/ is considerably less frequent than /i/ and /u/ in Frisian, [ɥ] is left out of consideration here.

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The analysis of glides as underlying close vowels implies that falling and rising diphthongs and sequences of a long vowel plus a glide are assumed to have an underlying close vowel. Therefore, the diphthongs [ɛj], [ɔw], [jɪ], [wo] and the long vowel plus glide combination [u:j], for instance, have the underlying representations /ɛi/, /ɔu/, /iɪ/, /uo/, and /u:i/, respectively. For more on diphthongs and long vowel + glide sequences, see complex vowel sequences.

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It was observed in Fokkema (1940:143) that [j] has a more vowel-like realization when it is preceded by a consonant whereas it has a certain amount of frication when in word-initial position; [w] is also likely to be realized with some frication there. Cohen et al (1959:125) claim that [w] has a rather open realization when it is preceded by labial consonants and a more closed one when following coronals and dorsals. These differences in realization are taken to result from phonetic implementation.

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In word-final position, the half close long vowels — /e:/, /ø:/, and /o:/ — are realized as [e:j], [ø:ɥ], and [o:w], so with an off-glide (see the realization of the long half close, half open, and open vowels). These realizations are to be viewed as the result of desonorization: the speaker fails to implement the phonological structure of a long monophthong as a steady event. The sonority slightly decreases towards the end, with the inevitable side-effect that the vowel becomes close in its final phase. This also implies that the quality of the off-glide element derives in a straightforward way from the quality of the vowel: the front vowel /e:/ ends in the front glide [j] ([e:j]), the central vowel /ø:/ in the central glide [ɥ] ([ø:ɥ]), and the back vowel /o:/ in the back glide [w] ([o:w]).

The evidence being contradictory, it is not clear whether glides preceding a vowel (a short one, a long one, a diphthong) belong to the syllable onset or to the syllable nucleus. For more on this, see the syllabic affiliation of prevocalic glides.

References:
  • Booij, Geert1989On the representation of diphthongs in FrisianJournal of Linguistics25319-332
  • Cohen, Antonie, Ebeling, C.L., Eringa, P., Fokkema, K. & Holk, A.G.F. van1959Fonologie van het Nederlands en het Fries: Inleiding tot de moderne klankleerMartinus Nijhoff
  • Fokkema, Klaas1940Over de Friese klinkersBundel opstellen van oud-leerlingen aangeboden aan Prof. Dr. C.G.N. de VooysGroningen/BataviaJ.B. Wolters Uitgevers-Maatschappij N.V.140-145
  • Harris, James W1985Spanish diphthongization and stress: a paradox resolvedPhonology Yearbook 231-45
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