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/y/ and /ø/ as central vowels
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The following section deals with the question as to whether /y/ and /ø/ are to be characterized as central rather than front vowels.

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In the literature on Frisian, /y/ and /ø/ are characterized as rounded front vowels (Cohen et al. 1961:117, 126, Tiersma 1985:13, Popkema 2006:52). This characterization seems to be supported by phonetic evidence. Measurements show that the frequencies of the second formant of /y/ and /ø/ — 1950 and 1900 Hertz — is much closer to those of the front vowels /i/ and /ɪ/ — 2300 and 1950 Hertz — than to those of the back vowels /u/ and /o/ — 800 and 1100 Hertz (see Popkema 2006:53).

But since they do not have a spread back counterpart, /y/ and /ø/ can be considered central vowels from a phonological point of view, just like /a/. This enables one to state the following correlation: front vowels are spread and back vowels are rounded. The central vowels are neutral with respect to the front-back dimension. This means that /a/ can form a falling diphthong — which must be organic — with both the front vowel /i/ and the back vowel /u/ (see diphthongs in Frisian). The close vowel /y/ may enforce the insertion of a front or a back glide between itself and a following tautomorphemic vowel, so that the word duet/dyɛt/duet, for instance, is pronounced as either [dy.jɛt] or [dy.wɛt]. The facts of Homorganic Glide Insertion (see the resolution of hiatus between a monophthong and a following vowel) point to that fact that /y/ is not being specified as either front or back, so that it can go with both glides.

References:
  • Cohen, Antonie1961Fonologie van het Nederlands en het Fries. Inleiding tot de moderne klankleerMartinus Nijhoff
  • Popkema, Jan2006Grammatica FriesUtrecht/ LjouwertUitgeverij Het Spectrum BV Prisma Woordenboeken en Taaluitgaven/ Fryske Akademy
  • Popkema, Jan2006Grammatica FriesUtrecht/ LjouwertUitgeverij Het Spectrum BV Prisma Woordenboeken en Taaluitgaven/ Fryske Akademy
  • Tiersma, Pieter M1985Frisian reference grammarDordrechtForis Publications
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