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The realization of the long half close, half open, and open monophthongs
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This section deals with the long half close, half open, and open vowels, which tend to become slightly diphthongized in certain positions, especially in word-final open syllables.

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Sipma (1913:9,§4) asserts that long monophthongs in word-final position tend to become slightly diphthongized, as is also noted by Fokkema (1940:142), Sipma (1948:50), Boersma and Van der Woude (1972:48-49), and Riemersma (1979:19-20); see also Visser (1997:22-23). This 'slight diphthongization' is most clearly perceptible with the half close and half open vowels, the ones which occupy the center of the vowel space.

The half close long vowels — /e:/, /ø:/, and /o:/ — are allowed in word-final position, but they can also be followed by one consonant. Most of the time, they are realized as [e:j], [ø:ɥ], and [o:w]. These realizations are instances of desonorization, resulting from phonetic implementation. The speaker fails to implement the phonological structure of a long monophthong at a steady sonority level. Sonority slightly decreases towards the end, resulting in a non-homogeneous realization. The latter is perceived as diphthongal (a diphthong is the non-homogeneous long vocalic sequence par excellence). The quality of the off-glide element derives in a natural way from the quality of the monophthong: the front vowel /e:/ ends in a front off-glide ([e:j]), the central and the back vowel — /ø:/ and /o:/ — in a central and a back off-glide ([ø:ɥ] and [o:w], respectively).

The half open long vowels — /ɔ:/ and /ɛ:/ — are not allowed in word-final position, so they must precede a consonant. Most of the time, they are realized as [ɔ:ə] and /ɛ:ə/, ending in a schwa-like way (schwa is the least sonorant vowel of Frisian (see:Schwa)).

It is unclear whether, and how, the difference between ending in an off-glide and ending in schwa has somnthing to do with the difference between being allowed word-finally (the half close vowels) and not being allowed in that position (the half open vowels). Be that as it may, what unites both non-homogeneous realizations is the minimal distance between the beginning and the end of the vowel: the off-glide is one degree more close than the half close vowel it derives from, whereas schwa is a central vowel close to half open /ɔ:/ and /ɛ:/.

This diphthongal realization leaves the phonological structure of the long monophthongs unaffected. This means that the non-homogeneous long monophthong is an allophone of the long (homogeneous) phoneme. The qualitative differences, thus, are not distinctive.

The open vowel /a:/ can be realized as [a:ə] (though De Boersma and Van der Woude (1972) consider this as exceptional, as does Riemersma (1979)). /a:/ is allowed in word-final position, so by analogy with /e:/, /ø:/, and /o:/ one would expect it to end in an off-glide. Due to the central position of /a:/, however, the quality of this off-glide cannot link up in a uniform way with the quality of the monophthong. This might be the reason for /a:/ to end schwa-like.

References:
  • Boersma, Johannes. & Woude, Goasse van der1972Spraeklear I. Lesboekje foar de oplieding ta de Fryske AkteLjouwertAfûk
  • Boersma, Johannes. & Woude, Goasse van der1972Spraeklear I. Lesboekje foar de oplieding ta de Fryske AkteLjouwertAfûk
  • 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
  • Riemersma, Tr1979Sylabysjerring, nazzeljerring, assymyljerringLjouwertKoperative Utjowerij
  • Riemersma, Tr1979Sylabysjerring, nazzeljerring, assymyljerringLjouwertKoperative Utjowerij
  • Sipma, Pieter1913Phonology and Grammar of Modern West FrisianLondon, New YorkOxford University Press
  • Sipma, Pieter1948Ta it Frysk LjouwertR. van der Velde
  • Visser, Willem1997The Syllable in FrisianVrije Universiteit AmsterdamThesis
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