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Word-final sequences of a liquid and a liquid
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Because a word-internal sequence of two liquids violates the Sonority Sequencing Constraint (see onset: complex onsets), liquids are not expected to be able to form a sequence. They seem to do so, however, in the word-final sequence /-rl/, which is the subject of this topic. It begins with an overview of the words in which this sequence occurs. There appears to be evidence for the assumption that words in <-rl> end in //-rəl/ in underlying representation: 1) /r/ should have been deleted preceding the coronal liquid /l/, but it has not (as if both consonants were separated by a vowel), 2) words ending in <-rl> have a variant ending in <-rel> (but not the other way around), 3) verbs with a stem in <-rl> invariably belong to the second weak conjugational class (as do verbs with a stem ending schwa + sonorant consonant), 4) words ending in <-rl> may be realized with final [l̩] (the syllabic nature of which points to a form ending in //-rəl/), 5) nouns in <-rl> invariably have plural forms in /-s/ (which is the normal case for nouns ending in /-əl/). The sequence <-rl> therefore does not seem to have any reality beyond the purely orthographic. All these types of evidence will be given a full treatment.

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Because a word-internal sequence of two liquids violates the Sonority Sequencing Constraint (see onset: complex onsets), liquids are not expected to be able to form a sequence. However, they seem to do so as /-rl/, in all and only the following words:

Example 1

Words ending in the sequence -<rl>
wa(a)rl/wa(a)rle /va:rl(ə)/ catch, (door, window) fastener
dwarl /dwarl/ twist, coil (in hair, wood)
kerl /kɛrl/ granule, grain
kjirl /kjɪrl/ (big) fellow, (big) guy
tsjerl /tsjɛrl/ (big) fellow, (big) guy
tsjirl /tsjɪrl/ (big) fellow, (big) guy
gurl(e) /ɡørl(ə)/ belt
wilewarl /viləvarl/ fickle, volatile person; cowl, turn-cap
nirle /nɪrlə/ needle
hoarl(e) /vwarl(ə)/ gust (of wind); disturbance, (street) row
dw{a/e/i}rlje /dw{a/ɛ/ɪ}/rl/ to whirl, to swirl
guorlje /ɡworl/ to gargle
hoarlje /vwarl/ to gust
skarlebarl(je) /skarləbarl/ to stumble along (on skates)
wigewarlje/wilewarlje /vi{ɣ/l}əvarl/ to sway, to wobble

Since /r/ precedes the coronal liquid /l/ in the sequence /-rl/ it should have been deleted, but it has not. This means that /r/ and /l/ cannot have been adjacent at the time the historical phonological process of /r/-deletion was operative (see /r/-deletion in simplex words).

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For some speakers − though this might also be a dialectal matter − /r/ has been deleted in the words waarl, kerl and gurl, which then have the underlying representations /va:l/, /kɛl/, and /ɡøl/. The point is that in underived native words /r/ was not systematically deleted when preceding /l/, as it was, for instance, when preceding /s/ and /t/.

Assuming the words ending in -<rl> to have final /-rəl/ in their underlying representation enables one to arrive at an insightful analysis. There are four pieces of independent evidence for this particular underlying representation (which partly equal those for underlying representations ending in /-{l/r}əm/ for words ending in <-{l/r}m>, see word-final sequences of a liquid and a nasal).

In the first place, the great majority of the forms ending in <-rl> have a variant ending in <-rel>, see the table below:


Table 1: The words ending in the sequence <-rl> with a variant ending in <-rel>
Ending in <-rl> Ending in <-rel>
wa(a)rl/wa(a)rle warrel
dwarl dwarrel
kerl kerrel
kjirl kear(d)el
gurl(e) gurdel
wilewarl wilewarrel
nirle niddel
hoarl(e) hoarrel
dw{a/e/i}rlje dw{a/e/i}rrelje
guorlje guorrelje
hoarlje hoarrelje
skarlebarl(je) skarrel(je)
wigewarlje/wilewarlje warrelje

The other way around, not all words ending in <-rel> have a variant ending in <-rl>.

Secondly, the five verbs at the end of the table above belong to the second weak class, which receives a principled explanation when they are assumed to end in /-rəl/ (see the Weak II Generalization).

Thirdly, /-l/ may be realized as syllabic, which presupposes the presence of schwa (see distributional evidence that syllabic consonants derive from /ə/ + consonant). Since /l/ in /-rl/ cannot be syllabified in a regular way, the insertion of schwa might be considered a last resort for /l/'s syllabification. This would then be the only instance in Frisian where insertion has this function. Normally, schwa-insertion has the function of facilitating the realisation of a heterorganic tautosyllabic consonant sequence (see schwa insertion (in general)). This renders obligatory schwa-insertion in this particular case highly suspect. Assuming schwa to be part of the underlying representations of the words at hand is, a well-motivated alternative.

Fourthly, pluralization provides us with an indication concerning the underlying representation of the words ending in <-rl>. The plural ending -s (/-s/) is chosen after words ending in /-əl/, as in leppels/lɛpəl+s/spoons, whereas it is -en (/-ən/) after words in /-l/, for example mielen/miəl+ən/meals. The nouns in Words ending in the sequence <-rl> all have a plural in -s. This is easily explained by assuming them to end in /-rəl/ in underlying representation (see regular plural formation).

As noted above, for some speakers and/or in some dialects, /r/ never shows up in whatever form of these words, hence it may be assumed to be absent altogether. If waarlcatch, (door, window) fastener, kerlgranule, grain and gurlbelt have the underlying representations /va:l/, /kɛl/, and /ɡøl/, their plurals are expected to be waarlen/va:l+ən/[va:ln], kerlen/kɛl+ən/[kɛln] and gurlen/ɡøl+ən/[ɡøln], respectively, which is borne out by the facts.

With the analysis put forward in this topic then <-rl> does not have any reality beyond the purely orthographic.

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