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Word-final sequences of a nasal and an obstruent

This section gives an overview of the word-final sequences of a nasal and an obstruent. Most of these are homorganic ‒ the nasal and the obstruent have the same place of articulation ‒, as in stomp /stomp/ blunt, skonk /skoŋk/ leg, and smjunt /smjønt/ wigeon; rascal, scoundrel. Though less frequent, heterorganic sequences ‒ where the nasal and the obstruent have different places of articulation ‒ occur as well, as in ramt /ramt/ casing, frame(work), frjemd /frjɛmd/ foreign; strange, and jamk /jamk/ often, frequently; very, highly; perhaps, possibly. Attention is paid to both types of sequences.

[+]General information

If they make up a word-final sequence, a nasal and a plosive are homorganic − they have the same place of articulation − in the unmarked case. The sequences in (1) below therefore are expected to be common in Frisian:

Example 1


  • The sequence /-mp/ is common, as in damp /damp/ steam, vapour; mist, haze, glimp /ɡlɪmp/ glimpse, and stomp /stomp/ blunt.
  • The sequence /-mb/ does not occur in simplex words (but words ending in /b/ are rare anyway). It does occur, however, in simplex words when followed by schwa or schwa plus consonant (which act as a word boundary, see Visser (1994) and Visser (1997:241-248)). This is only found in loanwords, like jambe /jambə/ iamb(us), tombe /tombə/ tomb, amber /ambər/ ambergris; amber, gimber /ɡɪmbər/ ginger, septimber /sɛptɪmbər/ september, novimber /no:vɪmbər/ november, and desimber /de:sɪmbər/ december. The sequence also occurs in native derivations with the suffix -ber ( /-bər/; see -ber) from verbs with a stem ending in /-m/, like ûnbedimber /un+bedɪm+bər/ uncontrollable (from bedimm(e) to suppress, to control), ûnûntkomber /un+untkom+bər/ inescapable, inevitable (from ûntkomm(e) (oan) to escape (from)), and waarnimber /va:r+nɪm+bər/ observable, perceivable (from waarnimm(e) to observe, to perceive). The lack of words ending in /-mb/, therefore, must be considered an accidental gap.
  • The sequence /-ŋk/ is quite common, as in drink(e) /drɪŋk/ to drink, bank /baŋk/ bank; bench, couch, skonk /skoŋk/ leg, and fûnk /fuŋk/ spark.
  • The sequence /-nt/ is quite common, see kant /kɔnt/ edge, side; lace; shapely, well-proportioned, klint /klɪnt/ campion, catchfly; hut, shack, and smjunt /smjønt/ wigeon; rascal, scoundrel, for instance.
  • The sequence /-nd/ is strongly dispreferred in underived native words. It only occurs in the words eand /ɪənd/ with young, bearing (of ewe) and weind /vajnd/ headland, where /d/ is extrasyllabic, due to the (centring/falling) diphthong preceding /n/. It is unclear whether it occurs in the loanwords eland elk, trend trend, and stand stand. In the case of trend and stand, /-d/ never shows up at the surface. The plural forms are trends [trɛnts] and stands [stɛnts], whereas in the adjective trendy [trɛndi] trendy, [-d-] is an integral part of the loanword. Therefore, trend and stand may be assumed to have final /-t/ in their underlying representation. The plural form elanden [e:lɔndn̩] makes clear that eland has underlying /-d/.

    Just like /-mb-/, the sequence /-nd/ only occurs in a word when followed by schwa or schwa plus consonant, as in skande /skɔndə/ disgrace, shame, mande /mɔndə/ common property, and blinder /blɪndər/ damn!, the devil!.

    /-nd/ is also common in the past participle of verbs of the first weak class with a stem ending in /-n/ (see paradigm of class I) and in the present participle of verbs of all classes (see present participle). Some examples are opheind /ophajn+d/ overheard (from ophein(e) to overhear), fergund /fərɡøn+d/ (be)grudged (from fergunn(e) to (be)grudge), beteljend /bətɛljən+d/ paying (from betelje to pay), and geand /ɡɪən+d/ going (from gean to go). Participles can be used as adjectives, in which case they may have to be extended with inflectional -e ( /-ə/), as in it opheinde petear the overheard conversation and beteljende leden paying members.

    Next to the regular compositional meaning, some present participles have acquired a non-compositional meaning. Examples are mijend (from mije to avoid) and razend (from raze to rage, to rave), which not only mean avoiding and raving, but more generally cautious, careful and furious. The same goes for opljeppend short-tempered, hotheaded, derived from the now obsolete verb opljeppe to leap up. Due to their non-compositional meaning, such participles have become adjectives in their own right. Used like this, they tend to drop final /-d/, so that they become mijen, razen, and opljeppen. As long as /-nd/ has the function of indicator of the present participle, final /-d/ is stable. However, when the present participle acquires a non-compositional meaning and is lexicalized as such, /-d/ loses this morphosyntactic function and the forms in question tend to join the pattern of underived words, hence to drop final /-d/ (see also -en for these adjectives in -en(d)).

    To sum up, /-nd/ is strongly dispreferred in Frisian, unless /-d/ has a clear morpho-syntactic function. As noted above, the absence of word-final /-mb/ ties in with the fact that words ending in /b/ are rare. This is different for the absence of words ending in /-nd/, for Frisian abounds in words with final /-d/. The absence of /-nd/, therefore, is likely to be a systematic gap.

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    The deletion of /d/ from the word-final sequence /-nd/ induced Compensatory Lengthening of the stem vowel. So, while the Dutch words hand hand and strand beach have the short vowel /ɑ/, the Frisan counterparts hân and strân have long /ɔ:/.

    The half close vowels /ɪ/ and /o/ seem to show deviant behaviour, for /-ɪnd/ ( -ind) has turned into /-in/ ( -yn) ‒ see Dutch-Frisian word pairs like blind~blyn blind and wind~wyn wind ‒ and /-ond/ ( -ond) into /-un/ ( -ûn) ‒ see word pairs like grond~grûn ground and hond~hûn dog. Therefore, instead of a quantitative, there only seems to be a qualitative difference between the vowels preceding /-nd/ and /-n/ here. There is also a quantitative difference, however, if it is assumed that /i/ and /u/ are long vowels (so-called A-vowels; see long and short monophthongs: a different view). It should be noted that /-ond/ is likely to have turned into /-oon/ first ‒ a purely quantitave change ‒, after which /-oon/ became /un/. In parts of the Wâldfrysk dialect area words like those for 'ground' and 'dog' may be realized as [ɡro:n] and [ho:n], so with the 'old' monophthong.

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    Some words in which the sequence /-nd-/ is followed by schwa or schwa plus consonant have alternants without /-d-/, as can be seen in word pairs like handel ~ hannel trade; merchandise, skande ~ skanne disgrace, shame, sûnde ~ sûne sin, and wandel ~ wannel conduct. The words hannel, wannel, and skanne are also written as hânel, wânel, and skâne, where the spelling <â> suggests that they have a long vowel (in all likelihood resulting from compensatory lengthening). Word-final schwa (or the sequence schwa plus (sonorant) consonant) counts as a word boundary at the lexical level (see (Visser 1994) and (Visser 1997:241-248)); this might explain why these words could join the general word-final pattern. It should be noted, however, that these /d/-less forms are becoming, or already are, obsolete.

The homorganicity of a word-final sequence of a nasal and a plosive is the unmarked case. There are some heterorganic nasal + plosive sequences, to wit /-mt/, /-md/, and /-mk/. Their rate of occurrence is low, as the following exhaustive listing makes clear.
  • /mt/ occurs in amt /amt/ office, duties, ra(a)mt /ra(:)mt/ casing, frame(work), genamt /ɡənamt/ name-child (note that /t/ is extrasyllabic in raamt because of the long monophthong which precedes /m/).
  • /md/ occurs in frjemd /frjɛmd/ foreign; strange and himd /hɪmd/ vest, singlet.
  • /mk/ occurs in jamk /jamk/ often, frequently; very, highly; perhaps, possibly.

The word-final sequences of a nasal and a fricative are homorganic /-ns/ and /-nz/ and heterorganic /-mz/, /-ms/, and /-mf/. Here as well, the homorganic sequences are more common than the heterorganic ones.

  • The coronal nasal /n/ is not realized when followed by a fricative, in which case there is vowel nasalization (see Vowel Nasalization). This then also holds for /n/ in /-ns/ and /-nz/. These sequences are systematically preceded by a long vowel (see nasal vowels and vowel length).
  • /mz/ only occurs in the nouns t(j)ems /t(j)ɛmz/ sieve (for milk), gems /ɡɛmz/ chamois, lems /lɛmz/ blade, pljims /pljɪmz/ sheet (of paper); quarter of a quire, prjims /prjɪmz/ sheet (of paper); quarter of a quire, lims /lɪmz/ blade, brims /brɪmz/ horsefly, cleg; warble fly; hornet.
  • /ms/ possibly occurs in the adverb soms /soms/? sometimes and the interjections boems /bums/? bang, boom, bounce and ploems /plums/? splash, plop.
  • /mf/ only occurs in the loanwords nimf /nɪmf/ nymph, triomf /triomf/ triumph, and lymfe /lɪmfə/ lymph. It also occurs in native simplex words, provided these end in the sequence -el ( /-əl/). The words in question are rimfel /rɪmfəl/ wrinkle, romfel /romfəl/ wrinkle, skromfel /skromfəl/ wrinkle, and ka(a)mfer /ka(:)mfər/ camphor. Of these, romfel, skromfel, and ka(a)mfer have variants with the unmarked coronal nasal /n/: ronfel /ronfəl/, skronfel /skronfəl/, and ka(a)nfer /ka(:)nfər/, in which /n/ is not realized, due to vowel nasalization (see Vowel Nasalization).

Labial /m/ appears to be the only nasal which can be part of a heterorganic sequence, few though the cases may be. Coronal /n/ does not have this property. As the unmarked nasal, /n/ is unspecified for place features, rendering it highly susceptible to influences from its consonantal surroundings as to its place specification. The velar nasal /ŋ/ cannot be part of a heterorganic sequence either; this is explicable on historical grounds (see the dorsal nasal /ŋ/), but it is coincidental from a synchronic point of view.

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The heterorganic sequences of a nasal and an obstruent undergo Intrusive Stop Formation (see Intrusive Stop Formation), which may be looked upon as a means of attaining homorganicity at the surface level. As to the sequence /-mf/, the bilabiality of /m/ and the labiodentality of /f/ make for a difference between these consonants great enough for them to count as heterorganic for this process.

[+]The homorganicity of nasal and obstruent sequences

In an (unmarked) homorganic nasal + obstruent sequence, the place specification of the nasal is predictable from the obstruent's specification. The nasal, therefore, might be represented without this specification in underlying representation (which would be an instance of so-called 'context-sensitive underspecification'). In the (marked) instances of heterorganic clusters, as in himd /hɪmd/ vest, singlet and jamk /jamk/ often, frequently; very, highly; perhaps, possibly, the nasal would need to be specified for place of articulation, which would add to the phonological complexity of such words.

Through spreading of the obstruent's place features to the left, the nasal and the obstruent would share one and the same specification for place of articulation. On the basis of this linked structure, it would be predicted that these sequences cannot be split by vowel epenthesis, which is in accordance with the facts.

All this, however, is not as unproblematic as it may seem. The nasals /m/ and /ŋ/ are not allowed to be preceded by the vowel /ɔ/, whether or not they are part of a homorganic nasal + obstruent sequence. This phonotactic restriction does not hold for /n/. If /m/ and /ŋ/, as part of a homorganic nasal + obstruent sequence, derive from /n/ through the spreading of place features, the forbidden sequences /*ɔm/ and /*ɔŋ/ cannot be prevented from arising.

This means that sequences like /-mp/ and /-ŋk/ must be assumed to be present as such in the underlying representations of the stems they are part of. All nasal consonants have phonemic status in Frisian and are therefore part of the underlying consonant inventory, so this seems to be an unproblematic assumption.

The above approach, however, leaves two issues to be settled. First, if the difference between a homorganic and a heterorganic nasal + obstruent sequence does not reside in the degree of specification of the nasal, how then should it be accounted for that homorganic sequences are unmarked in comparison with heterorganic ones? Several options come to mind, for instance the use of marking statements, which designate a class of segments as (un)marked when adjacent to another class of segments.

Second, as noted, homorganic sequences cannot be split up by vowel epenthesis. If such sequences result from the spreading of the obstruent's place features to a nasal segment to its left, unspecified for place, both segments share one place specification, which in turn accounts for their resistance to vowel epenthesis. But if the nasal and the obstruent are assumed to be fully specified for place in underlying representation, then one must also assume the identical place features of two adjacent coda segments to undergo some sort of fusion. The result, a shared place specification, also explains the impossibility of vowel epenthesis.

  • Visser, Willem1994Schwa-appendixen in het FriesBooij, Geert Evert & Marle, J. van (eds.)DialectfonologieAmsterdamP.J. Meertens-Instituut116-137
  • Visser, Willem1994Schwa-appendixen in het FriesBooij, Geert Evert & Marle, J. van (eds.)DialectfonologieAmsterdamP.J. Meertens-Instituut116-137
  • Visser, Willem1997The Syllable in FrisianVrije Universiteit AmsterdamThesis
  • Visser, Willem1997The Syllable in FrisianVrije Universiteit AmsterdamThesis