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Extra-syllabic consonants

This section deals with the consonants that mainly occur as extra-syllabic, namely /s/ and /t/. There is an asymmetry between these two consonants. Though /t/, being a plosive and hence the least sonorous of the two, is expected to be the extra-syllabic consonant par excellence, it is /s/ that enjoys this privilege.


The Sonority Sequencing Constraint requires that there be a sonority distance between adjacent segments in a word (see complex onsets). According to the more specific Complex Onset Sonority Constraint (see: complex onsets), the segments of a word-initial consonant sequence must belong to non-adjacent sonority classes.

These constraints are often violated at the edges of words. As a consequence, it is there that exceptional consonant sequences occur. As to the onset, the offending (left-most) consonants are often called extra-syllabic . Morphologically, they are an integral part of the words they belong to, but they fall outside the core of the syllable of which the words in question are made up. With respect to the syllable then they are something 'extra'.

On their left-hand side words in Frisian allow for three kinds of exceptionality:

It is mainly /s/ and /t/ that occur as extra-syllabic consonants in Frisian. There may be a threefold reason for this:

  1. obstruents, being the least sonorous segments, are unmarked in word-peripheral position;
  2. the unmarked obstruent is voiceless;
  3. coronal is the unmarked place of articulation.
These properties are shared by /s/ and /t/. Since plosives are less sonorous than fricatives, /t/ would have to be the extra-syllabic consonant par excellence. It is, however, /s/ that enjoys this privilege. There is therefore an asymmetry between /t/ and /s/ in this respect.

The sequences of /s/ + liquid are /sl-/ and /sr-/. They conform to both the Sonority Sequencing Constraint (see complex onsets) and the Complex Onset Sonority Constraint (see complex onsets).

The former shows up in words like slak /slak/ snail; slug and slûch /sluɣ/ sleepy, drowsy. That /s/ is extrasyllabic here, is clear from the syllabification of /sl/ in word-internal position, as shown in the table below:

Table 1
The syllabification of word-internal /sl/
Oslo /ɔslo:/ /(ɔs).(lo:)./ place name
islam /ɪsla:m/ /(ɪs).(la:m)./ Islam
Things are different for /sr/, which does not occur. Historically, it was split up by /t/ during the transition from Indo-European to (proto) Germanic, and when in subsequent stages of the Germanic languages [sr-] resulted from phonological processes, it was also 'repaired' by the insertion of /t/ (see Hoekstra (1987) for Frisian and Zonneveld (1983) for Dutch). This means that there are no words beginning with /sr/ (except for the loan nameSri Lanka). Both /s/ and /r/ are +continuant, so /sr-/ is a disfavoured sequence. Yet, its ill-formedness needs an explicit statement in the grammar of Frisian.

There are also non-coronal extra-syllabic initial segments, viz. /k/, /ɡ/, /f/, and /p/. Of these, /ɡ/ and /f/ precede the coronal nasal /n/, a property they share with /k/ (see onset: sequences of obstruents and nasals). /k/ and /p/ precede /s/, be it in loan words only (see complex segments).

In order to meet the demand that the members of an obstruent sequence must not agree in continuancy, the second member of these sequences has to be a fricative. Only /s/ does the job here, which calls for the constraint that an obstruent sequence must contain at least one coronal segment (see complex segments).

  • Hoekstra, Jarich1987Oer it ynfoegjen fan t/d tusken s/z en rTydskrift foar Fryske Taalkunde354-59
  • Zonneveld, Wim1983Lexical and phonological properties of Dutch voicing assimilationvan den Broecke, M., van Heuven, V. & Zonneveld, W. (eds.)Sound Structures: Studies for Anthonie CohenDordrechtForis Publications