West Frisian phonology

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This article is about the phonology and phonetics of the West Frisian language.



West Frisian monophthong phonemes[1][2][3]
Front Central Back
unrounded rounded rounded
short long short long short long short long
Close i y u
Close-mid ɪ øː ø o
Open-mid ɛ ɛː ə ɔ ɔː
Open a


West Frisian diphthong phonemes are as follows:

  • Falling: /ɛi̯, ʌy̯, ɔu̯, oi̯, ai̯, iə̯, yə̯, uə̯, ɪə̯, oə̯/[2]
    • Some varieties realize /ai̯/ as [ɔi̯].[2]
  • Rising: /i̯ɪ, i̯ɛ, u̯o, u̯a/[2]

Booij (1989) argues that the rising diphthongs are in fact glide-vowel sequences, not real diphthongs.[7] This view is supported by Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013), who transcribe them as /ji, jɛ, wo, wa/.[8]


Some falling diphthongs alternate with the rising ones:[2]

Falling Rising
Diphthong Orthography IPA Translation Diphthong Orthography IPA Translation
/iə̯/ stien /ˈstiə̯n/ 'stone' /i̯ɪ/ stiennen /ˈsti̯ɪnən/ 'stones'
/ɪə̯/ beam /ˈbɪə̯m/ 'tree' /i̯ɛ/ beamke /ˈbi̯ɛmkə/ 'little tree'
/uə̯/ foet /ˈfuə̯t/ 'foot' /u̯o/ fuotten /ˈfu̯otən/ 'feet'
/oə̯/ doas /ˈdoə̯s/ 'box' /u̯a/ doaske /ˈdu̯askə/ 'little box'
/yə̯/ sluere /ˈslyə̯rə/ 'to meander' /i̯ø/ slurkje /ˈsli̯ørki̯ə/ 'to meander softly'
  • The /yə̯/ - /i̯ø/ alternation occurs only in the pair mentioned above.[2]

Length reduction methods[edit]

On average Frisians use a high number of long vowels. To reduce the length of speech there are two systems to reduce sound length:

  • The first is the new Frisian breaking. New Frisian breaking reduces the length of a long vowel by replacing it with a consonant and a vowel or semi vowel. Breaking pairs are ie-ji/i, ue-uo, oa-ua and dei-je/dje.
  • The second system is article and suffix reduction to glottal stops. Both definite articles (de (/də/) and it (/ət/)) and the indefinite article (in (/ən/)) may undergo article reduction. Popular suffixes for reduction include -en (/ən/) and -t (/ət/). "it tinken" (the act of thinking) for example may be reduced from /ət tɪŋ͡kən/ to [ʔtɪŋ͡kʔ]. This however is an extreme reduction and does not occur in most dialects. More common is removing the schwa (/ə/) and in case of a reduced article following a reduced dental suffix one of the /t/'s is dropped. In Standard Frisian writing this phenomenon can be represented by replacing the character representing the schwa by an apostrophe.

The use of both systems varies from dialect to dialect and in the standard language there are irregularities whether to write broken vowels in their broken or unbroken form.


Consonant phonemes of West Frisian[9]
Labial Alveolar Dorsal Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ
Fricative voiceless f s x h
voiced v z
Trill r
Approximant ʋ l j
  • Syllabic [m̩, n̩, ŋ̍, l̩, r̩] occur in the following circumstances:
    • In the ending en, which in careful speech is pronounced [ən]:[10]
      • It is realized as [n̩] when preceded by /f, v, t, d, n, l, r, s, z/.[10]
      • It is realized as [m̩] when preceded by /m, p, b/.[10]
      • It is realized as [ŋ̍] when preceded by /k, ɡ, x/.[10]
    • In the endings el and er (in careful speech: [əl] and [ər], respectively), which after consonants are realized as [l̩] and [r̩], respectively.[10]
    • In some other cases. See Sipma (1913:36) for more information.
  • The sequence /nj/ coalesces to [ɲ].
  • /ŋ, k, ɡ, x/ are velar, whereas /j/ is palatal.[11]
    • /ɡ/ occurs only word-initially.[12] Intervocalically, it is realized as fricative [ɣ].[13]
  • /m, p, b/ are bilabial, whereas /f, v, ʋ/ are labiodental.[14]
  • /t, d, s, z/ are apical alveolar [, , , ].[15]
  • Glottal stop [ʔ] may precede word-initial vowels.[12] In careful speech, it may also occur between unstressed and stressed vowel or diphthong.[12]
  • Among fricatives, only /f, s, h/ can occur word-initially.[16]
  • /r/ is pronounced as alveolar trill [r].[17] The uvular realization [ʀ] is considered a speech impediment.[18][more recent source needed - /r/ in the Netherlands is nowadays extremely variable.]
  • The approximants /ʋ, j/ are slightly fricated.[18] /ʋ/ has weaker friction than /v/, and /j/ is very lightly fricated.[18]
    • /ʋ/ is bilabial [β̞] after /t, d, k, s/.[18]
  • /l/ is velarized [ɫ].[12]


  1. ^ Sipma (1913), p. 8.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Booij (1989), p. 319.
  3. ^ a b Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013), p. 509.
  4. ^ a b Sipma (1913), p. 9.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Sipma (1913), p. 10.
  6. ^ a b Sipma (1913), p. 11.
  7. ^ Booij (1989), p. 320.
  8. ^ Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013), pp. 509–510.
  9. ^ Based on the consonant table in Sipma (1913:8). The allophones [ɲ, ɣ, β̞] are not included.
  10. ^ a b c d e Sipma (1913), p. 36.
  11. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 8 and 15–17.
  12. ^ a b c d Sipma (1913), p. 15.
  13. ^ Sipma (1913), p. 17.
  14. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 8 and 15–16.
  15. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 15–16.
  16. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 16–17.
  17. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 14 and 16.
  18. ^ a b c d Sipma (1913), p. 16.


Further reading[edit]