West Frisian phonology

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


The vowel inventory of West Frisian is very rich.


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

Close and mid vowels[edit]

  • /yː/ is infrequent.[3] It and the other long close rounded vowel /uː/ are absent from the dialect of Ljouwert.[4]
  • /ʏ/ is more often transcribed with the symbol ⟨ø⟩,[5] yet this article uses the symbol ⟨ʏ⟩ to show that it is identical to standard Dutch /ʏ/.
  • Although they pattern with monophthongs, the long close-mid vowels transcribed /eː, øː, oː/ are often realized as narrow closing diphthongs [eɪ, øʏ, oʊ].[6][7] One of the exceptions is /øː/ in the Hindeloopers dialect, which is realized as a long monophthong [øː].[4]
  • /oː/ doesn't occur before /s/.[8]
  • Although they pattern with monophthongs, the long open-mid vowels transcribed /ɛː, ɔː/ tend to be realized as centering diphthongs [ɛə, ɔə].[9][10]
  • The Hindeloopers and Súdwesthoeksk dialects also feature open-mid front rounded vowels /œ, œː/, which are not a part of the standard language.[4][11]

Open vowels[edit]

  • Many scholars[12] transcribe /a/ as /a/, but de Haan (2010) transcribes it as /ɑ/.[13] Its phonetic quality has been variously described as slightly retracted central [ä];[14] and less central than /aː/.[13]
  • /aː/ is slightly retracted central [äː].[14]


Standard West Frisian diphthongs[1][11]
Starting point Ending point
Front Central Back
Close unrounded (jɪ jʏ jɛ) iu
rounded ui yə uə (wa) (wo)
Close-mid unrounded ɪə
rounded oi oːi øə oə
Open-mid unrounded ɛi
rounded øy ɔu
Open unrounded ai aːi
  • Booij (1989) argues that the rising diphthongs /jɪ, jɛ, wa, wo/ (he also lists the rare /jʏ/) are in fact glide-vowel sequences, not real diphthongs.[15] This view is supported by Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013) who transcribe them as /jɪ, jɛ, wa, wo/,[16] which is the convention used in this article.
  • In Southwestern dialects, /wa, wo/ are monophthongized to short central [ɞ, ɵ].[17]
  • Phonetically, the first element of /ɛi/ can be either [ɛ] or [æ].[18]
  • Many scholars[19] transcribe /øy/ as /øy/, but Booij (1989) transcribes it as /ʌy/. According to Tiersma (1999), the first element of /øy/ is lower than the vowel /ʏ/[18] (i.e. more like [œ], similar to the traditional Standard Dutch pronunciation of /œy/).
  • Some scholars[20] transcribe /ɔu/ as /ɔu/, yet others[21] transcribe it as /au/. Phonetically, the first element of this diphthong may be either of these, i.e. [ɔ] or, less often, [a].[22]
  • Some varieties realize /ai/ as [ɔi].[1]
  • Many speakers round the first element of /aːi/ to [ɔː].[18]


Some falling diphthongs alternate with the rising ones:[1]

Falling Rising
Diphthong Orthography IPA Translation Diphthong Orthography IPA Translation
/iə/ stien /ˈstiən/ 'stone' /jɪ/ stiennen /ˈstjɪnən/ 'stones'
/ɪə/ beam /ˈbɪəm/ 'tree' /jɛ/ beamke /ˈbjɛmkə/ 'little tree'
/uə/ foet /ˈfuət/ 'foot' /wo/ fuotten /ˈfwotən/ 'feet'
/oə/ doas /ˈdoəs/ 'box' /wa/ doaske /ˈdwaskə/ 'little box'
/yə/ sluere /ˈslyərə/ 'to meander' /jʏ/ slurkje /ˈsljʏrkjə/ 'to meander softly'
  • The /yə/ - /jʏ/ alternation occurs only in the pair mentioned above.[1]


Standard West Frisian consonants[23][24]
Labial Alveolar Dorsal Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive voiceless p t k
voiced b d
Fricative voiceless f s x h
voiced v z ɣ
Trill r
Approximant l j
  • /m, p, b/ are bilabial, whereas /f, v/ are labiodental.[25]
    • /v/ has two allophones: an approximant [ʋ], which appears word-initially, and a fricative [v], which occurs elsewhere.[26]
    • In some cases, /d/ alternates with /r/.[27]
    • /r/ is silent before other alveolar consonants.[27][28] An exception to this rule are recent loanwords from Standard Dutch (e.g. sport), which may or may not be pronounced with [r].[29]
  • /ŋ, k, x, ɣ/ are velar, whereas /j/ is palatal.[30]
    • /ɣ/ has two allophones: a plosive [ɡ], which appears word-initially and syllable-initially (the latter only when stressed), and a fricative [ɣ], which occurs elsewhere.[8][31]
  • The syllabic sonorants [m̩, n̩, ŋ̍, l̩, r̩] occur in the following circumstances:
    • In the ending ⟨en⟩, which in careful speech is pronounced [ən]:[32]
      • It is realized as [m̩] when preceded by /m, p, b/.[32]
      • It is realized as [n̩] when preceded by /f, v, n, t, d, s, z, r, l/.[32]
      • It is realized as [ŋ̍] when preceded by /k, x, ɣ/.[32]
    • In the endings ⟨el⟩ and ⟨er⟩ (in careful speech: [əl] and [ər], respectively), which after consonants are realized as [l̩] and [r̩], respectively.[32]
    • In some other cases. See Sipma (1913:36) for more information.
    • /j/ and the [ʋ] allophone of /v/ are the only sonorants which cannot be syllabic.
  • The sequences /nj, tj, sj, zj/ coalesce to [ɲ, c, ɕ, ʑ].
  • Glottal stop [ʔ] may precede word-initial vowels. In careful speech, it may also occur between unstressed and stressed vowel or diphthong.[33]
  • Among fricatives, neither /x/ nor any of the voiced fricatives can occur word-initially.[34]
  • /l/ is velarized [ɫ] in all environments except before the close front vowels /i, iː, y, yː/, where it is realized as clear [l].

Final devoicing[edit]

Word-final /b, d/ are realized as voiceless [p, t] in all dialects except Amelansk.[35] Note, however, that final /b/ is rare,[36] and that in loanwords from Standard Dutch, final /ɣ/ can also appear, and is also devoiced to [x].


  1. ^ a b c d e Booij (1989), p. 319.
  2. ^ Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013), p. 509.
  3. ^ Visser (1997), p. 19.
  4. ^ a b c van der Veen (2001), p. 102.
  5. ^ For instance by Booij (1989), Tiersma (1999), van der Veen (2001), Keil (2003) and Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013). An example of a scholar that transcribes it with ⟨ʏ⟩ is de Haan (2010).
  6. ^ Visser (1997), pp. 22–23.
  7. ^ Tiersma (1999), pp. 10–11.
  8. ^ a b Hoekstra (2001), p. 86.
  9. ^ Tiersma (1999), p. 10.
  10. ^ Visser (1997), p. 23.
  11. ^ a b Hoekstra (2001), p. 83.
  12. ^ For instance Booij (1989), Tiersma (1999), van der Veen (2001), Keil (2003) and Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013).
  13. ^ a b de Haan (2010), p. 333.
  14. ^ a b Visser (1997), p. 14.
  15. ^ Booij (1989), pp. 319–320.
  16. ^ Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013), pp. 509–510.
  17. ^ Hoekstra (2003:202), citing Hof (1933:14)
  18. ^ a b c Tiersma (1999), p. 12.
  19. ^ For instance Tiersma (1999), Keil (2003) and Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013).
  20. ^ For instance Booij (1989), Hoekstra (2001) and Keil (2003).
  21. ^ For instance Tiersma (1999) and Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013).
  22. ^ Tiersma (1999), pp. 12, 36.
  23. ^ Based on the consonant table in Sipma (1913:8). The allophones [ɲ, ɡ, β̞] are not included.
  24. ^ Hoekstra (2001), p. 84.
  25. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 8, 15–16.
  26. ^ Keil (2003), p. 7.
  27. ^ a b Keil (2003), p. 8.
  28. ^ Tiersma (1999), pp. 28–29.
  29. ^ Tiersma (1999), p. 29.
  30. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 8, 15–17.
  31. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 15, 17.
  32. ^ a b c d e Sipma (1913), p. 36.
  33. ^ Sipma (1913), p. 15.
  34. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 16–17.
  35. ^ van der Veen (2001), p. 104.
  36. ^ Tiersma (1999), p. 21.


Further reading[edit]

  • Fokkema, Klaas (1961), "Consonantgroepen in de Zuidwesthoek van Friesland", in Heeroma, Klaas Hanzen; Fokkema, Klaas, Structuurgeografie, Amsterdam: Noord-Hollandsche Uitg. Mij., pp. 16–26 
  • Heeringa, Wilbert (2005), "Dialect variation in and around Frisia: classification and relationships" (PDF), Us Wurk, tydskrift foar Frisistyk, 3–4: 125–167 
  • Tiersma, Peter Meijes (1983), "The nature of phonological representation: evidence from breaking in Frisian", Journal of Linguistics, 10: 59–78, JSTOR 4175665