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
short long short long short long short long
Close i y u
Close-mid ɪ ø øː ə o
Open-mid ɛ ɛː ɔ ɔː
Open a
  • The long vowels are considerably longer than the short vowels. The former are generally over 250 ms, whereas the latter are generally under 150 ms.[3][4]
  • Some speakers merge the long vowels /iː, uː/ with the centering diphthongs /iə̯, uə̯/.[5]
  • /yː/ is infrequent.[6] It and the other long close rounded vowel /uː/ are absent from the dialect of Ljouwert.[7]
  • Many scholars[8] transcribe /ø/ as /ø/, but de Haan (2010) transcribes it as /ʏ/.[9] Phonetically, it is quite similar to /ə/.[10]
  • Although they pattern with monophthongs, the long close-mid vowels transcribed /eː, øː, oː/ are often realized as narrow closing diphthongs [ei̯, øy̑, ou̯].[11][12] However, there are exceptions: for instance, speakers of the Hindeloopers dialect realize /øː/ as a long monophthong [øː].[7]
  • Nearly all words with /øː/ are loanwords from Standard Dutch.[13]
  • /oː/ doesn't occur before /s/.[14]
  • Although they pattern with monophthongs, the long open-mid vowels transcribed /ɛː, ɔː/ tend to be realized as centering diphthongs [ɛə̯, ɔə̯].[15][16]
  • The Hindeloopers and Súdwesthoeksk dialects also feature open-mid front rounded vowels /œ, œː/, which are not a part of the standard language.[7][17]
  • Many scholars[8] transcribe /a/ as /a/, but de Haan (2010) transcribes it as /ɑ/.[9] Its phonetic quality has been variously described as central [ä][3] and back [ɑ].[9]
  • /aː/ is central [äː].[9][3]


Standard West Frisian diphthongs[1][17]
Starting point Ending point
Front Central Back
Close unrounded (jɪ jø jɛ) iə̯ iu̯
rounded ui̯ yə̯ uə̯ (wa) (wo)
Close-mid unrounded ɪə̯
rounded oi̯ oːi̯ øə̯ oə̯
Open-mid unrounded ɛi̯
rounded œy̑ ɔu̯
Open unrounded ai̯ aːi̯
  • Booij (1989) argues that the rising diphthongs /jɪ, jɛ, wa, wo/ (he also lists the rare /jø/) are in fact glide-vowel sequences, not real diphthongs.[18] This view is supported by Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013) who transcribe them as /jɪ, jɛ, wa, wo/,[19] which is the convention used in this article.
  • In Southwestern dialects, /wa, wo/ are monophthongized to short central [ɞ, ɵ].[20]
  • The closeness of either of the elements of /ɛi̯/ is somewhat variable, so that its phonetic realization is [æi̯ ~ æɪ̯ ~ ɛi̯ ~ ɛɪ̯].[21]
  • The first element of /œy̑/ is more like [œ] than [ø].[21] Many scholars[22] transcribe this sound as /øy̑/, Booij (1989) transcribes it as /ʌy̑/, yet this article transcribes it /œy̑/ to show that it is clearly distinct from the common diphthongal realization of /øː/ (having a much lower starting point) and that it is virtually identical to /œy̑/ in Standard Dutch.
  • Some scholars[23] transcribe /ɔu̯/ as /ɔu̯/, yet others[24] transcribe it as /au̯/. Phonetically, the first element of this diphthong may be either of these, i.e. [ɔ] or, less often, [a].[25]
  • Some varieties realize /ai̯/ as [ɔi̯].[1]
  • Many speakers round the first element of /aːi̯/ to [ɔː].[21]


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

Falling Rising
Diphthong Orthography IPA Translation Diphthong Orthography IPA Translation
/iə̯/ stien /ˈstiə̯n/ 'stone' /jɪ/ stiennen /ˈstjɪnən/ 'stones'
/ɪə̯/ beam /ˈbɪə̯m/ 'tree' /jɛ/ beamke /ˈbjɛmkə/ 'little tree'
/uə̯/ foet /ˈfuə̯t/ 'foot' /wo/ fuotten /ˈfwotən/ 'feet'
/oə̯/ doas /ˈdoə̯s/ 'box' /wa/ doaske /ˈdwaskə/ 'little box'
/yə̯/ sluere /ˈslyə̯rə/ 'to meander' /jø/ slurkje /ˈsljørkjə/ 'to meander softly'
  • The /yə̯/ - /jø/ alternation occurs only in the pair mentioned above.[1]


Standard West Frisian consonants[26][27]
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.[28]
    • /v/ has two allophones: an approximant [ʋ], which appears word-initially, and a fricative [v], which occurs elsewhere.[29]
    • In some cases, /d/ alternates with /r/.[30]
    • /r/ is silent before other alveolar consonants.[30][31] An exception to this rule are recent loanwords from Standard Dutch (e.g. sport), which may or may not be pronounced with [r].[32]
  • /ŋ, k, x, ɣ/ are velar, whereas /j/ is palatal.[33]
    • /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.[14][34]
  • The syllabic sonorants [m̩, n̩, ŋ̍, l̩, r̩] occur in the following circumstances:
    • In the ending ⟨en⟩, which in careful speech is pronounced [ən]:[35]
      • It is realized as [m̩] when preceded by /m, p, b/.[35]
      • It is realized as [n̩] when preceded by /f, v, n, t, d, s, z, r, l/.[35]
      • It is realized as [ŋ̍] when preceded by /k, x, ɣ/.[35]
    • In the endings ⟨el⟩ and ⟨er⟩ (in careful speech: [əl] and [ər], respectively), which after consonants are realized as [l̩] and [r̩], respectively.[35]
    • 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, , ɕ, ʑ].
  • Glottal stop [ʔ] may precede word-initial vowels. In careful speech, it may also occur between unstressed and stressed vowel or diphthong.[36]
  • Among fricatives, neither /x/ nor any of the voiced fricatives can occur word-initially.[37]
  • /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].[38] Note, however, that final /b/ is rare,[39] 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. ^ a b c Visser (1997), p. 14.
  4. ^ Tiersma (1999), p. 9.
  5. ^ Visser (1997), p. 24.
  6. ^ Visser (1997), p. 19.
  7. ^ a b c van der Veen (2001), p. 102.
  8. ^ a b For instance Booij (1989), Tiersma (1999), van der Veen (2001), Keil (2003) and Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013).
  9. ^ a b c d de Haan (2010), p. 333.
  10. ^ Tiersma (1999), p. 11.
  11. ^ Visser (1997), pp. 22–23.
  12. ^ Tiersma (1999), pp. 10–11.
  13. ^ Visser (1997), p. 17.
  14. ^ a b Hoekstra (2001), p. 86.
  15. ^ Tiersma (1999), p. 10.
  16. ^ Visser (1997), p. 23.
  17. ^ a b Hoekstra (2001), p. 83.
  18. ^ Booij (1989), pp. 319–320.
  19. ^ Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013), pp. 509–510.
  20. ^ Hoekstra (2003:202), citing Hof (1933:14)
  21. ^ a b c Tiersma (1999), p. 12.
  22. ^ For instance Tiersma (1999), Keil (2003) and Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013).
  23. ^ For instance Booij (1989), Hoekstra (2001) and Keil (2003).
  24. ^ For instance Tiersma (1999) and Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013).
  25. ^ Tiersma (1999), pp. 12, 36.
  26. ^ Based on the consonant table in Sipma (1913:8). The allophones [ɲ, ɡ, β̞] are not included.
  27. ^ Hoekstra (2001), p. 84.
  28. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 8, 15–16.
  29. ^ Keil (2003), p. 7.
  30. ^ a b Keil (2003), p. 8.
  31. ^ Tiersma (1999), pp. 28–29.
  32. ^ Tiersma (1999), p. 29.
  33. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 8, 15–17.
  34. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 15, 17.
  35. ^ a b c d e Sipma (1913), p. 36.
  36. ^ Sipma (1913), p. 15.
  37. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 16–17.
  38. ^ van der Veen (2001), p. 104.
  39. ^ Tiersma (1999), p. 21.


Further reading[edit]

  • Cohen, Antonie; Ebeling, Carl L.; Fokkema, Klaas; van Holk, André G.F. (1978) [First published 1961]. Fonologie van het Nederlands en het Fries: inleiding tot de moderne klankleer (in Dutch) (2nd ed.). The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. 
  • Fokkema, Klaas (1961). "Consonantgroepen in de Zuidwesthoek van Friesland". In Heeroma, Klaas Hanzen; Fokkema, Klaas. Structuurgeografie (in Dutch). 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. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 30 March 2017. 
  • Tiersma, Peter Meijes (1983). "The nature of phonological representation: evidence from breaking in Frisian". Journal of Linguistics. 10: 59–78. JSTOR 4175665.