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Schwa-final nouns and nouns without final schwa
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Frisian has many nouns ending in schwa, which have a schwa-less allomorph, used mainly in particular morphological contexts. Schwa-final nouns have the definite article de (not it). This might lead one to assume that noun-final schwa has the status of a suffix, which is argued not to be the case.

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Frisian has many nouns ending in schwa, examples of which are given in (1):

Example 1

Examples of nouns ending in schwa
a. seage /sɪəɣə/ saw
b. planke /plaŋkə/ board; shelf
c. skjirre /skjɪrə/ scissors
d. harke /harkə/ rake
e. doaze /doəzə/ box
f. tomme /tomə/ thumb
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In Dutch, only a small number of nouns with final schwa have remained. The Dutch counterparts of the words in (1) are (a) zaag, (b) plank, (c) schaar, (d) hark, (e) doos, and (f) duim, so without final schwa.

Noun-final schwa has a special status, in that it determines the word class and the sub-word class of the free morphemes it is part of. Firstly, a simplex content word ending in schwa is a noun.

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There are no more than a handful of exceptions to this regularity:

  1. The definite article de/də/the.
  2. The numerals alve/ɔlvə/eleven, tolve/tolvə/twelve, trije/trɛjə/three and the quantifier folle/folə/much; many; alve and tolve have the schwa-less variants alf/ɔlf/ and tolf/tolf/.
  3. The adverbs foare/foərə/in front of the house; in the front room, folle/folə/much; often, and tige/ti:ɣə/very.
  4. The adjectives tige/ti:ɣə/very good and jinse/jɪ:nsə/yonder.
  5. The pronoun (de/dy) jinge/jɪŋə/(the/that) one.
  6. The prepositions (be)tuske/(bə)tøskə/between, binne/bɪnə/inside, boppe/bopə/above, bûte/butə/outside, and njonke/njoŋkə/next to. The prepositions (be)tuske, binne, bûte and njonke are, or are becoming, obsolete. At present, they are almost exclusively realized with final /-n/: (be)tusken, binnen, bûten and njonken. In Wâldfrysk, binne- and bûte- are productive as the left-hand member of compounds.

Secondly, Frisian has two singular definite articles, viz. de/də/ and it/ət/, both meaning the (see Gender marking). As to simplex nouns, the choice between de and it is largely arbitrary, that is to say, to a great extent the language-learning child simply must learn which definite article a given noun is associated with (see Hoekstra and Visser (1996) and Visser (2011) for more on this matter). For schwa-final nouns it is different, for they have the article de. This is nicely illustrated by 'minimal pairs' of nouns with the same meaning, one without final schwa and associated with it, one with final schwa and associated with de. Examples are given in (2):

Example 2

Examples of 'minimal pairs' with schwa-less it-nouns and schwa-final de-nouns
it focht ~ de fochte /foxt(ə)/ liquid; moisture
it gol ~ de golle /ɡol(ə)/ storage for hay or corn in a barn
it koard ~ de koarde /koəd(ə)/ cord
it oard ~ de oarde /oəd(ə)/ region; residence
it sou ~ de souwe /sɔw(ə)/ riddle, sieve
it tsjil ~ de tsjille /tsjɪl(ə)/ wheel
it wek ~ de wekke /vɛk(ə)/ hole (in the ice)
it festjebûs ~ de festjebûse /-bus(ə)/ watch pocket

Especially the last case is most revealing. It is the compound of festje/fɛst+tsjə/, the diminutive of fest/fɛst/waistcoat, and (schwa-less) bûs/bus/pocket. This is one of the few cases of a nominal compound in which the definite article is not determined by the right-hand member − here the de-word bûs −, but, instead, by the left-hand member, the diminutive (it-word) festje. If, however, the right-hand member is the schwa-final variant bûse/busə/, the compound has the article de.

Noun-final schwa therefore might be assumed to have the status of a suffix. Another indication of this is that it seems to determine the choice of the plural suffix. Like Dutch, Frisian has two plural suffixes, -en/-ən/ and -s/-s/ (see Regular plural formation). Dutch nouns ending in schwa can be pluralized with both -en and -s (the latter is gaining ground at the expense of the former), whereas they can only be pluralized with -en in Frisian. The Dutch noun bode/bodə/messenger for instance has the plural forms boden and bodes, the Frisian counterpart boade/boədə/ on the other hand can only be pluralized as boaden. This leads Hoekstra (2011:291-296) to the assumption that in Frisian the choice of the plural suffix -en in the case of schwa-final nouns is not determined on phonological grounds, but that the suffix is selected by final schwa.

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It is noted by Hoekstra (2011:293) that noun-final schwa also induces a plural in -en in case it is preceded by another schwa syllable. The nouns rigel/riɣəl/row and keppel//kɛpəl/group; herd; flock have the regular plural forms rigels and keppels. The schwa-final variants rigele/riɣələ/ and keppele/kɛpələ/, on the other hand, are pluralized as rigelen and keppelen, despite the fact that -en makes for a sequence of two schwa syllables − a lapse − here (see Alternating stress principle). Nouns ending in the suffix -ing//ɪŋ/ can be pluralized with either -en or -s (see variation of -en and -s). As noted by Hoekstra, however, nouns ending in the variant -inge/ɪŋə/ − few though they may be − only allow for a plural in -en, so printinge/prɪntɪŋə/edition and rispinge//rɪspɪŋə/harvesting; harvest have the plural forms printingen and rispingen (*printinges and *rispinges are out).

Though non-final schwa has suffix-like properties, it does not contribute to the meaning of the noun it is part of. Therefore, it may be considered an augment or stem extension. There are several indications for this. Firstly, some schwa-final nouns are in free variation with nouns without final schwa, as exemplified in the examples below:

Example 3

Examples of pairs of nouns with and without final schwa
blabze /blabzə/ ~ blabs /blabz/ mud, sludge
dauwe /dɔwə/ ~ dau /dɔw/ dew
doaze /doəzə/ ~ doas /doəz/ box
dodde /dodə/ ~ dod /dod/ slumber, drowse
fluite /flʌytə/ ~ fluit /flʌyt/ flute
hekse /hɛksə/ ~ heks /hɛks/ witch; shrew
jerke /jɛrkə/ ~ jerk /jɛrk/ drake
klauwe /klɔwə/ ~ klau /klɔw/ fluke
mudde /mødə/ ~ mud /mød/ hectolitre
poppe /popə/ ~ pop /pop/ baby
rieme /riəmə/ ~ riem /riəm/ belt
rouwe /rɔwə/ ~ row /rɔu/ mourning
seale /sɪələ/ ~ seal /sɪəl/ hall; room; ward
skrage /skra:ɣə/ ~ skraach /skra:ɣ/ trestle
snibbe /snɪbə/ ~ snib /snɪb/ snappish girl
snotte /snɔtə/ ~ snot /snɔt/ (nasal) mucus, discharge
spjelde /spjɛldə/ ~ spjeld /spjɛld/ pin; brooch
sprake /spra:kə/ ~ spraak /spra:k/ speech; language
stjerre /stjɛrə/ ~ stjer /stjɛr/ star
tippe /tɪpə/ ~ tip /tɪp/ tip
(t)sjoele /(t)sjuələ/ ~ (t)sjoel /(t)sjuəl/ shovel
tuorre /tworə/ ~ tuor /twor/ beetle
ûne /unə/ ~ ûn /un/ oven
welle /vɛlə/ ~ wel /vɛl/ spring, well
wolle /volə/ ~ wol /vol/ wool

Secondly, if a noun with final schwa shows up as the left-hand member of a compound, it may or may not keep its schwa, examples of which are given in (4):

Example 4

Examples of nominal compounds with a schwa-final left-hand member with or without final schwa
a. With final schwa
moanne#ljocht moonlight (cf. moanne moon )
tsjerke#ried church council (cf. tsjerke church )
b. Without final schwa
bûs#jild pocket money (cf. bûse pocket )
greid#boer livestock farmer (cf. greide grassland, meadow )

Thirdly, schwa is deleted in case the nouns in question undergo diminutive formation, a derivational process of great generality. There are three diminutive suffixes, whose distribution is solely determined by the final segment of the noun. The nouns in (1) above select their allomorph on the basis of the consonant preceding final schwa instead of final schwa itself, in which case they all would select the suffix -ke (/-kə/), as do nouns ending in a vowel. This is shown in the table below:

Table 1
seachje[sɪəxjə]little saw cf. eachje[ɪəxjə]little eye (from each/ɪəɣ/)
harkje[harkjə]little rake cf. parkje[parkjə]little park (from park/park/)
plankje[plaŋkjə]little shelf cf. drankje[draŋkjə]drink (from drank/draŋk/spirits)
doaske[dwaskə]little box cf. noaske[nwaskə]little nose (from noas/noəz/)
skjirke[skjɪrkə]little scissors cf. blierke[bljɪrkə]little blister (from blier/bliər/)
tomke[tomkə]little thumb cf. blomke[blomkə]little flower (from blom/blom/)
Fourthly, schwa is lost in case the nouns in question take part in noun-to-verb-conversion (see Verbal conversion), also a derivational process of great generality. Examples are given in the table below:
Table 2
seage/sɪəɣə/saw seagje/sɪəɣjə/to saw
flibe/flibə/saliva flybje/flibjə/to slobber; to spit, to spew
besite/bəsitə/visit besytsje/bəsitjə/[bəsitsjə]to visit
kroade/kroədə/(wheel)barrow kroadzje/kroədjə/[kroədzjə]to wheel
As besytsje and kroadzje make clear, the resulting stem-final /-t/ and /-d/ trigger the regular insertion of [-s-] and [-z-] before the suffix -je (see /{s/z}/-insertion between /{t/d}/ and /jə/).

Since the diminutive suffixes and the verbal inflectional suffixes all contain schwa, the deletion of stem-final schwa might be considered as a rhythmically induced process, a sequence of two schwa-headed syllables being disfavoured. One would expect schwa deletion to be a variable and non-obligatory process, then. The above, however, shows that with respect to diminutive formation and noun-to-verb-conversion schwa deletion is obligatory and that it has morpho-phonological effects.

In general thus nouns ending in schwa have a schwa-less allomorph, used mainly in particular morphological contexts. We might express this relation as follows:

noun-final schwa relation

Figure 1

[click image to enlarge]

References:
  • Hoekstra, Jarich2011Meervoudsvorming in het Westerlauwers Fries en het Nederlands (en patroniemvorming in het Noord-Fries)Taal en Tongval63281-301
  • Hoekstra, Jarich2011Meervoudsvorming in het Westerlauwers Fries en het Nederlands (en patroniemvorming in het Noord-Fries)Taal en Tongval63281-301
  • Hoekstra, Jarich & Visser, Willem1996De en it-wurden yn it FryskUs Wurk4555-78
  • Visser, Willem2011Historical gender change in West FrisianMorphology2131-56
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