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Personal pronouns with /ɛj/ and their clitic allomorphs with /i/ in Klaaifrysk

In Klaaifrysk, personal pronouns with the falling diphthong /ɛj/ are realized with /i/ when the pronouns in question cliticize onto a preceding host word. Since there is no general phonological process of monophthongization in Frisian, this alternation is best accounted for in terms of allomorphy.


In Wâldfrysk the personal pronouns hy /hi/ he, my /mi/ me, wy /vi/ we, dy /di/ you (object, sg., familiar) and sy /si/ she; they are in use, all of them with the short close front vowel /i/. The Klaaifrysk counterparts have the corresponding falling diphthong /ɛj/: hij /hɛj/, mij /mɛj/, wij /vɛj/, dij /dɛj/, and sij /sɛj/. Of these, hij, mij, wij, and dij have a clitic allomorph with /i/, viz. /hi/, /mi/, /vi/, and /di/ (Visser (1988:187-188)).

How is this variation to be accounted for? The Klaaifrysk pronouns might be assumed to have an underlying representation with the vowel /i/, from which, in stressed position, the diphthong /ɛj/ derives. This approach calls for a foregoing process of /i/-lengthening, since falling diphthongs derive from long monophthongs (Hayes (1990), Sluyters (1992:27-31)). But whereas vowel shortening is quite common in Frisian, vowel lengthening is not, hence this approach lacks generality (see Vowel Shortening and Forms with vowel lengthening, respectively).

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Loan words of more than two syllables ending in stressed /-i/ ( -y) may have a variant in /-ɛjə/ ( -ije). Words like harmony [harmo:'ni] harmony and filosofy [filo:so:'fi] philosophy have the alternants harmonije [harmo:'nɛjə] en filosofije [filo:so:'fɛjə]. The latter belong to a 'learned' part of the Frisian lexicon, hence they are restricted to a poetical and formal style. Most of these forms are completely unknown to the average speaker of Frisian.

The other way around, the underlying representation might be assumed to have the diphthong /ɛi/, which, in unstressed position, turns into /i/. As noted, a falling diphthong is expected to alternate with a long monophthong, so this approach also calls for vowel shortening ( /i:/ /i/). In general, vowel shortening in unstressed position is quite 'natural'. Although there is a large-scale alternation of long with short monophthongs in Frisian, its occurrence is restricted to a well-defined morphonological environment, that is, when a suffix is added to a stem with a long monophthong or when such a stem becomes the left-hand member of a compound (see Vowel Shortening). Pronouns, however, are simplex forms. This would either mean that a separate shortening process would have to be assumed for the pronouns at hand or that the formulation of the existing shortening process would have to be complicated in order to accommodate them. Both solutions are rather cumbersome. Besides, the alternation is restricted to just these pronouns. All this means that an approach in terms of allomorphy is to be preferred.

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The change from /ɛj/ to /i/ did occur in the history of Frisian. It was not uncommon with the words dei /dɛj/ day and wei /vɛj/ road; way in case they were the right-hand member of a compound, which is an unstressed position. Examples are jier#dei [jɪdi] birthday (literally: year day), mid#dei [mɪdi] afternoon (literally: mid day), the weekdays moan#dei [mandi] monday, tiis#dei [ti:zdi] tuesday, woans#dei [vã:zdi] wednesday, and tongers#dei [tõə̃zdi] thursday, heal#wei [jɛlvi] halfway, and strjitwei [strjɪtvi] main road, highroad (see Sipma (1913:34, §134, point 5), Hoekstra (1988), Visser (1992)). The Klaaifrysk pronouns under consideration must have undergone the same change. This monophthongization (and concomitant shortening), however, is no longer a synchronic phonological process and the words in which it took place have been lexicalized. The plural of middei and jierdei is middeis /mɪdi+s/ afternoons and jierdeis /jɪdi+s/ birthdays, while the noun dei day in isolation has the irregular plural dagen [da:ɣən]. The plural forms middeis and jierdeis as well as the fixed final /i/ of middei and jierdei, point to the fact that these original compounds have undergone a total restructuring.

We might express the relation between the /ɛj/- and the /i/-variant of these Klaaifrysk personal pronouns as shown below:

/ɛj/ ~ /i/ relation in personal pronouns in klaaifrysk

Figure 1

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Notwithstanding their full vowel, the Klaaifrysk /i/-forms have characteristics typical of clitics. Firstly, they cannot bear prominence, see (1):

Example 1

Examples of the /i/-forms' inability to bear prominence
Ha wíj [vɛj] / *wí [vi] dat sein? have wé that said 'Is it us who have said that?'
Us heit hie díj [dɛj] / *dí [di] dêr wol sjoen our father had yóú (obj., sg., familiar) there all right seen It is you who my father had seen there

Secondly, as objects they cannot occur in sentence-initial position, one which inevitably brings some prominence with it; see (2):

Example 2

Examples of /i/-form objects not occurring in sentence-initial position
Dij [dɛj] / *di [di] hie ús heit dêr wol sjoen you (obj., sg., familiar) had our father there all right seen It is you who my father had seen there
Mij [mɛj] / *mi [di] hat er oerslein me has he missed out It is me who he has missed out
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This, of course, also holds of the object forms with schwa: je /jə/ you (subj., sg., polite), se /sə/ her; them, and jem /jəm/ you (pl., familiar and polite), as illustrated by the example with se below:

Example 3

*Se [se]  / har [har] haw ik net sjoen her have I not seen It is her whom I have not seen

Thirdly, as subjects they cannot occur in (unstressed) sentence-initial position, see (4):

Example 4

Examples of /i/-form subjects not occurring in sentence-initial position
Sij [sɛj] *si [si] komme ek they come also They will also be there
Wij [vɛj] *wi [vi] komme ek we come also We will also be there
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It is a striking fact that the unstressable clitic subject forms we /və/ we and se /sə/ she; they do occur in this position:

Example 5

We [ve] / se [sə] komme ek we/they come also We/they will also be there
Se [sə] komt ek she comes also She will also be there

This is in sharp contrast with the object forms (see the previous Extra).

Fourthly, the Wâldfrysk full form objects dy /di/ you (sg., familiar) and my /mi/ me do not have the clitic allomorphs de /də/ and me /mə/ (see Personal pronoun clitics). The Klaaifrysk object clitic allomorphs di /di/ and mi /mi/ do not have these reduced variants either. There is thus a striking parallel between Wâld- and Klaaifrysk here.

  • Hayes, Bruce1990Diphthongisation and coindexingPhonology731-71
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1988Healwy de strjitwyFriesch Dagblad26-0369
  • Sipma, Pieter1913Phonology and Grammar of Modern West FrisianLondon, New YorkOxford University Press
  • Sluyters, Willebrordus A.M1992Representing DiphthongsUniversity of NijmegenThesis
  • Visser, Willem1988In pear klitisearringsferskynsels yn it FryskDyk, dr. S. & Haan, dr. G.J. (eds.)Wurdfoarried en Wurdgrammatika. In bondel leksikale stúdzjesLjouwertFryske Akademy, Ljouwert175-222
  • Visser, Willem1992Oer -je en -JE. De morfology en fonology fan it einichste wurddiel -jeTydskrift foar Fryske Taalkunde769-87