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Words ending in /-{l/r}m/ and /-{l/r}əm/

Nouns ending in the sequence /-{l/r}m/ have a variant ending in /-{l/r}əm/. As a result of this, the nouns have two plural forms, one in -en (the schwa-less variant) and one in -s (the variant with schwa). The distribution of the variants is a dialectal matter.


The word-final liquid + nasal clusters with a pretty high frequency are /-lm/ and /-rm/ (see Word-final sequences of a liquid and a nasal). Quite regularly, schwa is inserted between the liquid and the nasal. This could lead to a reanalysis of the underlying representation of the words in question, i.e. they could incorporate schwa into their underlying representation. As to nouns, this affects the choice of the plural suffix: -s /-s/ is chosen after words ending in /-əm/, as in biezems /biəzəm+s/ brooms, whereas /-ən/ occurs after words ending in /-m/, for example in stammen /stam+ən/ trunks; tribes (see Regular plural formation). If a noun ends in either /-{l/r}m/ or /-{l/r}əm/, it is expected to be pluralized with either /-ən/ or /-s/. This is borne out by the facts, as the occurrence of earms /{ɪə/jɛ}rəm+s/ next to earmen /{ɪə/jɛ}rm+ən/ arms makes clear. The distribution of these plural forms is a dialectal matter: the western forms end in /-ən/, the eastern ones in /-s/. The relation between base form and allomorph can be expressed as follows:

-/{l/rm/ ~ -/{l/r}əm/ allomorph relation

Figure 1

[click image to enlarge]

Verb stems ending in -rm have /-rəm/ in their underlying representations, irrespective of dialect, hence they have been excluded from this allomorph relation. Base verbs in -lm do not occur.

Schwa-insertion is a phonological process which can be stated in general terms. The restructuring of stems it has given rise to, however, is not general and predictable, so it must be accounted for separately.