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Sequences of three or four vowels

A morpheme can contain sequences of three or four vowels; this is illustrated in the example (1) below. There are huge differences between these sequences and the ones underlying the falling and centring diphthongs, i.e. they are bound to different constraints (see also the size of the word-internal and word-final syllable rhyme). These differences are the topic of this section.


A morpheme can contain sequences of three or four vowels. These are shown in (1):

Example 1

Sequences of three or four vowels
a. Rising diphthong + glide
/woj/ muoike aunt
/waj/ moaist most beautiful
b. Long vowel + glide
/u:j/ bloei blossom
/o:j/ roai alignment
/a:j/ aai egg
/i:w/ iuw century; age
c. Glide + long vowel
/ju:/ stjûne stem
/jo:/ skriuw(e) to write
/ja:/ ja yes
/wi:/ swiid superb
/we:/ dwep(e) to gush
/wa:/ twa two
d. Glide + falling diphthong
/jɔw/ fjouwer four
/jʌɥ/ oan 'e jui wêze to whirl
/wɛj/ swij(e) to keep silent
e. Glide + centring diphthong
/wiə/ swiet sweet
/juə/ tsjoen enchantment
/wɪə/ kwea evil; harm
/joə/ tsjoar tether
f. Glide + long vowel + glide
/ja:j/ jaai(e) to scud
/ju:j/ joei(e) to frolic
/wa:j/ swaai(e) to wave

There are huge differences between the above sequences and those underlying falling and centring diphthongs. First, whereas falling diphthongs are made up of two front or back vowels, the sequences at hand consist of combinations of a front vowel and a back glide or a back vowel and a front glide. This means that these combinations are not governed by something along the lines of the Place Constraint (see: constraints on diphthongs). Second, whereas falling and centring diphthongs can be followed by various kinds of consonants, sequences of a long vowel and a glide (see (1b)) are heavily constrained in this respect. The centring diphthong /iə/, for example, combines with both the single consonants -p, -t, -v, -z, -r, -m and the consonant sequences -st and -lk, as exemplified in (2):

Example 2

Examples of the combinatorial possibilities of /iə/
skiep /skiəp/ sheep
liet /liət/ song
brief /briəv/ letter
kies /kiəz/ molar
fier /fiər/ far
hiem /hiəm/ premises
iest /iəst/ (drying-)kiln
skielk /skiəlk/ in the near future

The long vowel plus glide combinations /u:j/ and /a:j/, on the other hand, have far fewer possibilities, see (3):

Example 3

The combinatorial possibilities of /u:j/ and /a:j/
tsjoeits /tsju:jts/ call for chasing chickens
flaaiel /fla:jəl/ flail
boaiem /bwa:jəm/ bottom
glaaien /ɡla:jən/ suave; honeyed; sugary
maaik /ma:jk/ maggot
maaits /ma:jts/ maggot

The above sequences can only be followed by the coronal consonant sequence ts, which is likely to qualify as extrasyllabic, or by the sequence schwa + sonorant consonant.

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With its final (non-coronal) /k/,maaik maggot is an exceptional form. Originally it is a derived form, viz. the diminutive mādik (mād+ik), from which maaik has derived through deletion of stem-final /d/.

Furthermore, diphthongs always remain part of one syllable, whereas in inflected forms combinations of a long vowel and a glide are divided over two syllables, like in aaien /(a:)(jən)/ eggs and bloeier /(blu:)(jər)/ flowering plant (compare the monosyllabic forms aai /(a:j)/ egg and bloei /(blu:j)/ blossom).

All this points to the fact that the vowel sequences in (3) are longer than those underlying the falling and centring diphthongs. This may be expressed as follows: the latter sequences occupy two structural (phonological) positions, the former three or, put differently, whereas the latter are long, the former are superlong.