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Constraints on sequences of three or four vowels

Just as with diphthongs, there are several constraints on the sequences of more than two vowels. As shown in sequences of three or four vowels, they come in different types, which this section will treat in turn.

[+]Vowel sequence: rising diphthong + glide

The sequences /woj/ and /waj/ − as in muoike /mwojkə/ aunt and moaist /mwajst/ most beautiful − are best analyzed as combinations of the rising diphthong /wo/ or /wa/ and the glide /j/. They might also be looked upon as a combination of the glide /w/ and the falling diphthong /aj/ or /oj/, but this is a less likely option. First, due to its not being organic, the falling diphthong /oj/ is the odd man out within the system of falling diphthongs as a whole, so making use of it should be limited as much as possible. Second, whereas in general the glides and the vowels in the sequences at hand have opposite values for frontness (or backness), the parts /wo/ and /wa/ of the sequences /woj/ and /waj/ have the same value. This, however, is unproblematic for a rising diphthong.

[+]Vowel sequence: long vowel + glide

Sequences of a long vowel and a glide − as in roai /ro:j/ alignment and aai /a:j/ egg − are combinations of a front vowel and a back glide or a back vowel and a front glide. This also holds in case two close vowels are combined, see iuw /i:w/ century; age where the front vowel /i:/ combines with the back glide /w/, and bloei /blu:j/ blossom where this is just the other way around. The sequences /(u:)(w)/ and /(i:)(j)/ do not occur due to the Obligatory Contour Principle, which enforces phonological contrast.

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The expected combinations /ɔ:j/, /e:w/ and /ɛ:w/ are not common. The first one occurs in Klaaifrysk, in words like swaai /swɔ:j/ swing; sway and wei /vɔ:j/ way; path. The second and third combinations only show up in Frisian dialects; the second one in the dialect spoken on the isle of Terschelling, in words like schreauw /skre:w/ scream and leauw /le:w/ lion, the third one is found in the dialect spoken on the isle of Schiermonnikoog, in words like greeuwn /ɡrɛ:wn/ ground en jeeuwn /jɛ:wn/ burning; glowing.

In theory, the central vowel /a/ can form a falling diphthong with both /j/ and /w/. However, /aj/ occurs, but /aw/ does not ( /w/ combines with the half open back vowel /ɔ/, in /ɔw/). The same goes for long /a:/, which does combine with /j/ ( /a:j/), but not with /w/ ( /*a:w/). As to this then there is a striking parallel between falling diphthongs and long vowel + glide sequences.

[+]Vowel sequence: glide + long vowel

Sequences of a glide and a long vowel are combinations of the front glide /j/ with a back vowel and of the back glide /w/ with a front vowel, as in stjûne /stju:nə/ stem, stern, skriuw(e) /skrjo:w/ to write, swiid /swi:d/ superb, dwep(e) /dwe:p/ to gush. The central vowel /a:/ combines with both glides, exemplified by ja /ja:/ yes, jaap /ja:p/ gash, swaard /swa:d/ rind and twa /twa:/ two. Combinations of the type /(w)(u:)/ and /(j)(i:)/ violate the Obligatory Contour Principle (OCP). The combinations /jɔ:/ en /wɛ:/ hardly occur; the former only before ns, in dilisjâns /dilisjɔ:ns/ diligence and Jansma /jɔ:nsma/ family name, the latter only in the word dwêrs /dwɛ:s/ (a)cross.

[+]Vowel sequence: glide + falling diphthong

Because a falling diphthong has a glide as its right-hand member, combinations of a glide and a falling diphthong have a glide on either side of the head vowel, as in fjouwer /fjɔwər/ four and swij(e) /swɛj/ to keep silent. These sequences thus are homorganic at their right-hand and heterorganic at their left-hand side. The diphthong /aj/, headed by the central vowel /a/, can combine with both glides, as in jei(e) /jaj/ to hunt, to shoot; to chase and koait /kwajt/ fake egg.

[+]Vowel sequence: glide + centring diphthong

In line with the general demand of phonological contrast, it is to be expected that in combinations of a glide and a centring diphthong the glide and the head vowel of the diphthong will differ as to their specification for frontness or backness. This expectation seems to be borne out, given morphemes like tsjoen /tsjuən/ enchantment, tsjoar /tsjoər/ tether, swiet /swiət/ sweet and kwea /kwɪə/ evil; harm.

The combinations /jiə/, /jɪə/, /wuə/, and /woə/ consist of a front or back glide with a front or back vowel, thus infringing on the above demand. Of these, /jiə/ seems to occur in the word jier /jiər/ year but this is generally pronounced as [iər], so without [j]. The numeral tsien ten developed from tsjien, so [j] has been deleted here. The combination woe /wuə/ does not occur, but [wuə] may be part of someone's pronunciation of the combination of 'k, the clitic allomorph of ik /ɪk/ I, and woe /vuə/ wanted: 'k woe [kwuə] I wanted. The combination jea is only found, preceded by ts, in the out-dated words tsjea /tsjɪə/ thigh, tsjeak /tsjɪək/ jaw and tsjeaf /tsjɪəv/ thief. The words ljeaf and njear lost their j in the course of time and are nowadays leaf /lɪəv/ dear and near /nɪər/ take-over, acquisition. The combination woa /woə/ only occurs in loanwords, like kwoarum /kwoərəm/ quorum and kwoatum /kwoətəm/ quotum. In general thererfore the existing sequences of a glide and a centring diphthong obey the general demand of phonological contrast.

[+]Vowel sequence: glide + long vowel + glide

The words with a sequence of a long vowel with a glide on either side are given in (1):

Example 1

swaai(e) /swa:j/ to wave
Jaaie /ja:jə/ proper name
jaaiem /ja:jəm/ liquor
boaiem /bwa:jəm/ bottom; ground; soil
koai /kwa:j/ fake egg
(d)joei(e) /(d)ju:j/ to frolic

The constraints on these sequences go hand in hand with those on sequences of a long vowel and a glide and a glide and a long vowel, in that the back vowel /u:/ combines with the front glide /j/ only, whereas the central vowel /a:/ combines with both the front and the back glide. Due to the OCP, combinations of the type /(w)(u:)// /(u:)(w)/ and /(i:)(j)// /(j)(i:)/ do not occur. The only possible sequences with two close vowels are /ju:j/ and /wi:w/. The first one shows up in (d)joei(e) /(d)ju:j/ to frolic; the second one is not instantiated, which is to be considered an accidental gap.

The long vowel in these combinations is mostly /a:/. As a central vowel it should tolerate both the front and the back glide on either side, so all of the following combinations may be expected to occur: /ja:j/, /wa:w/, /ja:w/, and /wa:j/. This expectation is not borne out by the facts, for it is only /ja:j/ and /wa:j/ which are attested. For whichever reason, the sequence /a(:)/ + the back glide /w/ is not allowed.

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The centring diphthong /aw/ existed in earlier stages of Frisian; this is reflected in the spelling au, alongside sou(Visser 1997:26-27). Sytstra and Hof (1925:31) assert that rau raw, uncooked and rou rough, for instance, are pronounced alike by most speakers. It is only in the southern part of the language area that some difference is heard, in that the first element of the words spelled with a is realized [a]-like there. According to Fokkema (1940:144) the difference between au and ou does not have a 'phonological meaning'. If /aw/ still occurs, it is only in the interjection au! ouch!' and the verb miauw(e) to miaow. All this means is that the parallellism between falling diphthongs and long vowel + glide sequences can be upheld.

  • Fokkema, Klaas1940Over de Friese klinkersBundel opstellen van oud-leerlingen aangeboden aan Prof. Dr. C.G.N. de VooysGroningen/BataviaJ.B. Wolters Uitgevers-Maatschappij N.V.140-145
  • Sytstra, Onno H. & Hof, Jan J1925Nieuwe Friesche SpraakkunstLeeuwardenR. van der Velde
  • Visser, Willem1997The Syllable in FrisianVrije Universiteit AmsterdamThesis