• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show full table of contents

Whereas the vowels are subdivided along a qualitative and a quantitative dimension, the latter does not play a role for consonants. Frisian only has short (single) consonants and not long ones (geminates), so the long vowels have no consonantal counterpart (see no geminate consonants).

Inflection and derivation, compounding, the ordering of words in syntax, and assimilatory processes may result in the juxtaposition of two identical consonants. These, however, do not fuse together into a long, geminate consonant. Instead, such clusters are subjected to a process of degemination, so that one consonant remains.

There are languages in which the difference between short and long consonants has distinctive value − examples are Japanese and Italian (see Davis (2011)). Such languages are said to have 'true geminates'. The sequences of two identical consonants resulting from inflection and derivation, compounding, the ordering of words in syntax, and assimilatory processes, on the other hand, are called 'fake geminates'. Frisian only has the latter type. They are the subject of this section.


The word-internal rhyme of a syllable in Frisian is confined to a minimum of two positions, which is captured by the Rhyme Constraint. Therefore, a consonant between a short vowel and schwa is realized as ambisyllabic (see De Haan (1999)). This is exemplified in (1):

Example 1

Examples of words with ambisyllabic consonants
modder /modər/ [modr̩] [(mod)(dr̩)] mud
leppel /lɛpəl/ [lɛpl̩] [(lɛp)(pl̩)] spoon
wetter /vɛtər/ [vɛtr̩] [(vɛt)(tr̩)] water

Word-internal /d/, /p/, and /t/ in (1) end up as both the coda of the left-hand and the onset of the right-hand syllable. In this configuration, such consonants have a longer duration than when occupying the syllable onset or rhyme on their own. However, their ambisyllabicity − hence their longer duration − is enforced by the shortness of the left-hand (full) vowel. The difference between the short and the long realization is contextually determined. The long and short variants thus have a complementary distribution, so the difference does not have distinctive value.

[hide extra information]

A syllable headed by a consonant must have an onset (see the onset condition). Therefore, the very fact that the word-final sonorants in (1) can be realized as syllabic, is indicative of the ambisyllabicity of the word-internal plosives.

It was noted by Sipma (1913:14, §50) that a consonant may become lengthened when, in exclamative expressions, the word it is part of is emphasized; Sipma's examples are given in (2):

Example 2

Sipma's examples of long consonants in emphasized word parts of exclamations
sa smoarch [sm:warɣ] as it dêr is! how dirty it is there!
it is in griis! [gr:i:s] it's a great pity, it's a downright shame! (lit.: it is a horror)
me soenen gleon [ɡl:ø̃.ə̃] wurde! one is likely to become hopping mad about it
net [n:ɛt] wier! al [ɔl:] wier! it is not/it is!, it doesn't/it does! (lit.: really (un)true)
ja! [j:a:] nee! [n:e:] yes! no!

We need not posit two stems for the above words, viz. one with a short and one with a long consonant. The consonant's longer duration in (2) is a matter of phonetic implementation, not of phonological opposition.

[hide extra information]

Though Sipma does not comment on it, it may not be without significance that the segments in (2) with a longer duration are all sonorant consonants.

[hide extra information]

As is well-known, interjections often show deviant phonological behaviour, which manifests itself in several ways. One is that segments in an interjection can be realized considerably longer than what is felt to be 'nomal' for an ordinary consonant or vowel. Examples are the realization of the consonant /r/ in brrr! [br::] brr! (exclamation when it is (very) cold) and that of /s/ in sst! [s::t] (s)sh!. This is also a matter of phonetic implementation.

As is also clear from the examples in (1), letters denoting consonants may be doubled, in which respect they contrast with single letters, see the examples in the table below:

Table 1: Examples of the use of doubled vs single consonant denoting letters
With doubled letters With single letters
kappe [kapə] to chop down kape [ka:pə] to hijack
pakke [pakə] to take, to fetch pake [pa:kə] grandfather
stomme [stomə] dumb (inflected) stome [sto:mə] to steam

The words in the left-hand column are hyphenated as kap-pe, pak-ke, and stom-me, so orthographically <pp>, <kk>, and <mm> behave as ambisyllabic consonants do phonologically. The function of consonant doubling, however, is to designate the shortness of the preceding vowel. The real opposition here is that between a short and a long vowel, not that between a long and a short consonant (in the left-hand and right-hand columns, respectively).

[hide extra information]

The difference between short and long vowels can have distinctive value (see long and short monophthongs). Moreover, a vowel is the phonological core of a word. Degemination therefore does not have a vocalic counterpart. The juxtaposition of two vowels results in a configuration of vocalic hiatus. The latter, which is forbidden in Frisian, is not repaired by vowel deletion, but by glide insertion (see the resolution of vocalic hiatus). The only exception is a sequence of two adjacents schwas, which does undergo degemination (see schwa deletion as a synchronic process: how to deal with word-internal hiatus).

See the following topics for more on (fake) geminates and degemination:

  • Davis, Stuart2011Geminatesvan Oostendorp, Marc and Ewen, Colin J and Hume, Elizabeth and Rice, Keren (ed.)The Blackwell Companion to Phonology2: Suprasegmental and prosodic phonologyMaldenWiley-Blackwell873-897
  • Haan, Germen J. de1999Frisian monophthongs and syllable structureUs Wurk4819-30
  • Sipma, Pieter1913Phonology and Grammar of Modern West FrisianLondon, New YorkOxford University Press