• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show full table of contents
The relation between short /ɪ/ and long /e:/

This section deals with the relation between the short vowel /ɪ/ and its long counterpart /e:/.


Short /ɪ/ has the long counterpart /e:/, which is slightly more open (Tiersma (1985:12)). The relation between /ɪ/ and /e:/ can be illustrated by cases of shortening (from /e:/ to /ɪ/), lengthening (from /ɪ/ to /e:/), and dialectal variation (between /e:/ and /ɪ/).

Let us begin with shortening. First, the following pairs of morphologically related words show that /e:/ and /ɪ/ match: heech /he:ɣ/ high - hichte /(he:ɣ+tə)/ [hɪxtə] height, leech /le:ɣ/ empty - lichte /(le:ɣ+tə)/ [lɪxtə] lowness; hollow, breed /bre:d/ wide, broadbridte /(bre:d+tə)/ [brɪtə] width, breadth, reek /re:k/ smoke - rik(je) /rɪk/ to smoke. The noun beest /be:st/ beast; animal has the dialectal variant bist /bɪst/ . Tiersma (1993:111) maintains that the latter, with unetymological /ɪ/, has developed from the plural bisten /(be:st+ən)/ [bɪstn̩].

Second, secondarily stressed long vowels in loan words regularly shorten. When this happens to /e:/, the result is /ɪ/, witness the following examples: risseltaat [rɪsl̩ta:t] result (from and alongside resultaat /re:sølta:t/ ), oer 't ginneraal [ɡɪnəra:l] generally (from and alongside generaal /ɡe:nəra:l/ ), tillefoan [tɪləfoən] telephone (from and alongside telefoan [te:ləfoən]).

Regular vowel lengthening in Frisian only occurred in the context of nasalization, more specifically, when the sequence short vowel + /n/ was followed by /s/ or /st/ (see nasal vowels and vowel length). Thus, attaching the nominalizing suffix -st to the verbal stem win /vɪn/ to win yielded winst /ve:nst/ [vẽ:st] profit, attaching the superlative suffix -st to the adjective min /mɪn/ bad yielded minst /me:nst/ [mẽ:st] worst.

There are also dialectal instances of vowel lengthening. In the verb stems lizz(e) /lɪz/ to lay (down); to lie and sizz(e) /sɪz/ to say as well as in the demonstrative pronoun dizze /dɪzə/ this; these, a short monophthong precedes /z/. In some dialects, this exceptional sequence has been 'repaired' by lengthening the vowel /ɪ/: lizz(e) /le:z/, sizz(e) /se:z/, and dizze /de:zə/ (Boersma (1972:72), Tiersma (1985:25)). The verbs skel(e) /ske:l/ to make a difference; to matter, to concern and skill(e) /skɪl/ show dialectal variation as well, as do ferskel(e) /fərske:l/ to differ and ferskill(e) /fərskɪl/ and the deverbal adjectives ferskelend/ferskillend and ferskelich/ferskillich different.

Finally, there are near-minimal pairs which only differ in the presence of /ɪ/ followed by a voiceless fricative vs. /e:/ followed by a voiced fricative, see the table below:

Table 1
Words with meaning difference Words with the same meaning
wif /vɪf/ unsteady - wev(e) /ve:v/ to weave rif /rɪf/ - reef /re:v/ reef
klif /klɪf/ cliff - klev(e) /kle:v/ to stick tichel /tɪxəl/ - tegel /te:ɣəl/ tile
kich /kɪx/ cough - keech /ke:ɣ/ high land outside the dike(s)
richel /rɪxəl/ ledge - regel /re:ɣəl/ rule
pis /pɪs/ piss - pees /pe:z/ tendon
wis /vɪs/ certain - wees /ve:z/ orphan
fris /frɪs/ fresh - frees /fre:z/ fear
These cases once more show that /e:/ is the long counterpart of /ɪ/.

  • Boersma, Johannes. & Woude, Goasse van der1972Spraeklear I. Lesboekje foar de oplieding ta de Fryske AkteLjouwertAfûk
  • Tiersma, Pieter M1985Frisian reference grammarDordrechtForis Publications
  • Tiersma, Pieter M1985Frisian reference grammarDordrechtForis Publications
  • Tiersma, Pieter M1993Lokale markearders yn it Frysk [Local markedness in Frisian]Tydkskrift foar Fryske Taalkunde8111-114