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Word-final short vowels

On the strength of the Rhyme Constraint words must not end in a short vowel. In Frisian, however, many words do, although most of these are function words. This topic provides an overview and a discussion of these cases.


On the strength of the Rhyme Constraint words must not end in a short vowel. Now, Frisian has quite a few of just such words, as the following overviews show:

Example 1

Words ending in a short vowel
a. Adverbs
sa /sa/ so
doe /du/ then
withoe /vɪt(h)u/ very
rju /rjø/ very
b. Prepositions
ta /ta/ to(wards)
by /bi/ at, by
c. Pronouns
hja /ja/ she; they
dy /di/ you (object form, singular, familiar); that (one), those (ones)
hy /hi/ he
my /mi/ me
sy /si/ she; they
wy /vi/ we
ju /jø/ you (vocative)
hju /jø/ she; they
/du/ you (subject form, singular, familiar)
d. Interjections
(a)ba /(a)ba/
akke(le)ba /akə(lə)ba/
fa /fa/
(a)ha /(a)ha/
haha /haha/
ja /ja/
tsja /tsja/
hela /he:la/
heila /hɛila/
huila /hʌɥla/
hyla /hila/
alla /ala/
hilla /hɪla/
hola /ho:la/
hoepla /hupla/
heula /hø:la/
na /na/
sa /sa/
hupsasa /høpsasa/
sjesa /sjəsa/
sisa /sisa/
hoepsa /hupsa/
hopsa /hopsa/
husa /hysa/
boe /bu/
oedoe /udu/
tsjoe /tsju/
(h)amoe /(h)amu/
poe /pu/
toe /tu/
hi /hi/
mieri /miəri/
gadferdarry /xatfərdari/
harry-karry /harikari/
no /nɔ/
ju /jø/
tjú /tjy/
ûdû /udu/
[These interjections have not been provided with glosses; there are many more interjections ending in a short vowel]
e. Native nouns
oedoe /udu/ boor, churl
oehoe /uhu/ eagle owl
lju /ljø/ people, folk
nju /njø/ pleasure, delight
Example 2

Loan words (nouns) ending in (secondarily) stressed or unstressed close vowels:
a. Unstressed or secondarily stressed -/a/
aginda /a'ɡinda/ diary; agenda
aria /'a:ria/ aria
skema /'ske:ma/ scheme
proaza /'proəza/ prose
b. Stressed -/i/
biografy /bio:ɡra:'fi/ biography
fonology /fo:no:lo:'ɡi/ phonology
botany /bo:ta:'ni/ botany
teory /te:o:'ri/ theory
yndustry /indøs'tri/ industry
c. Unstressed -/i/
kaly /'ka:li/ potash
bamy /'ba:mi/ chow mein
taksy /'taksi/ taxi
akademy /aka:'de:mi/ academy
d. Unstressed -/u/
taboe /'ta:bu/ taboo [(where final stress is also possible)]
bamboe /'bambu/ bamboo
rimboe /'rɪmbu/ jungle, bush
kangoeroe /'kaŋɡuru/ kangaroo
e. (un)stressed -/y/
residu /re:si'dy/ residue
yndividu /indifi'dy/ individual
akku /'aky/ (storage) battery, accumulator [The only form with initial stress]
paraplu /para'ply/ umbrella
menu /mə'ny/ menu
tenu /tə'ny/ dress; clothes, outfit
parvenu /parvə'ny/ parvenu, upstart
resu /rə'sy/ receipt, ticket
re'vu /rə'fy/ revue
Example 3

Surnames ending in -/a/
-sma /-/sma/ [Like Feitsma and Riemersma]
-stra /-/stra/ [Like Dykstra and Hoekstra]
Table 1: Six highly frequent verbs which have developed a (present tense) ending in a short vowel
ha /ha/ or /hɛ/ from and alongside /hav/ or /hɛv/, the present tense stem of the irregular verb haww(e) or heww(e) to have
do /do/ from and alongside doch /doɣ/, the present tense stem of the irregular verb dwaan to do
sjo /sjo/ or sju /sjø/ from and alongside /sjoɣ/ or /sjøɣ/, the present tense stems of the irregular verb sjen to see; to look
hoe /hu/ from and alongside /huɣ/, the present tense stem of the verb (net) hoeg(e) need not to, not to have to
si /sɪ/ from and alongside /sɪl/, the present tense stem of the irregular verb sill(e) shall, will
wo /vo/ from and alongside /vol/, the present tense stem of the irregular verb woll(e) to want (to), to wish

An overview of the patterns of word stress in Frisian is provided in word stress (see (2) above); a full treatment of the six highly frequent verbs which have developed a present tense stem ending in a short vowel can be found in verb stems (present tense stems) with and without final consonants (see table 1 above).

The overview contains many function words (adverbs, prepositions, pronouns, and interjections) which are often at odds with conditions on word minimality. Although content words may also end in a short vowel, their number is much smaller than that of function words ending in such a vowel. Besides, of the four native nouns mentioned in (1e) above, only lju is a common word, the other three are obsolete.

Word-final short vowels are for the most part restricted to /a/, /i/, and /u/. These three vowels show a maximal degree of dispersion towards the corners of the vowel space, which is likely to be the reason that they are the 'corner stones' of the vowel system of most of the world's languages.

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See long and short monophthongs: a different view for an overview of arguments that /i/ and /u/ are so-called 'A-vowels', which have a phonetic duration comparable to that of genuine short vowels, but in many respects show the phonological behaviour of genuine long vowels.

Vowel length is never distinctive in word-final position. Besides, words ending in a long vowel or in a falling or centring diphthong outnumber those ending in a short vowel by far. Word-final short vowels therefore do not have a strong position in the phonological system of Frisian as a whole.

All in all then the Rhyme Constraint seems to function as a markedness constraint in Frisian: word-final short vowels are dispreferred, but they are not forbidden.

The following testifies to this. Word-final -<je> /-/jə/ represents a highly frequent inflectional suffix of the verbs of the second weak class (see paradigm of class II) and a diminutive suffix, or part of it (see -DIM (diminutive)). It is realized as [jə] in the eastern and as [-i] in the western part of the language area (see Visser (1992) for more on the dialectal distribution of /jə/ and /i/ and an analysis of their phonological relation). Words like betelje /bətɛl+jə/ to pay, fersmoargje /fərsmwarɣ+jə/ to pollute, jurkje /jørk+jə/ small dress, and kealtsje /kjɛl+tsjə/ young calf are realized as [bətɛljə], [fəsmwarɣjə], [jørkjə], and [kjɛltsjə] in the eastern part of the language area, as [bətɛli], [fəsmwarɣi], [jørki], and [kjɛltsi] in the western part. This is a pattern of great generality, also pertaining to /-je/ if the latter results from vowel reduction. The compounds froulju and manlju have frou /frɔu/ woman and man /mɔn/ man as their first member, whereas their second member is the collective noun lju /ljø/ folk, people. In the course of time, they have lost their compositional meaning. Nowadays they mean women (in general) and men (in general), respectively. With an /s/ attached to them, they also function as compound allomorphs of frou and man, as in frouljuslûd woman's voice, female voice (with lûd voice) and manljusklean men's wear (with klean clothes). The words froulju and manlju no longer being felt as compounds and with stress on the first syllable, the vowel of the part -<lju> was prone to reduction, so the pronunciation of these words became [frɔ:ljə] and [mɔ̃:ljə], respectively. As a matter of fact, this holds only in the eastern part of the language area, for in the western part word-final [-jə] was regularly turned into [-i]: [frɔ:li] and [mɔ̃:li]. The generality of this phonological change is indicative of the fact that there is no ban on word-final short vowels in Frisian.

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That there is not a ban on word-final short vowels is also shown by the change from (unstressed) word-final /o:/ to /u/, as is found in the eastern part of the language area. Examples ‒ taken from Hoekstra (1995:14) ‒ are auto /ɔwto:/ car, foto /fo:to:/ photograph, picture, and ijsko /ɛjsko:/ ice cream, which can be realized as [ɔwtu], [fo:tu], and [ɛjsku].

The personal pronouns dy /di/ you (object form); that (one), those (ones), hy /hi/ he, my /mi/ me, sy /si/ she; they, wy /vi/ we and the preposition by at, by figure in Wâldfrysk, while Klaaifrysk has forms with /ɛj/ (<ij>): dij, hij, mij, sij, wij, and bij. The Klaaifryk personal pronouns dij, mij, and wij have the realizations [di], [mi], and [vi], when cliticized onto a host word to their left (see personal pronouns with /ɛi/ and their clitic allomorph with /i/ in Klaaifrysk). This alternation between words in /-ɛj/ and /-i/ has become a lexical matter as there is no longer a process of /ɛj/-monophthongization. The word bij /bɛi/ bee, for instance, does not have the alternant form /bi/.

  • Hoekstra, Jarich1995Ta it stamlûd fan Nijfrysk húnje/huneTydskrift foar Fryske taalkunde1012-15
  • Visser, Willem1992Oer -je en -JE. De morfology en fonology fan it einichste wurddiel -jeTydskrift foar Fryske Taalkunde769-87