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Word-final sequences of a liquid and a nasal

The word-final sequences of a liquid and a nasal, of which /-lm/ and /-rm/ are the most common ones, are the subject of this topic. It sets out with an overview of the occurring sequences. There appears to be evidence for the assumption that words in -{l/r}m end in /-{l/r}əm/ in underlying representation: 1) some such words have undergone Breaking (as if they were bisyllabic), 2) verbs with a stem in -{l/r}m invariably belong to the second weak conjugational class (like all verbs with a stem ending schwa + sonorant consonant), 3) diminutive names with a stem in -{l/r}m invariably are women's names (just like trisyllabic diminutive names), 4) nouns in -{l/r}m can have plural forms in /-s/ (which is the normal case for nouns ending in /-{l/r}əm/). All these types of evidence will receive a full treatment.


When nasals and liquids form a sequence in word-final position, the sequence nasal + liquid is impossible, which is to be expected on the basis of the Sonority Sequencing Constraint (see onset: complex onsets) and the Sonority Scale (see onset: complex onsets). The only exception is the loanword zjenre genre. The sequence liquid + nasal, on the other hand, is possible, with the following restrictions:

  • The velar nasal /ŋ/ does not combine with any preceding liquid, because it only follows a short vowel (see the dorsal nasal /ŋ/).
  • The coronal nasal /n/ combines with /l/ in the word jelne /jɛlnə/ yard; yardstick only.
  • The coronal nasal /n/ does not combine with /r/ in native words, since the latter has been systematically deleted before coronals (see /r/-deletion in simplex words). The sequence /-rn/, therefore, only occurs in loan words, for instance yntern /intɛrn/ internal, ekstern /ɛkstɛrn/ external, katern /katɛrn/ quire, modern /mo:dɛrn/ modern, urne /ørnə/ urn, kazerne /kasɛrnə/ barrack(s), station, luzerne /lysɛrnə/ alfalfa, lucerne, nokturne /nɔktørnə/ nocturn(e).
The only liquid + nasal sequences with a pretty high frequency are /-lm/ and /-rm/. A list of the words ending in these is provided in (1):

Example 1

Words ending in the sequences -/lm/ and -/rm/
a. Ending in -/lm/
skalm /skɔlm/ link
galm /ɡɔlm/ resonance
kalm /kɔlm/ calm
palm /pɔlm/ palm
salm /sɔlm/ salmon
psalm /psɔlm/ psalm
walm /vɔlm/ smother, thick/dense smoke
wâlm /vɔ:lm/ smother, thick/dense smoke
helm /hɛlm/ helmet
skelm /skɛlm/ rascal
selm /sɛlm/ self (obsolete)
dwelm(e) /dwɛlm(ə)/ daze
film /fɪlm/ film
(w)jolm /(v)jolm/ collection of reeds and other water plants which have washed ashore
kwolm(e) /kwolm(ə)/ torment
swolm(e) /swolm(ə)/ ulcer, boil
b. Ending in -/rm/
ala(a)rm /ala(:)rm/ alarm
waarm /va:rm/ warm
swa(a)rm /swa(:)rm/ swarm
barm /barm/ verge
earm /{ɪə/jɛ}rm/ arm
harm /harm/ (male) goat
foarm /fwarm/ form
loarm /lwarm/ big lout
sloarm /slwarm/ good-natured fellow
noarm /nwarm/ norm
enoarm /e:nwarm/ enormous; tremendous
stoarm /stwarm/ gale, storm
woarm /vwarm/ worm
berm /bɛrm/ verge
germ /ɡɛrm/ kind of carp (which is not highly valued)
skerm /skɛrm/ screen
term /tɛrm/ intestine
swerm /swɛrm/ swarm
hoerm /huərm/ goat
bjirm /bjɪrm/ verge
wjirm /vjɪrm/ worm
lorm /lɔrm/ big lout
sjarme /sjarmə/ charm
erbarm(je) /ɛrbarm/ to have mercy (up)on
doarm(je) /dwarm/ to wander (about)
ûntferm(je) /untfɛrm/ to take pity (on)
kerm(je) /kɛrm/ to moan
hjirm(je) /jɪrm/ to bear, to sustain, to withstand (obsolete)
kjirm(je) /kjɪrm/ to moan
t(s)jirm(je) /t(s)jɪrm/ to moan; to ail, to be sickly; to lament, to wail

In line with the Word Constraint, the majority of these words contain a short monophthong − foarm, loarm, sloarm, noarm, enoarm, stoarm, and woarm have the (short) rising diphthong /wa/. Some words have a long monophthong: wâlm, alaarm, waarm, swaarm, earm, and hoerm.

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It is striking that it is only words ending in /-rm/ that are preceded by a long monophthong (wâlm, an uncommon word, is the only one ending in /-lm/). This may be due to the lengthening induced by /r/ onto a preceding vowel. Historically, the rising diphthongs in foarm, loarm, sloarm, noarm, enoarm, stoarm, and woarm derived from the centring diphthong /oə/; the latter, in turn, derived from the short, half open, back vowel /ɔ/ (see diphthongization of the low mid and high mid long monophthongs as an essential preliminary stage of Breaking).

With their four-positional rhyme, the words with a long monophthong might be considered as plain exceptions to the Word Constraint. Another approach, however, may be feasible, at least for some speakers and/or dialects. Very often, the vowel schwa is inserted between the liquid and the nasal (see schwa-insertion in coda clusters). This may have led to a reanalysis of the underlying representation of the words in question, i.e. they may be assumed to have incorporated schwa into their underlying representation. This would solve the problem of the four-positional rhyme.

An underlying schwa then might be adopted for all words in (1), resulting in a uniform analysis. There are four pieces of independent evidence for this approach.

In the first place, though monosyllabic, words such as wjirm and foarm have a rising ( broken diphthong). The occurrence of the latter is easily explained when assuming a bisyllabic pronunciation for such words, since a centring diphthong was likely to undergo breaking (shortening) when followed by another syllable within the same word (see breaking as shortening: the context for more on Breaking).

Secondly, there are morphological indications. Frisian has two classes of weak verbs, one with the infinitive ending in -e (weak I) and one with the infinitive ending in -je (weak II) (see two classes of weak verbs). Denominative and deadjectival verbs typically belong to the second weak class, as shown by forms like grienje to grow green, to get green; to make green (from grien /ɡriən/ green) and dongje to manure (with "dong"); to shit (of animals) (from dong /doŋ/ manure, dung). As to the question which verb class a simplex verbal stem belongs to, the following phonological generalization can be made (see also weak verbs):

Weak II Generalization
A simplex verbal stem ending in the sequence schwa + sonorant consonant ‒ -əl, -əm, -ən, -ər ‒ belongs to the second weak class

This generalization can be employed in the case at hand. The fact that verbs like walmje to smother (from walm smother), skelmje to behave like a villain; to play false (from skelm villain; rascal), waarmje to warm (up) (from waarm warm), and foarmje to form, to shape (from foarm form) belong to the second weak class comes as no surprise, for they are denominative or deadjectival. It is a striking fact, however, that the seven simplex verbs at the end of (1b) − erbarmje, doarmje, ûntfermje, kermje, wjirmje, kjirmje, and t(s)jirmje − belong to this class as well. This might be considered as purely coincidental. However, one can arrive at a principled explanation by assuming that the stem of these verb ends in /-{l/r}əm/ in underlying representation, so that they are in accordance with the Weak II Generalization.

Thirdly, first names give us a clue. Frisian has an extensive system of diminution of first names (see Visser (2002)). As to its formal aspects, diminution of names links up with diminution of nouns (see -DIM (diminutive)). Take the men's name Lolle /lolə/, next to which stand the diminutive names Lolke /lol+kə/ and Loltsje /lol+tsjə/, a men's and a women's name, repectively. Most of these diminutive names can be used for both males and females, but there are also types which are restricted to one of these classes. The following generalization, for instance, holds:

Three-syllabic Generalization for Women's Names
Diminutive names of three syllables are women's names

Examples of three-syllabic female diminutive names are Sibrichje /sibrɪx+jə/, Tsjallinkje /tsjɔlɪŋ+jə/ (with inserted /-k-/), and Wobbelke /vobəl+kə/. The female diminutive names Formke /fɔrm+kə/, Germtsje /ɡɛrm+tsjə/, Harmke /harm+kə/, Hermke /hɛrm+kə/, and Jarmke /jarm+kə/ do not seem to fall under the above generalization, since they are bisyllabic. Note, however, that the stem of these names, i.e. the part before the diminutive suffix, ends in /-rm/. If it is assumed to end in /-rəm/, the underlying representations of these names are /fɔrəm+kə/(Formke), /ɡɛrəm+tsjə/(Germtsje), /harəm+kə/(Harmke), /hɛrəm+kə/(Hermke), and /jarəm+kə/(Jarmke). These yield to three-syllabicity, which gives a principled account of the fact that these diminutive names are women's names.

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In this analysis, the disyllabic surface forms are the result of schwa deletion (see schwa deletion as a synchronic process: how to deal with lapses).

Fourthly, pluralization may give us an indication. The plural suffix -s is chosen after words ending in /-əm/, for instance biezems /biəzəm+s/ brooms, whereas -en occurs after words ending in /-m/, for example stammen /stam+ən/ trunks; tribes (see regular plural formation). The nouns in (1) have two possibilities with respect to their plural form, which may end in -s or -en, e.g. earms /{ɪə/jɛ}rm+s/ next to earmen /{ɪə/jɛ}rm+ən/ arms The distribution of these variants is a dialectal matter, though it may be different for each noun. In one dialect then a given noun may end in /-{l/r}əm/ in underlying representation, in the other in /-{l/r}m/.

The seven verbs at the end of (1b), however, all belong to the second weak class, irrespective of dialect, which points to underlying /-{l/r}əm/. Apparently then in one and the same dialect the stem of the verb erbarmje can end in /-rəm/, in accordance with the Weak II Generalization, whereas the stem of the noun foarm can end in /-rm/, as shown by the plural foarmen /fwarm+ən/.

It seems 'natural' to assume that Frisian as a whole will display a tendency towards a reanalysis of words ending in -<{l/r}m>, to the effect that they all will end up with the same underlying form, viz. one ending in /-{l/r}əm/. The future development of the language will have to confirm or disconfirm this expectation. At the moment, however, stems ending in -<{l/r}m> resist a uniform analysis.

  • Visser, Willem2003Patroanen yn ferlytsingsnammen.Philologia Frisica anno 2002 : lezingen en neipetearen fan it sechtjinde Fryske filologekongres16263-305