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Complex onset: sequences of two obstruents

This section deals with sequences of two obstruents in general first, followed by a treatment of the word-initial obstruent-obstruent sequences in Frisian.


Obstruent sequences in general must meet two demands: preferably, the obstruents do not agree in continuancy, whereas they must agree in voicing. The former demand entails that a sequence of two plosives or two fricatives is less likely than a plosive-fricative or fricative-plosive sequence, the latter that an obstruent sequence can only consist of either two voiced or two voiceless obstruents. Obstruents thus cannot make up sequences at random.

Word-initial sequences of two plosives or two fricatives do not occur, except for /sf-/, which only shows up in loan words, like sfear (atmo)sphere and sfinks Sphinx.

Word-initial plosive-fricative and fricative-plosive sequences do occur. It is, however, only a small subset of the logically possible sequences that is actually attested: /ps-/, /ts-/, /ks-/, /sp-/, /st-/, and /sk-/. They get a full treatment in the section on complex segments (see complex segments).

Of the voiced fricatives, only /v/ occurs in word-initial position (see the labial fricatives). In theory, it should be allowed to form a sequence with a voiced plosive: /b/, /d/, and /ɡ/. However, the sequences /bv-/, /dv-/, and /ɡv-/ do not occur, which also holds true of their voiceless counterparts /pf-/, /tf-/, and /kf-/. As to /tf-/ it might be the case that the coronal (dental-alveolar) plosive and the labio-dental fricative resemble each other too much, so that /tf-/ and /dv/ make up a slight OCP violation. This line of reasoning, however, is not applicable to /pf-/, /bv-/, /kf-/, and /ɡv-/.

The only native obstruent sequence beginning with a (voiceless) plosive is /ts/. It gets a full treatment in the section is the complex segment /ts/ an affricate?.