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This topic is on the general principles underlying the orthography of Frisian, which means that spelling rules are only mentioned in as far as they illustrate these principles.

The orthography of Frisian has much in common with the Dutch one, a resemblance which has only increased due to twentieth century spelling reforms. Speakers of Frisian learn the Dutch spelling at school, whereas they hardly learn the Frisian one, if at all. It is, therefore, only practical that the Frisian spelling system follows the Dutch one wherever it can.

[+]The use of the Latin alphabet in Frisian orthography

Like most West European languages, Frisian makes use of the Latin alphabet for its spelling.

There is not a one-to-one correspondence between letters and sounds, due to the fact that Frisian has more phonemes than available letters. This applies in particular to the vowels. For instance, the letter e represents both /ε//, /e:/, and /ə/ (see the overview below).

An alphabetic spelling presupposes an analysis of the sound system of a language, which it partly or wholly reflects. The result of this analysis is that the letters of the alphabet are assigned a phonological value. The latter comes in two types, for the letters have two phonological representations: a) a phonemic form, used when the letters are part of a word and b) a word form in case the letters are in autonomous use, which means that they stand on their own and are used as independent (phonological) words, for instance when considering the letters as such and when they occur in so-called letter-naming acronyms (Kreidler 2000:957)

A phonological word must minimally contain a (full) vowel. The letters for vowels, therefore, can show up in autonomous use without further resources. This is different for the letters for a consonant; for their word form ‒ viz. in order for them to be able to function as a phonological word ‒ these letters are in need of 'vowel support', which is illustrated in the overview below. If a consonant denoting letter is accompanied by a vowel on its right-hand side, the vowel in question is long, in line with the fact that a word-final vowel in Frisian is long in the unmarked case. The latter is also not without consequences for the letters representing vowels; in autonomous use the latter are long, also when their phonemic form is short.

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Vowel length

The above seems to be contradicted by i/ y [i], q [ky], u [y], and û/ oe [u] which, on the face of it, end in a short vowel. There are, however, various kinds of evidence that the close vowels /i,y,u/, though phonetically short, behave as long vowels phonologically. Among other things, they can occur in word-final position, which, remarkably enough, their long counterparts /i:,y:,u:/ cannot (see long and short monopthongs: a different view).

Here follows an overview of the letters of the Frisian alphabet denoting vowels (monophthongs):

Table 1
letter phonemic form word form
a /a/ /a:/
/a:/ /a:/
â /ɔ:/  /ɔ:/
e /ε/ /e:/
/e:/ /e:/
/ə/ /ə/
ê /ε:/ /ε:/
i /i/ /i/
/i:/ /i/
i /ɪ/ /i/
o /o/ /o:/
/o:/ /o:/
/ɔ/ /o:/
ô /ɔ:/ /ɔ:/
u /y/ /y/
/y:/ /y/
/ø/ /ø/
û /u/ /u/
/u:/ /u/
ú /y/ /y/
/y:/ /y/
y /i/ /i/

Some remarks are in order:

  • Next to /y/ and /y:/, the letter u also denotes /ø/. Though short, /ø/ is also the value of u in autonomous use. This is remarkable, since word-final vowels are long in the unmarked case. It may have to do with the fact that the long counterpart of /ø/ ‒ spelled as eu ‒ is not realized as a monophthong ( [ø:]), but as a long vowel with a fair amount of desonorization in its final phase ( [ø.y]), hence more like a falling diphthong (see also the realization of the long half close, half open, and open vowels). Long and short /ø/, therefore, have a problematical match.

  • The letters e and i have the word values /e:// and /i/. However, in case they denote the (short) vowels /ɛ/ and /ɪ/ and when they are explicitly referred to in this function, their word values are /ɛ/ and /ɪ/, respectively. This remarkable fact ‒ word-final vowels are long in the unmarked case ‒ may be understood out of the need to indicate (phonological) contrasts.

  • The letters a, o, and e can be extended with a circumflex accent ‒ â, ô, ê ‒, in which case they represent a long vowel: /ɔ:/, /ɔ:/, and /ɛ:/, respectively. These are both the phonemic form and the word form of these letters. The latter is remarkable, since neither /ɔ:/ nor /ɛ:/, though long, occur in word-final position (save in some interjections). That they must do so here is due to the circumflex accent on the letters, which not only denotes that the vowels are long, but also that they have a quality different from those of the same letters without circumflex, viz. /a:// ( a), /e:// ( e) and /o:/ ( o). The letters â, ê, and ô are termed a-dakje [ˌa: ˈdakjə] a with a circumflex accent, e-dakje [ˌe: ˈdakjə] e with a circumflex accent, and o-dakje [ˌo: ˈdakjə] o with a circumflex accent, respectively. As is clear, these denotations stress the fact that these letters consist of a 'normal' vowel denoting letter, extended with an accent. In accordance with this, they are realized with the long values of a, e, and o in autonomous use, viz. /a:/, /e:/ and /o:/. When these letters are considered as integrated wholes, they have independent values, viz. /ɛ:/ ( ê) or /ɔ:/ ( â/ ô).

    The letter u can have both a circumflex and an acute accent. The sign û represents short /u/ and long /u:/, both in a closed and an open syllable. The sign ú represents short /y/ and long /y:/, but only in a closed syllable, whereas both vowels are represented by u in an open syllable. The word values of û and ú are /u/ and /y/, respectively, in line with those of the closed vowels.

    The letter e can have an acute accent: é occurs in a small number of words, where it represents long /e:/.

    In order to denote emphasis, any vowel denoting letter can be extended with an acute accent. Letters already having an accent do not allow for this possibility.

  • In order to avoid confusion with other sound values, some letters are doubled when denoting a long vowel in a closed syllable: aa ( /a:/), ee ( /e:/), ii ( /i:/), and oo ( /o:/). In a word-internal open syllable, the same long vowels are represented by a single letter: a ( /a:/), e ( /e:/), i ( /i:/), and o ( /o:/). In word-final position vowels are long in the unmarked case, whereas a word-final vowel constitutes an open syllable by definition. Yet, this does not entail a systematic doubling of the above letters in this position: a and o are not doubled, whereas e is: ka /ka:/ jackdaw, ra /ra:/ yard, stro /stro:/ pancake, ko /ko:/ cow vs see /se:/ sea, ree /re:/ ready, finished. The same distribution in word-final position between a and o on the one and ee on the other hand obtains in the orthography of Dutch.

    Since /i:/ does not occur word-finally, its spelling in that position is not an issue. However, in case ii is explicitly referred to in its function of denoting the long counterpart of /i/, its word value is /i:/. Again, this may be understood out of the need to explicitly mark the contrast /i/- /i:/.

    Letters with an accent are never doubled.

  • In native Frisian words, the letter y in a closed syllable denotes the short vowel /i/. This letter is not doubled in a closed syllable in order to denote long /i:/, which is represented by ii in that configuration.

    The letter y also occurs in loanwords, in the same position as in the Dutch counterparts, where it represents the same sound value.

  • One of the phonemic forms of e is (short) /ɛ/, the word form of which is (long) /e:/. Although /ɛ/ has the long counterpart /ɛ:/, the latter does not occur in word-final position (save in some interjections). However, in case e is explicitly referred to in its function of denoting /ɛ/, its word value is /ɛ/. This remarkable fact ‒ word-final vowels are long in the unmarked case ‒ may also be understood out of the need to indicate (phonological) contrasts.

  • One of the phonemic forms of o is either (short) /o/ or /ɔ/. The word form of both is /o:/, which is only the genuine long counterpart of /o/. Now, /ɔ/ has the long counterpart /ɔ:/, but the latter – like /ɛ:/ – does not occur in word-final position (again with the exception of some interjections). However, in case o is explicitly referred to in its function of denoting /ɔ/, its word value is /ɔ/. This no less remarkable fact may also be understood out of the need to indicate (phonological) contrasts.

  • The indistinct, largely unspecified, central vowel schwa ( /ə/) is mostly represented by e; in the suffixes -ich and -lik and in the word endings -um and -us, however, by i and u. Schwa does not have a long counterpart, hence doubling of the letter representing it is not at issue.

An overview of the spelling of the diphthongs and other vocalic combinations of Frisian is given below:

  1. Falling diphthongs:
    Table 1
    letters phonological form
    ai /aj/
    au /ɔw/
    ei /ɛj/
    ij /ɛj/
    oi /oj/
    ui /ʌɥ/
    ou /ɔw/
  2. Centring diphthongs:
    Table 2
    letters phonological form
    ea /ɪə/
    eo /øə/
    ie /iə/
    oa /oə/
    oe /uə/
    ue /yə/
  3. Rising diphthongs:
    Table 3
    letters phonological form
    ja /ja/
    je /jɛ/
    ji /jɪ/
    jo /jɔ/
    ju /jø/
    uo /wo/
    wa /wa/
    we /wɛ/
    wi /wɪ/
    wy /wi/
    wu /wø/
  4. The spelling of sequences of three or four vocalic segments is as follows:
  1. Rising diphthong + glide:
    Table 4
    letters phonological form
    iuw /juw/
    oai /waj/
    uoi /woj/
  2. Long vowel + glide:
    Table 5
    letters phonological form
    aai /a:j/
    iuw /i:w/
    oai /o:j/
    oei /u:j/
  3. Glide + long vowel:
    Table 6
    letters phonological form
    iuw /jo:/
    ja /ja:/
    wa /wa:/
    wee /we:/
    wii /wi:/
  4. Glide + falling diphthong:
    Table 7
    letters phonological form
    jou /jɔw/
    jui /jʌɥ/
    wij /wɛj/
  5. Glide + centring diphthong:
    Table 8
    letters phonological form
    joa /joə/
    joe /juə/
    wea /wɪə/
    wie /wiə/
  6. Glide + long vowel + glide:
    Table 9
    letters phonological form
    jaai /ja:j/
    joei /ju:j/
    waai /wa:j/

An overview of the letters of the Frisian alphabet representing consonants follows here:

Table 11
letter phonemic form word form
b /b/ /be:/
c /s/ /se:/
d /d/ /de:/
f /f/ /ɛf/
g /ɡ/ /ɡe:/
h /h/ /ha:/
j /j/ /je:/
k /k/ /ka:/
l /l/ /ɛl/
m /m/ /ɛm/
n /n/ /ɛn/
p /p/ /pe:/
r /r/ /ɛr/
s /s/ /ɛs/
t /t/ /te:/
v /v/ /ve:/
w /v/ /ve:/
z /z/ /zɛt/

Some remarks are in order:

  • The letters c, x, and q are not part of the Frisian alphabet; they only figure in foreign names, like (David) Cameron, Xerxes and Quirinius, and in literal quotes from Latin, like casu quo, ex cathedra, and quod non.

    The letter c in Dutch loanwords is rendered as k or s in Frisian, depending on whether the pronunciation is [k] or [s] (for examples, see the spelling of loanwords). c, however, is also part of the native digraph ch (see below).

    Though it is a single letter, x represents a combination of two phonemes, viz. /ks/; the latter, consisting of /s/ and a voiceless plosive, functions as a complex segment. The letter x in Dutch loanwords is rendered as ks in Frisian.

    In Dutch words ‒ all of them loanwords ‒ the letter q is always followed by the letter u, which, if pronounced, denotes the approximant /ʋ/ there ( [kʋ]). The Dutch letter sequence qu is rendered as kw or k in Frisian, depending on whether the pronunciation is [kw] or [k].

  • Though consisting of two letters, the digraphs ch and ng represent one phoneme: /x/ and /ŋ/, respectively. Frisian words are never spelled with final g, only with final ch. The fact that words can end in ng testifies to the special nature of digraphs in Frisian orthography.

  • In polysyllabic words, in order to indicate that a single vowel denoting letter represents a short vowel, the following consonant denoting letter is doubled. When hyphenating such words, a hyphen is placed in between these double consonants, so that from an orthographic point of view the left-hand syllable is closed. The digraphs ch and ng do not undergo doubling.

  • The word forms of the letters denoting consonants either consist of the vowel /ɛ/ followed by a single consonant ‒ with the exception of x /ɛks/ ‒ or of a single consonant followed by the vowel /e:/. An exception to the latter are the letters h /ha:/ and k /ka:/.

[+]General spelling principles of Frisian

The Frisian spelling system is based on the following four basic principles:

the four basic principles of the Frisian spelling system
a. the principle of pronunciation (phonological principle); b. the principle of uniformity; c. the principle of analogy; d. the principle of etymology.

Since these principles are contradictory in nature, devising (and revising) a spelling system inevitably is a matter of finding an equilibrium, or compromise, between the various demands of the spelling principles assumed. The principles will now be treated in turn.

[+]The principle of pronunciation (phonological principle)

According to the principle of pronunciation ‒ also: the phonological principle ‒ a spelling must give a real indication of the pronunciation of the words in isolation. As noted above, a phonological analysis of (the sounds of) a language underlies an alphabetic spelling. The latter, therefore, abstracts away from phonetic detail, at least in principle. For example, we write the word syn /sin/ his as syn, with the letters s, y, and n, respectively, which represent the phonemes /s/, /i/, and /n/, of which this word consists. Since the vowel /i/ precedes the nasal consonant /n/ here, it gets a slightly nasal realization, which is not reflected in the spelling.

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The spelling of loanwords

Loanwords mainly enter Frisian via Dutch. Initially, they keep the Dutch spelling. Loanwords, however, gradually adapt themselves to the phonological system of Frisian and their spelling changes accordingly, viz. it is brought in line with the Frisian system. A case in point is the letter c, which is part of many Dutch loanwords. In the Frisian counterparts of these words, it is spelled as either k or s, dependent on the pronunciation. Dutch causaal 'causal', relict 'relic', cent 'cent', and centraal 'central' are spelled in Frisian as <kausaal>, <relikt>, <sint>, and <sintraal>, respectively.

[+]The principle of uniformity

The principle of uniformity entails that a word is spelled the same in whichever phonological and/or morphological context it occurs. Take the word goed /ɡuəd/ good, the final /d/ of which shows up in inflected forms, like goede /ɡuəd+ə/ good-INFL, and in a derived form like goedens /ɡuəd+əns/ goodness. The spelling goed is in accordance with the underlying representation /ɡuəd/. The principle of uniformity now demands that this word be spelled as goed in all phonological and/or morphological contexts. Due to the phonological processes of Final Devoicing and the demand that obstruent clusters agree in voicing, the word goed in isolation is pronounced with a final [t] ( [ɡuət]) and in the phrase wat goeds ɡuəd+s something good with final [ts] ( [ɡuəts], so shouldn't goed and goeds be spelled as goet and goets, respectively? Such spellings, however, would go counter to the principle of uniformity, which enforces the spellings <goed> and goeds. As noted, these spellings represent the underlying representations of the words here, thereby abstracting away from the effects of phonological processes. This leads to a mismatch between spelling and phonetic form, whereas spelling and phonological form do match.

What is stated in the previous paragraph, however, is only part of the story. The effects of Final Devoicing are not reflected in the spelling, which thus obeys the principles of uniformity, but only as far as the plosives are concerned. It is different for the devoicing of fricatives, which the spelling does reflect, witness the following examples: s [[mu:s] mouse' (< /mu:z/ (cf. the plural form mûzen [mu:zn̩] mice), grêf [ɡrɛ:f] grave (< /ɡrɛ:v/ (cf. grêven [ɡrɛ:vən] graves), heech [he:x] high (< /he:ɣ/ (cf. the inflected form hege [he:ɣə] high-INFL). There is a mismatch here between spelling and phonological form, whereas spelling and phonetic form match or, put differently, the principle of pronunciation overrules the principle of uniformity.

Now, for most alphabetic spelling systems ‒ especially those with a longer history ‒ it is not difficult to point out inconsistencies, for they are an equilibrium or compromise between the contradictory demands of the spelling principles. There is no such spelling we know of which fully meets the demands of just one spelling principle. This also holds for the principle of uniformity. One instance, of many more, concerns the effects of Vowel Shortening. Long vowels may undergo shortening when the words they are part of are engaged in inflection, derivation, or compounding. Examples are: pôt /pɔ:t/ potpotten [pɔtn̩] pots', hân /hɔ:n/ handhandoek [hɔnduk] towel (literally: hand cloth), heech /he:ɣ/ highhichte [hɪxtə] height. Vowel Shortening is reflected in the spelling here, which runs counter to the principle of uniformity, but is in accordance with the principle of pronunciation.

[+]The principle of analogy

The principle of analogy entails that words with the same morphological make-up are spelled in a uniform way. A notorious case in this respect is the spelling of the verbs of the first weak class and of the majority of the strong/irregular verbs.

The third person singular present tense of these verbs is formed by attaching the suffix -t to the stem, as with (hy) bakt /bak+t/ bak-INFL (he) bakes and (hy) rint /rɪn+t/ (he) walks. The spellings bakt and rint reflect the morphological make-up and the pronunciation quite well, so they are in accordance with both the principle of analogy and the phonological principle. This is different with verb stems ending in -d and -t. Take (hy) laadt //la:d+t/ (he) loads and hy praat /praat+t/ he talks, with the phonetic forms [la:t] and [pra:t], respectively. The spelling laadt is in accordance with the principle of analogy ‒ third person singular present tense is 'stem + -t ‒ but not with the phonological principle, since the underlying stem-final /d/devoices preceding the suffix /t/, followed by degemination of /tt/, so that one final [t] remains. With the spelling laadt, then, the principle of analogy wins out. The spelling praat, on the other hand, is in accordance with the phonological principle, but not with the principle of analogy, for in line with the regularity 'third person singular present tense is stem + -t' the spelling should be *praatt ( /pra:t+t/). There is, however, a supplementary, more specific spelling principle, which holds that consonant doubling is not allowed within a single syllable, hence neither within monosyllabic words, be they simplex, inflected or derived. For (hy) praat /praat+t/ this enforces the spelling praat, which is in line with the phonological principle.

The same principle is at work with the superlative form of adjectives. The latter is derived with the suffix -st, as in heech high - heger high-COMP higherheechst high-SUPL highest. The superlative form of adjectives ending is -s, however, is spelled as [adjective]+t, not as [adjective]+st. Therefore, we write lost //los+st/ loosest and nerveust /nɛrfø:z+st/ most nervous, and not *losst and *nerveusst. Here as well, the ban on consonant doubling enforces a spelling which violates the principle of analogy, but is in line with the phonological principle. Likewise, the (female) agent noun derived from the verb stem fyts to cycle (a conversion of the noun fyts bicycle) with the suffix -ster is written as fytster, in line with the phonological principle, whereas the spelling would have been *fytsster ( /fits+stər/) in case the principle of analogy had prevailed (cf. reedrydster female skater, derived from the verb reedride to skate).

However, things can also work the other way around. The past tense singular of weak verbs is formed by adding -te or -de to the stem, depending on the underlying voicing value of the stem-final segment. In accordance with the principle of analogy, then, the past tense of the verbs prate to talk and lade to load should be *praatte /pra:t+tə/ and *laadde /la:d+də/, respectively. This indeed was the rule until the spelling reform of 1976, due to which the spelling changed into prate and lade. Until the reform the principle of analogy reigned the spelling here, since the reform this is the prerogative of the phonological principle.

[+]The principle of etymology

The principle of etymology entails that the origin of words may be reflected, partly or wholly, in the spelling. Sound-wise, etymological spellings reflect an older stage of words or, put differently, they are instances of the spelling not keeping pace with the sound changes by which the words have been affected. This is likely to hold of spelling systems with a longer history. By their very nature, etymological spellings violate the principle of pronunciation.

An example of the effect of the etymological principle is that some words are written with the letter sequence âl{d/t}, whereas the phoneme /l/, which was part of these words, has deleted in the course of time. Words like âld old and sâlt salt have l in their spelling, whereas not a trace of /l/ is left in the pronunciation. Therefore, the underlying representations of these words can safely be assumed to be /ɔ:d/ and /sɔ:t/, respectively. Another example is that /h/ is no longer pronounced in case it precedes the glide /j/, though it is still written, as in hjir [jɪr] here and hjoed [juət] today'. Still another example is that although the letter a has, among others, the regular phonemic form /a/, when preceding one of the consonants /s,l,d,t,n/, it is often pronounced as [ɔ] without this being reflected in the spelling. Words like jas coat', kat cat, and panne pan; tile, therefore, have the pronunciations [jɔs], [kɔt], and [pɔnə], respectively. Finally, the suffix -lik is pronounced with the vowel [ə], but it is written with i, which reflects a former sound value of the suffix's vowel.

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Loanwords and etymology

Loanwords can keep their original spelling.This may be looked upon as an effect of the principle of etymology (although 'the principle of origin' might be a more appropriate designation here). The older French loanwords have been integrated into the Frisian phonological system and are written in accordance with the Frisian spelling system. Since loanwords enter Frisian via Dutch, a comparison with the Dutch spelling makes more sense than with the French one. Examples of such integrated loanwords are sjoernaal news (cf. Dutch journaal), fiksaasje 'fixation, obsession (cf. Dutch fixatie), and pasjint patient' (cf. Dutch patiënt). As a rule, the spelling of English loanwords, which are 'younger', is not adapted to the Frisian system. So, it is zappe to zap, even though word-initial z is not allowed in the spelling of genuine Frisian words.

[+]Non-segmental information in Frisian orthography

Frisian orthography does not only represent phonological segments, but also provides semantic, syntactic and prosodic information, instances of which are:

  • capital letters are used to mark the beginning of sentences and proper names;

  • punctuation is used to mark the boundaries between certain syntactic constituents, for instance, between clauses and appositional and parenthetical constituents and between main and subordinate clauses;

  • spacing is used to mark word boundaries;

  • hyphenation is used to divide a polysyllabic word across two written lines;

  • quotation marks are used to indicate a direct quotation of someone's words;

  • when a word ending in a single vowel letter is extended with the plural suffix -s ( /s/), the corresponding letter s is preceded by an apostrophe, which indicates that the vowel letter is to be interpreted as a long and not as a short vowel, as in kano's /ka:no:+s/ [kano:s] [*ka:n{o/ɔ}s] canoes and rabbi's /rabi+s/ [rabis] [*rabbɪs] rabbis.

As in Dutch, compounds are written as one word. That is, the fact that compounds are one word from the grammatical point of view is represented in the spelling. However, there is a tendency to write compounds with internal spaces between its constituents. This may be due to influence from English, enhanced by the fact that the constituents of compounds are words by themselves.

As in Dutch, the hyphenation of words is based on their prosodic structure, viz. their syllabification. The words spegel / (spe:)σ(ɣəl)σ/ mirror, dochter /(dɔx)σ(tər)σ/ daughter, and puntich /pønt+əɣ/ /(pøn)σ(təx)σ/ pointed, sharp, for instance, are  hyphenated as spe-gel, doch-ter, and pun-tich. Due to the short vowel /ɛ/, a word like wetter /(vɛt)σ(tər)σ/ water contains the consonantal geminate [-tt-] and the digraph -tt-. The hyphen is inserted in the middle of the digraph. This also holds of the digraph ng, which consists of two different letters, as in dingen /dɪŋ+ən/ /(dɪŋ)σ(ŋŋ̩)σ/ things, which is hyphenated as din-gen. The digraph ch, on the other hand, is never split by a hyphen: kachel /(ka)σ(xəl)σ/ stove, heater, fire, for instance, is hyphenated as ka-chel.

Compounds are made up of two or more words. A hyphen is primarily put between the words of which a compound consists; its separate members are hyphenated according to the principles holding for words. Examples are: boartersguod [[boarters]guod] play-LK-good.COL toys, playthings, feestamboek [fee[[stam]boek]] herdbook, and rioelwettersuveringsynstallaasje [[[rioel]wetter][suverings[ynstallaasje]]] sewage works, which are hyphenated as boar-ters-guod, fee-stam-boek, and ri-oel-wet-ter-su-ve-rings-yn-stal-laas-je, respectively.

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Spelling regulations and spelling reforms

After previous attempts and lengthy discussions, the 'Selskip for Fryske Tael en Skriftenkennisse' (Society for Frisian Language and Literature) came up with a proposal for the orthography of Frisian in 1879, see Selskip for Fryske Tael en Skriftenkennisse (1879). Clearly, the proposal is a compromise between various opinions on an adequate spelling, which may be the reason that it found general acceptance. It still is the basis of the current orthography of Frisian.

This, however, is not to say that the orthography did not undergo changes in the course of time. Whereas the main goal of the simplifications introduced by the Fryske Akademy in 1945 was to bring the spelling more in line with the principle of pronunciation, the changes which the provincial government decided on in 1976 mainly seemed to aim at bringing the spelling systems of Frisian and Dutch more in line with each other. The latter is illustrated with the examples below:

  • The digraph ae in a closed syllable, denoting /a:/, was converted into aa, so tael language, for instance, became taal (confer Dutch taal idem).
  • The letter é in word-final position, denoting /e:/, was changed into ee, so sea, for instance, became see (confer Dutch zee idem).
  • In case the stem of verbs of the first weak class, those of strong/irregular verbs, and those of adjectives ended in i, the transitional letter j used to be inserted between these stems and an inflectional element beginning with or consisting of e (denoting schwa). Examples are bloeije to bloom, to flower (infinitive, plural present tense), waeije to blow (infinitive, plural present tense), and moaije beautiful-INFL, which are now written as bloeie, waaie, and moaie, in line with the Dutch spellings bloeien, waaien, and mooie. The same held for the transitional j in simplex words, like soeije swing (plaything), boaijem ground, soil, and maeije May, currently written as soeie, boaiem, and maaie, so without j.
  • Some question words (wh-words) were written with initial hw, as in hwa who, hwat what, and hwannear when. The new spelling is with initial w only: wa, wat, and wannear, confer the Dutch cognates wie who, wat what, and wanneer when. The coordinating conjunction want for, which was written as hwant, underwent the same change: want.
  • The suffix -heid, as in jildichheid validity (derived from jildich valid) used to be written as -heit, with a final t, in line with the principle of pronunciation. The new spelling, -heid, is in accordance with the principle of uniformity, as evidenced by the plural form of these derivations, as in aardichheden small presents and wûnderheden strange, curious things (plural form only). It is also not without significance that the new spelling equals that of the Dutch cognate -heid.
  • The words gebet prayer, gebot order, command, helt hero, and gewelt violence used to be written with a final t, in line with the principle of pronunciation. The new spelling is with a final d: gebed, gebod, held, and geweld. This, again, is in line with the principle of uniformity, witness the plural forms gebeden prayers, geboaden orders, commands, helden heroes and the derivative geweldich tremendous(ly), enormous(ly). But here as well, the new spelling equals the Dutch one: gebed, gebod, held, and geweld.
  • The preposition/adverb to in, at, for, to (with verbs); too and the prefix to- were turned into te and te-. This brought them in line with the principle of pronunciation, since they are pronounced as [tə], so with a schwa, which as a rule is represented by the sign e. As far as the preposition/adverb is concerned, the new spelling equals that of the Dutch cognate te.
  • The prefix for- was turned into fer-, in line with the pronunciation [fər], but also equalling the spelling of the Dutch cognate ver-.

All in all, even though phonological arguments may underlie most of the above spelling changes, the result is also that the Frisian and the Dutch spellings come closer to each other.

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For a full and detailed treatment of the current orthography of Frisian and an overview of the spelling rules the reader is referred to Taalweb Frysk (the Frisian Language Web). Overviews of the history of the orthography of Frisian are Feitsma (1999) and Feitsma (2001). An in-depth treatment of the orthography of Frisian in the 19th century is Folkertsma (1973).

  • Feitsma, Anthonia2001Handbuch des Friesischen / Handbook of Frisian StudiesDie Verschriftung des WestfriesischenMax Niemeyer Verlag116-121
  • Feitsma, Tony1999In Skiednis fan 'e Fryske taalkundeSkiednis fan de staveringFryske Akademy154-174
  • Folkertsma, Boate1973De stavering fan it Westerlauwerske Frysk yn de njoggentjinde ieuEstrikken 46Stifting FFYRUG
  • Kreidler, Charles W2000Morphologie/Morphology. Ein internationales Handbuch zur Flexion und Wortbildung / An international Handbook of Inflection and Word-FormationClipping and acronymyDe Gruyter956-963
  • Selskip for Fryske Tael en Skriftenkennisse1879De Fryske Boekstavering, in hantlieding for hwa yn 't Frysk skriuwe wolleN.A. Hingst