West Frisian phonology

This article is about the phonology and phonetics of the West Frisian language.


Standard West Frisian consonants[1][2]
Labial Alveolar Dorsal Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ
Fricative voiceless f s x h
voiced v z ɣ
Trill r
Approximant w l j
  • /m, p, b, w/ are bilabial, whereas /f, v/ are labiodental.[3]
    • /w/ is often included with the diphthongs rather than the consonants, as it only occurs in rising diphthongs and sequences of long vowel plus glide (see the Diphthongs section). However, since these are analysed and transcribed as consonants in this article, /w/ is included here as a consonant. /w/ contrasts with /v/ in for example the pair belove /bəˈloːvə/ - bliuwe /ˈbljoːwə/.
    • In some cases, /d/ alternates with /r/.[4]
    • /r/ does not occur before other alveolar consonants.[4][5] An exception to this rule are recent loanwords from Standard Dutch (e.g. sport), which may or may not be pronounced with [r].[6]
  • /ŋ, k, ɡ, x, ɣ/ are velar, whereas /j/ is palatal.[7]
  • Among fricatives, neither /x/ nor any of the voiced fricatives can occur word-initially,[8] with the exception of /v/.
  • /l/ is velarized [ɫ] in all environments except before the close front vowels /i, iː, y, yː/, where it is realized as clear [l].
  • Glottal stop [ʔ] may precede word-initial vowels. In careful speech, it may also occur between unstressed and stressed vowel or diphthong.[9]
  • All consonants are unaspirated, as in Dutch. Thus the voiceless plosives /k/, /t/, /p/ are realized [k], [t], [p].


/v/ has two allophones: an approximant [ʋ], which appears word-initially, and a fricative [v], which occurs elsewhere.[10]

The distinction between /ɡ/ and /ɣ/ is very marginal, and the two are generally considered allophones of a single phoneme. The plosive [ɡ] generally appears at the beginning of a word and at the beginning of a stressed syllable, while the fricative [ɣ] occurs elsewhere.[11][12] However, there are some cases that disturb this distribution, showing that the allophony is not purely due to stress but also has a morphological factor:

  • Compound words preserve each allophone of the individual words intact, e.g. berchgeit [ˈbɛrɣɡai̯t] "mountain goat" and needgefal [ˈneːdɡəfɔl] "emergency". These cases demonstrate plosive [ɡ] before unstressed syllables.
  • Some suffixes draw the stress onto themselves, without readjusting the allophones, e.g. hartoch [ˈhatɔx] "duke" → hartoginne [hatɔˈɣɪnə] "duchess". This creates cases of fricative [ɣ] before stressed syllables.

Thus, it appears that the underlying representation of words includes the plosive-fricative distinction. In single-morpheme words, this representation follows the above rule of allophony, but in words with multiple morphemes the underlying status (plosive or fricative) must be known in order to recover the correct pronunciation.

Schwa /ə/ is often dropped in the combination /ən/, turning the /n/ into a syllabic sonorant. The specific sonorant that arises depends on the preceding consonant:

  • [m̩] when preceded by labial /m, p, b/.[13]
  • [n̩] when preceded by labiodental or alveolar /f, v, n, t, d, s, z, r, l/.[13]
  • [ŋ̍] when preceded by velar /k, x, ɣ/.[13]

Schwa is also commonly dropped in /əl/ and /ər/, creating the syllabic sonorants [l̩] and [r̩], respectively. There are also some other cases.[13]

The sequences /nj, tj, sj, zj/ coalesce to [ɲ, , ɕ, ʑ].

Final devoicing[edit]

West Frisian has final obstruent devoicing, meaning that voiced obstruents are merged with the voiceless ones at the end of a word. Thus, word-final /b, d, v, z, ɣ/ are merged into voiceless /p, t, f, s, x/, although final /b/ is rare[14]. The spelling reflects this in the case of the fricatives, but not in the case of the plosives, which remain spelled with ⟨b⟩ and ⟨d⟩.


The vowel inventory of West Frisian is very rich.


Standard West Frisian monophthongs[15][16]
Front Central Back
unrounded rounded
short long short long short long short long
Close i y u
Close-mid ɪ ø øː ə o
Open-mid ɛ ɛː ɔ ɔː
Open a
  • The long vowels are considerably longer than the short vowels. The former are generally over 250 ms, whereas the latter are generally under 150 ms.[17][18]
  • Some speakers merge the long vowels /iː, uː/ with the centering diphthongs /iə̯, uə̯/.[19]
  • /yː/ is infrequent.[20] It and the other long close rounded vowel /uː/ are absent from the dialect of Leeuwarden.[21]
  • /ø/ is phonetically central [ɵ] and is quite similar to /ə/. It can be treated as its stressed equivalent.[22][23] In phonemic transcription, many scholars[24] transcribe it with ⟨ø⟩, but ⟨ɵ⟩ and ⟨ʏ⟩ are occasionally also used.[25]
  • Although they pattern with monophthongs, the long close-mid vowels transcribed /eː, øː, oː/ are often realized as narrow closing diphthongs [ei̯, øy̑, ou̯].[26][27] However, there are exceptions: for instance, speakers of the Hindeloopers dialect realize /øː/ as a long monophthong [øː].[21]
  • Nearly all words with /øː/ are loanwords from Standard Dutch.[28]
  • /oː/ doesn't occur before /s/.[11]
  • Although they pattern with monophthongs, the long open-mid vowels transcribed /ɛː, ɔː/ tend to be realized as centering diphthongs [ɛə̯, ɔə̯].[29][30]
  • The Hindeloopers and Súdwesthoeksk dialects also feature open-mid front rounded vowels /œ, œː/, which are not a part of the standard language.[21][31]
  • Many scholars[24] transcribe /a/ as /a/, but de Haan (2010) transcribes it as /ɑ/.[32] Its phonetic quality has been variously described as central [ä][17] and back [ɑ].[32]
  • /aː/ is central [äː].[32][17]


Standard West Frisian diphthongs[15][31]
Starting point Ending point
Front Central Back
Close unrounded iə̯
rounded yə̯ uə̯
Close-mid unrounded ɪə̯
rounded oi̯ øə̯ oə̯
Open-mid unrounded ɛi̯
rounded œy̑ ɔu̯
Open unrounded ai̯
  • In Southwestern dialects, the sequences /wa, wo/ are monophthongized to short central [ɞ, ɵ].[33]
  • The closeness of either of the elements of /ɛi̯/ is somewhat variable, so that its phonetic realization is [æi̯ ~ æɪ̯ ~ ɛi̯ ~ ɛɪ̯].[34]
  • The first element of /œy̑/ is more like [œ] than [ø].[34] Many scholars[35] transcribe this sound as /øy̑/, Booij (1989) transcribes it as /ʌy̑/, yet this article transcribes it /œy̑/ to show that it is clearly distinct from the common diphthongal realization of /øː/ (having a much lower starting point) and that it is virtually identical to /œy̑/ in Standard Dutch.
  • Some scholars[36] transcribe /ɔu̯/ as /ɔu̯/, yet others[37] transcribe it as /au̯/. Phonetically, the first element of this diphthong may be either of these, i.e. [ɔ] or, less often, [a].[38]
  • Some varieties realize /ai̯/ as [ɔi̯].[15] It is replaced by /ɛi̯/ in the Wood Frisian dialects.
  • Many speakers realise /aːj/ as rounded /ɔːj/.[34]

Rising and long diphthongs[edit]

Frisian is traditionally analysed as having both falling and rising diphthongs. Booij (1989) argues that the rising diphthongs are in fact glide-vowel sequences, not real diphthongs.[39] This view is supported by Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013) who transcribe them with consonant symbols /jɪ, jɛ, wa, wo/,[40] which is the convention used in this article.

Frisian also possesses sequences of a long vowel followed by a glide. According to Booij, the glide behaves as a consonant in these sequences, because it is shifted entirely to the next syllable when a following vowel is added. Visser[41] also includes sequences of a high vowel plus glide among these. Such sequences are transcribed with a consonant symbol in this article, e.g.

  • aai /aːj/ ~ aaien /ˈaː.jən/
  • bliuw /bljoːw/ ~ bliuwen /ˈbljoː.wən/
  • moai /moːj/ ~ moaie /ˈmoː.jə/
  • iuw /iːw/ ~ iuwen /ˈiː.wən/
  • bloei /bluːj/ ~ bloeie /ˈbluː.jən/


Some falling diphthongs alternate with the rising ones:[15]

Falling Rising
Diphthong Orthography IPA Translation Diphthong Orthography IPA Translation
/iə̯/ stien /ˈstiə̯n/ 'stone' /jɪ/ stiennen /ˈstjɪnən/ 'stones'
/ɪə̯/ beam /ˈbɪə̯m/ 'tree' /jɛ/ beamke /ˈbjɛmkə/ 'little tree'
/uə̯/ foet /ˈfuə̯t/ 'foot' /wo/ fuotten /ˈfwotən/ 'feet'
/oə̯/ doas /ˈdoə̯s/ 'box' /wa/ doaske /ˈdwaskə/ 'little box'
/yə̯/ sluere /ˈslyə̯rə/ 'to meander' /jø/ slurkje /ˈsljørkjə/ 'to meander softly'
  • The /yə̯/ - /jø/ alternation occurs only in the pair mentioned above.[15]


  1. ^ Based on the consonant table in Sipma (1913:8). The allophones [ɲ, ɡ, β̞] are not included.
  2. ^ Hoekstra (2001), p. 84.
  3. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 8, 15–16.
  4. ^ a b Keil (2003), p. 8.
  5. ^ Tiersma (1999), pp. 28–29.
  6. ^ Tiersma (1999), p. 29.
  7. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 8, 15–17.
  8. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 16–17.
  9. ^ Sipma (1913), p. 15.
  10. ^ Keil (2003), p. 7.
  11. ^ a b Hoekstra (2001), p. 86.
  12. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 15, 17.
  13. ^ a b c d Sipma (1913), p. 36.
  14. ^ Tiersma (1999), p. 21.
  15. ^ a b c d e Booij (1989), p. 319.
  16. ^ Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013), p. 509.
  17. ^ a b c Visser (1997), p. 14.
  18. ^ Tiersma (1999), p. 9.
  19. ^ Visser (1997), p. 24.
  20. ^ Visser (1997), p. 19.
  21. ^ a b c van der Veen (2001), p. 102.
  22. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 6, 8, 10.
  23. ^ Tiersma (1999), p. 11.
  24. ^ a b For instance Booij (1989), Tiersma (1999), van der Veen (2001), Keil (2003) and Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013).
  25. ^ ɵ⟩ is used by Sipma (1913) (as ⟨ö⟩, which is how it was transcribed in 1913 - see History of the International Phonetic Alphabet), whereas ⟨ʏ⟩ is used by de Haan (2010).
  26. ^ Visser (1997), pp. 22–23.
  27. ^ Tiersma (1999), pp. 10–11.
  28. ^ Visser (1997), p. 17.
  29. ^ Tiersma (1999), p. 10.
  30. ^ Visser (1997), p. 23.
  31. ^ a b Hoekstra (2001), p. 83.
  32. ^ a b c de Haan (2010), p. 333.
  33. ^ Hoekstra (2003:202), citing Hof (1933:14)
  34. ^ a b c Tiersma (1999), p. 12.
  35. ^ For instance Tiersma (1999), Keil (2003) and Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013).
  36. ^ For instance Booij (1989), Hoekstra (2001) and Keil (2003).
  37. ^ For instance Tiersma (1999) and Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013).
  38. ^ Tiersma (1999), pp. 12, 36.
  39. ^ Booij (1989), pp. 319–320.
  40. ^ Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013), pp. 509–510.
  41. ^ http://taalportaal.org/taalportaal/topic/pid/topic-14020545859944598


Further reading[edit]

  • Cohen, Antonie; Ebeling, Carl L.; Fokkema, Klaas; van Holk, André G.F. (1978) [First published 1961]. Fonologie van het Nederlands en het Fries: inleiding tot de moderne klankleer (in Dutch) (2nd ed.). The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
  • Fokkema, Klaas (1961). "Consonantgroepen in de Zuidwesthoek van Friesland". In Heeroma, Klaas Hanzen; Fokkema, Klaas (eds.). Structuurgeografie (in Dutch). Amsterdam: Noord-Hollandsche Uitg. Mij. pp. 16–26.
  • Heeringa, Wilbert (2005). "Dialect variation in and around Frisia: classification and relationships" (PDF). Us Wurk, tydskrift foar Frisistyk. 3–4: 125–167. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  • Tiersma, Peter Meijes (1983). "The nature of phonological representation: evidence from breaking in Frisian". Journal of Linguistics. 10: 59–78. JSTOR 4175665.