West Frisian Phonology
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West Frisian Phonology

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


  • /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 /b?'lo:v?/ - bliuwe /'bljo:w?/.
    • 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]
  • /?, k, ?, ?/ are velar, /?/ is a post-velar fricative trill , whereas /j/ is palatal.[7][8][9]
  • Among fricatives, neither /?/ nor any of the voiced fricatives can occur word-initially,[10] with the exception of /v/.
  • Glottal stop may precede word-initial vowels. In careful speech, it may also occur between unstressed and stressed vowel or diphthong.[11]
  • 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 , which appears word-initially, and a fricative , which occurs elsewhere.[12]

The distinction between /?/ and /?/ is very marginal, and the two are generally considered allophones of a single phoneme. The plosive generally appears at the beginning of a word and at the beginning of a stressed syllable, while the fricative occurs elsewhere.[13][14] 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 ['b?rait] "mountain goat" and needgefal ['ne:df?l] "emergency". These cases demonstrate plosive [?] before unstressed syllables.
  • Some suffixes draw the stress onto themselves, without readjusting the allophones, e.g. hartoch ['hat] "duke" -> hartoginne [hat?'n?] "duchess". This creates cases of fricative [?] 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 /?/ is often dropped in the combination /?n/, turning the /n/ into a syllabic sonorant. The specific sonorant that arises depends on the preceding consonant so that it is labial [m?] when preceded by labial [m, p, b], alveolar [n?] when preceded by labiodental or alveolar /f, v, n, t, d, s, z, r, l/ and velar [] when preceded by velar /k, ?/.[15]

Schwa is also commonly dropped in /?l/ and /?r/, creating the syllabic sonorants [l?] and [r?], respectively. There are also some other cases.[15]

The sequences /nj, tj, sj, zj/ coalesce to [?, t?, ?, ?].

Final devoicing

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, ?/ are merged into voiceless /p, t, f, s, ?/, although final /b/ is rare.[16] 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[17][18]
Front Central Back
unrounded rounded
short long short long short long short long
Close i i: y y: u u:
Close-mid ? e: ø ø: ? o o:
Open-mid ? ?: ? ?:
Open a 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.[19][20]
  • Some speakers merge the long vowels /i:, u:/ with the centering diphthongs /i?, u?/.[21]
  • /y:/ is infrequent.[22] It and the other long close rounded vowel /u:/ are absent from the dialect of Leeuwarden.[23]
  • /ø/ is phonetically central and is quite similar to /?/. It can be treated as its stressed equivalent.[24][25] In phonemic transcription, many scholars[26] transcribe it with ⟨ø⟩, but ⟨?⟩ and ⟨?⟩ are occasionally also used.[27]
  • Although they pattern with monophthongs, the long close-mid vowels transcribed /e:, ø:, o:/ are often realized as narrow closing diphthongs [ei, øy, ou].[28][29] However, there are exceptions: for instance, speakers of the Hindeloopers dialect realize /ø:/ as a long monophthong .[23]
  • Nearly all words with /ø:/ are loanwords from Standard Dutch.[30]
  • /o:/ doesn't occur before /s/.[13]
  • Although they pattern with monophthongs, the long open-mid vowels transcribed /?:, ?:/ tend to be realized as centering diphthongs [, ].[31][32]
  • The Hindeloopers and Súdwesthoeksk dialects also feature open-mid front rounded vowels /oe, oe:/, which are not a part of the standard language.[23][33]
  • Many scholars[26] transcribe /a/ as /a/, but de Haan (2010) transcribes it as /?/.[34] Its phonetic quality has been variously described as central [19] and back .[34]
  • /a:/ is central .[34][19]


Standard West Frisian diphthongs[17][33]
Starting point Ending point
Front Central Back
Close unrounded i?
rounded y? u?
Close-mid unrounded
rounded oi ø? o?
Open-mid unrounded ?i
rounded oey ?u
Open unrounded ai
  • In Southwestern dialects, the sequences /wa, wo/ are monophthongized to short central [?, ?].[35]
  • The closeness of either of the elements of /?i/ is somewhat variable, so that its phonetic realization is [æi ~ æ? ~ ?i ~ ].[36]
  • The first element of /oey/ is more like than .[36] Many scholars[37] transcribe this sound as /øy/, Booij (1989) transcribes it as /?y/, yet this article transcribes it /oey/ to show that it is clearly distinct from the common diphthongal realization of /ø:/ (having a much lower starting point) and that it is virtually identical to /oey/ in Standard Dutch.
  • Some scholars[38] transcribe /?u/ as /?u/, yet others[39] transcribe it as /au/. Phonetically, the first element of this diphthong may be either of these, i.e. or, less often, .[40]
  • Some varieties realize /ai/ as [?i].[17] It is replaced by /?i/ in the Wood Frisian dialects.
  • Many speakers realise /a:j/ as rounded /?:j/.[36]

Rising and long diphthongs

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.[41] This view is supported by Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013) who transcribe them with consonant symbols /j?, j?, wa, wo/,[42] 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[43] 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 /a:j/ ~ aaien /'a:.j?n/
  • bliuw /bljo:w/ ~ bliuwen /'bljo:.w?n/
  • moai /mo:j/ ~ moaie /'mo:.j?/
  • iuw /i:w/ ~ iuwen /'i:.w?n/
  • bloei /blu:j/ ~ bloeie /'blu:.j?n/


Some falling diphthongs alternate with the rising ones:[17]

Falling Rising
Diphthong Orthography IPA Translation Diphthong Orthography IPA Translation
/i?/ stien /'sti?n/ 'stone' /j?/ stiennen /'stj?n?n/ 'stones'
// beam /'bm/ 'tree' /j?/ beamke /'bj?mk?/ 'little tree'
/u?/ foet /'fu?t/ 'foot' /wo/ fuotten /'fwot?n/ 'feet'
/o?/ doas /'do?s/ 'box' /wa/ doaske /'dwask?/ 'little box'
/y?/ sluere /'sly?r?/ 'to meander' /jø/ slurkje /'sljørkj?/ 'to meander softly'
  • The /y?/ - /jø/ alternation occurs only in the pair mentioned above.[17]


  1. ^ Based on the consonant table in Sipma (1913:8). The allophones [?, ?, ] 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. ^ Collins & Mees (1982), p. 7.
  9. ^ Gussenhoven (1999), p. 74.
  10. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 16-17.
  11. ^ Sipma (1913), p. 15.
  12. ^ Keil (2003), p. 7.
  13. ^ a b Hoekstra (2001), p. 86.
  14. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 15, 17.
  15. ^ a b Sipma (1913), p. 36.
  16. ^ Tiersma (1999), p. 21.
  17. ^ a b c d e Booij (1989), p. 319.
  18. ^ Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013), p. 509.
  19. ^ a b c Visser (1997), p. 14.
  20. ^ Tiersma (1999), p. 9.
  21. ^ Visser (1997), p. 24.
  22. ^ Visser (1997), p. 19.
  23. ^ a b c van der Veen (2001), p. 102.
  24. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 6, 8, 10.
  25. ^ Tiersma (1999), p. 11.
  26. ^ a b For instance Booij (1989), Tiersma (1999), van der Veen (2001), Keil (2003) and Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013).
  27. ^ ?⟩ is used by Sipma (1913) (as ⟨ö⟩, which is how it was transcribed in 1913 - see History of the International Phonetic Alphabet), whereas ⟨?⟩ is used by de Haan (2010).
  28. ^ Visser (1997), pp. 22-23.
  29. ^ Tiersma (1999), pp. 10-11.
  30. ^ Visser (1997), p. 17.
  31. ^ Tiersma (1999), p. 10.
  32. ^ Visser (1997), p. 23.
  33. ^ a b Hoekstra (2001), p. 83.
  34. ^ a b c de Haan (2010), p. 333.
  35. ^ Hoekstra (2003:202), citing Hof (1933:14)
  36. ^ a b c Tiersma (1999), p. 12.
  37. ^ For instance Tiersma (1999), Keil (2003) and Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013).
  38. ^ For instance Booij (1989), Hoekstra (2001) and Keil (2003).
  39. ^ For instance Tiersma (1999) and Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013).
  40. ^ Tiersma (1999), pp. 12, 36.
  41. ^ Booij (1989), pp. 319-320.
  42. ^ Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013), pp. 509-510.
  43. ^ http://taalportaal.org/taalportaal/topic/pid/topic-14020545859944598


  • Booij, Geert (1989). "On the representation of diphthongs in Frisian". Journal of Linguistics. 25: 319-332. JSTOR 4176008.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Collins, Beverley; Mees, Inger M. (1982), "A phonetic description of the consonant system of Standard Dutch (ABN)", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 12 (1): 2-12, doi:10.1017/S0025100300002358, JSTOR 44526677
  • de Haan, Germen J. (2010). Hoekstra, Jarich; Visser, Willem; Jensma, Goffe (eds.). Studies in West Frisian Grammar: Selected Papers by Germen J. de Haan. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. ISBN 978-90-272-5544-0. Retrieved 2017.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Gussenhoven, Carlos (1999). "Dutch". Handbook of the International Phonetic Association: A guide to the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 74-77. ISBN 0-521-65236-7. Retrieved 2020.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Hoekstra, Eric (2003). "Frisian. Standardization in progress of a language in decay" (PDF). Germanic Standardizations. Past to Present. 18. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 193-209. ISBN 978-90-272-1856-8. Archived (PDF) from the original on 30 March 2017. Retrieved 2017.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Hoekstra, Jarich (2001). "12. Standard West Frisian". In Munske, Horst Haider; Århammar, Hans (eds.). Handbook of Frisian studies. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag GmbH. pp. 83-98. ISBN 3-484-73048-X. Retrieved 2017.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Hoekstra, Jarich; Tiersma, Peter Meijes (2013) [First published 1994]. "16 Frisian". In König, Ekkehard; van der Auwera, Johan (eds.). The Germanic Languages. Routledge. pp. 505-531. ISBN 0-415-05768-X. Retrieved 2017.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Hof, Jan Jelles (1933). Friesche Dialectgeographie (PDF) (in Dutch). The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. Archived (PDF) from the original on 7 October 2016. Retrieved 2017.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Keil, Benjamin (2003). "Frisian phonology" (PDF). Los Angeles: UCLA Department of Linguistics. Archived (PDF) from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 2017.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Sipma, Pieter (1913). Phonology & grammar of modern West Frisian. London: Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2017.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Tiersma, Peter Meijes (1999) [First published 1985 in Dordrecht by Foris Publications]. Frisian Reference Grammar (2nd ed.). Leeuwarden: Fryske Akademy. ISBN 90-6171-886-4.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • van der Veen, Klaas F. (2001). "13. West Frisian Dialectology and Dialects". In Munske, Horst Haider; Århammar, Hans (eds.). Handbook of Frisian studies. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag GmbH. pp. 98-116. ISBN 3-484-73048-X. Retrieved 2017.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Visser, Willem (1997). The Syllable in Frisian (PDF) (PhD). Leiden: Holland Institute of Generative Linguistics. ISBN 90-5569-030-9. Archived (PDF) from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 2017.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

Further reading

  • 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.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • 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.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • 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 2017.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Tiersma, Peter Meijes (1983). "The nature of phonological representation: evidence from breaking in Frisian". Journal of Linguistics. 10: 59-78. JSTOR 4175665.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

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