West Frisian phonology

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


The vowel inventory of West Frisian is very rich.


Standard West Frisian monophthongs[1][2][3]
Front Central Back
unrounded rounded 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

Close and mid vowels

  • /yː/ is infrequent.[4] It and the other long close rounded vowel /uː/ are absent from the dialect of Ljouwert.[5]
  • The height of /ɪ/ has been variously described as close-mid [e][6] and mid [].[7]
  • Many scholars[8] transcribe /ø/ as /ø/, but de Haan (2010) transcribes it as /ʏ/.[9] Phonetically, this vowel has been variously described as close-mid front rounded [ø][10] and close-mid central slightly rounded [ɵ̜].[7]
  • Although they pattern with monophthongs, the long close-mid vowels transcribed /eː, øː, oː/ are often realized as narrow closing diphthongs [eɪ, øʏ, oʊ].[11][12] One of the exceptions is /øː/ in the Hindeloopers dialect, which is realized as a long monophthong [øː].[5]
  • /oː/ doesn't occur before /s/.[13]
  • Although they pattern with monophthongs, the long open-mid vowels transcribed /ɛː, ɔː/ tend to be realized as centering diphthongs [ɛə, ɔə].[6][14]
  • The Hindeloopers and Súdwesthoeksk dialects also feature open-mid front rounded vowels /œ, œː/, which are not a part of the standard language.[5][15]

Open vowels

  • Many scholars[8] transcribe /a/ as /a/, but de Haan (2010) transcribes it as /ɑ/.[9] Its phonetic quality has been variously described as:
    • Slightly retracted central [ä];[16]
    • Less central than /aː/;[9]
    • Central [ä] or, more commonly, back [ɑ].[7]
  • /aː/ has been variously described as:


Standard West Frisian diphthongs[2][15]
Starting point Ending point
Front Central Back
Close unrounded (jɪ jø jɛ) iu
rounded ui yə uə (wa) (wo)
Close-mid unrounded ɪə
rounded oi oːi øə oə
Open-mid unrounded ɛi
rounded øy ɔu
Open unrounded ai aːi
  • Booij (1989) argues that the rising diphthongs /jɪ, jɛ, wa, wo/ (he also lists the rare /jø/) are in fact glide-vowel sequences, not real diphthongs.[17] This view is supported by Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013) who transcribe them as /jɪ, jɛ, wa, wo/,[18] which is the convention used in this article.
  • In Southwestern dialects, /wa, wo/ are monophthongized to short central [ɞ, ɵ].[19]
  • Phonetically, the first element of /ɛi/ can be either [ɛ] or [æ].[20]
  • Many scholars[21] transcribe /øy/ as /øy/, but Booij (1989) transcribes it as /ʌy/. According to Tiersma (1999), the first element of /øy/ is lower than the vowel /ø/[20] (i.e. more like [œ], similar to the traditional Standard Dutch pronunciation of /œy/).
  • Some scholars[22] transcribe /ɔu/ as /ɔu/, yet others[23] transcribe it as /au/. Phonetically, the first element of this diphthong may be either of these, i.e. [ɔ] or, less often, [a].[24]
  • Some varieties realize /ai/ as [ɔi].[2]
  • Many speakers round the first element of /aːi/ to [ɔː].[20]


Some falling diphthongs alternate with the rising ones:[2]

Falling Rising
Diphthong Orthography IPA Translation Diphthong Orthography IPA Translation
/iə/ stien /ˈstiən/ 'stone' /jɪ/ stiennen /ˈstjɪnən/ 'stones'
/ɪə/ beam /ˈbɪəm/ 'tree' /jɛ/ beamke /ˈbjɛmkə/ 'little tree'
/uə/ foet /ˈfuət/ 'foot' /wo/ fuotten /ˈfwotən/ 'feet'
/oə/ doas /ˈdoəs/ 'box' /wa/ doaske /ˈdwaskə/ 'little box'
/yə/ sluere /ˈslyərə/ 'to meander' /jø/ slurkje /ˈsljørkjə/ 'to meander softly'
  • The /yə/ - /jø/ alternation occurs only in the pair mentioned above.[2]


Standard West Frisian consonants[25][26]
Labial Alveolar Dorsal Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive voiceless p t k
voiced b d
Fricative voiceless f s x h
voiced v z ɣ
Trill r
Approximant l j
  • /m, p, b/ are bilabial, whereas /f, v/ are labiodental.[27]
    • /v/ has two allophones: an approximant [ʋ], which appears word-initially, and a fricative [v], which occurs elsewhere.[28]
  • /t, d, s, z, r/ are apical alveolar [, , , . ].[29]
    • In some cases, /d/ alternates with /r/.[30]
    • /r/ is silent before other alveolar consonants.[30][31] An exception to this rule are recent loanwords from Standard Dutch (e.g. sport), which may or may not be pronounced with [r].[32]
  • /ŋ, k, x, ɣ/ are velar, whereas /j/ is palatal.[33]
    • /ɣ/ has two allophones: a plosive [ɡ], which appears word-initially and syllable-initially (the latter only when stressed), and a fricative [ɣ], which occurs elsewhere.[13][34]
  • The syllabic sonorants [m̩, n̩, ŋ̍, l̩, r̩] occur in the following circumstances:
    • In the ending ⟨en⟩, which in careful speech is pronounced [ən]:[35]
      • It is realized as [m̩] when preceded by /m, p, b/.[35]
      • It is realized as [n̩] when preceded by /f, v, n, t, d, s, z, r, l/.[35]
      • It is realized as [ŋ̍] when preceded by /k, x, ɣ/.[35]
    • In the endings ⟨el⟩ and ⟨er⟩ (in careful speech: [əl] and [ər], respectively), which after consonants are realized as [l̩] and [r̩], respectively.[35]
    • In some other cases. See Sipma (1913:36) for more information.
    • /j/ and the [ʋ] allophone of /v/ are the only sonorants which cannot be syllabic.
  • The sequence /nj/ coalesces to [ɲ].
  • Glottal stop [ʔ] may precede word-initial vowels. In careful speech, it may also occur between unstressed and stressed vowel or diphthong.[36]
  • Among fricatives, neither /x/ nor any of the voiced fricatives can occur word-initially.[37]
  • /l/ is velarized [ɫ] in all environments except before the close front vowels /i, iː, y, yː/, where it is realized as clear [l].

Final devoicing

Word-final /b, d/ are realized as voiceless [p, t] in all dialects except Amelansk.[38] Note, however, that final /b/ is rare,[39] and that in loanwords from Standard Dutch, final /ɣ/ can also appear, and is also devoiced to [x].


  1. Sipma (1913), p. 8.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Booij (1989), p. 319.
  3. Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013), p. 509.
  4. Visser (1997), p. 19.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 van der Veen (2001), p. 102.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Tiersma (1999), p. 10.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Sipma (1913), p. 10.
  8. 8.0 8.1 For instance Booij (1989), Tiersma (1999), van der Veen (2001), Keil (2003) and Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013).
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 de Haan (2010), p. 333.
  10. Tiersma (1999), p. 11.
  11. Visser (1997), pp. 22–23.
  12. Tiersma (1999), pp. 10–11.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Hoekstra (2001), p. 86.
  14. Visser (1997), p. 23.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Hoekstra (2001), p. 83.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Visser (1997), p. 14.
  17. Booij (1989), pp. 319–320.
  18. Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013), pp. 509–510.
  19. Hoekstra (2003:202), citing Hof (1933:14)
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Tiersma (1999), p. 12.
  21. For instance Tiersma (1999), Keil (2003) and Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013).
  22. For instance Booij (1989), Hoekstra (2001) and Keil (2003).
  23. For instance Tiersma (1999) and Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013).
  24. Tiersma (1999), pp. 12, 36.
  25. Based on the consonant table in Sipma (1913:8). The allophones [ɲ, ɡ, β̞] are not included.
  26. Hoekstra (2001), p. 84.
  27. Sipma (1913), pp. 8, 15–16.
  28. Keil (2003), p. 7.
  29. Sipma (1913), pp. 14–16.
  30. 30.0 30.1 Keil (2003), p. 8.
  31. Tiersma (1999), pp. 28–29.
  32. Tiersma (1999), p. 29.
  33. Sipma (1913), pp. 8, 15–17.
  34. Sipma (1913), pp. 15, 17.
  35. 35.0 35.1 35.2 35.3 35.4 Sipma (1913), p. 36.
  36. Sipma (1913), p. 15.
  37. Sipma (1913), pp. 16–17.
  38. van der Veen (2001), p. 104.
  39. Tiersma (1999), p. 21.


  • Booij, Geert (1989), "On the representation of diphthongs in Frisian", Journal of Linguistics, 25: 319–332, JSTOR 4176008<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • 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<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • 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<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hoekstra, Jarich (2003), "Frisian. Standardization in progress of a language in decay", Germanic Standardizations. Past to Present (PDF), 18, Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, pp. 193–209, ISBN 978-90-272-1856-8<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hoekstra, Jarich; Tiersma, Peter Meijes (2013) [First published 1994], "16 Frisian", in van der Auwera, Johan; König, Ekkehard (eds.), The Germanic Languages, Routledge, pp. 505–531, ISBN 0-415-05768-X<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hof, Jan Jelles (1933), Friesche Dialectgeographie (PDF), The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Keil, Benjamin (2003), Frisian phonology (PDF)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Sipma, Pieter (1913), Phonology & grammar of modern West Frisian, London: Oxford University Press<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Tiersma, Peter Meijes (1999) [First published 1985 in Dordrecht by Foris Publications], Frisian Reference Grammar (2nd ed.), Ljouwert: Fryske Akademy, ISBN 90-6171-886-4<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • 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<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Visser, Willem (1997), The Syllable in Frisian (PDF), Leiden: Holland Institute of Generative Linguistics, ISBN 90-5569-030-9<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Fokkema, Klaas (1961), "Consonantgroepen in de Zuidwesthoek van Friesland", in Heeroma, Klaas Hanzen; Fokkema, Klaas (eds.), Structuurgeografie, Amsterdam: Noord-Hollandsche Uitg. Mij., pp. 16–26<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Heeringa, Wilbert (2005), "Dialect variation in and around Frisia: classification and relationships" (PDF), Us Wurk, tydskrift foar Frisistyk, 3–4: 125–167<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Tiersma, Peter Meijes (1983), "The nature of phonological representation: evidence from breaking in Frisian", Journal of Linguistics, 10: 59–78, JSTOR 4175665<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>