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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]
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.[3][4]
  • Some speakers merge the long vowels /iː, uː/ with the centering diphthongs /iə̯, uə̯/.[5]
  • /yː/ is infrequent.[6] It and the other long close rounded vowel /uː/ are absent from the dialect of Leeuwarden.[7]
  • /ø/ is phonetically central [ɵ] and is quite similar to /ə/. It can be treated as its stressed equivalent.[8][9] In phonemic transcription, many scholars[10] transcribe it with ⟨ø⟩, but ⟨ɵ⟩ and ⟨ʏ⟩ are occasionally also used.[11]
  • Although they pattern with monophthongs, the long close-mid vowels transcribed /eː, øː, oː/ are often realized as narrow closing diphthongs [ei̯, øy̑, ou̯].[12][13] However, there are exceptions: for instance, speakers of the Hindeloopers dialect realize /øː/ as a long monophthong [øː].[7]
  • Nearly all words with /øː/ are loanwords from Standard Dutch.[14]
  • /oː/ doesn't occur before /s/.[15]
  • Although they pattern with monophthongs, the long open-mid vowels transcribed /ɛː, ɔː/ tend to be realized as centering diphthongs [ɛə̯, ɔə̯].[16][17]
  • The Hindeloopers and Súdwesthoeksk dialects also feature open-mid front rounded vowels /œ, œː/, which are not a part of the standard language.[7][18]
  • Many scholars[10] transcribe /a/ as /a/, but de Haan (2010) transcribes it as /ɑ/.[19] Its phonetic quality has been variously described as central [ä][3] and back [ɑ].[19]
  • /aː/ is central [äː].[19][3]


Standard West Frisian diphthongs[1][18]
Starting point Ending point
Front Central Back
Close unrounded (jɪ jø jɛ) iə̯ iu̯
rounded ui̯ yə̯ uə̯ (wa) (wo)
Close-mid unrounded ɪə̯
rounded oi̯ oːi̯ øə̯ oə̯
Open-mid unrounded ɛi̯
rounded œy̑ ɔu̯
Open unrounded ai̯ aːi̯
  • 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.[20] This view is supported by Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013) who transcribe them as /jɪ, jɛ, wa, wo/,[21] which is the convention used in this article.
  • In Southwestern dialects, /wa, wo/ are monophthongized to short central [ɞ, ɵ].[22]
  • The closeness of either of the elements of /ɛi̯/ is somewhat variable, so that its phonetic realization is [æi̯ ~ æɪ̯ ~ ɛi̯ ~ ɛɪ̯].[23]
  • The first element of /œy̑/ is more like [œ] than [ø].[23] Many scholars[24] 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[25] transcribe /ɔu̯/ as /ɔu̯/, yet others[26] transcribe it as /au̯/. Phonetically, the first element of this diphthong may be either of these, i.e. [ɔ] or, less often, [a].[27]
  • Some varieties realize /ai̯/ as [ɔi̯].[1]
  • Many speakers round the first element of /aːi̯/ to [ɔː].[23]


Some falling diphthongs alternate with the rising ones:[1]

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.[1]


Standard West Frisian consonants[28][29]
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.[30]
    • /v/ has two allophones: an approximant [ʋ], which appears word-initially, and a fricative [v], which occurs elsewhere.[31]
    • In some cases, /d/ alternates with /r/.[32]
    • /r/ does not occur before other alveolar consonants.[32][33] An exception to this rule are recent loanwords from Standard Dutch (e.g. sport), which may or may not be pronounced with [r].[34]
  • /ŋ, k, x, ɣ/ are velar, whereas /j/ is palatal.[35]
    • /ɣ/ has two allophones: a plosive [ɡ], which appears at the beginning of a word and at the beginning of a stressed syllable, and a fricative [ɣ], which occurs elsewhere.[15][36]
  • The syllabic sonorants [m̩, n̩, ŋ̍, l̩, r̩] occur in the following circumstances:
    • In the ending ⟨en⟩, which in careful speech is pronounced [ən]:[37]
      • It is realized as [m̩] when preceded by /m, p, b/.[37]
      • It is realized as [n̩] when preceded by /f, v, n, t, d, s, z, r, l/.[37]
      • It is realized as [ŋ̍] when preceded by /k, x, ɣ/.[37]
    • In the endings ⟨el⟩ and ⟨er⟩ (in careful speech: [əl] and [ər], respectively), which after consonants are realized as [l̩] and [r̩], respectively.[37]
    • 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 sequences /nj, tj, sj, zj/ coalesce to [ɲ, , ɕ, ʑ].
  • Glottal stop [ʔ] may precede word-initial vowels. In careful speech, it may also occur between unstressed and stressed vowel or diphthong.[38]
  • Among fricatives, neither /x/ nor any of the voiced fricatives can occur word-initially.[39]
  • /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 devoicingEdit

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[40]. 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⟩.


  1. ^ a b c d e Booij (1989), p. 319.
  2. ^ Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013), p. 509.
  3. ^ a b c Visser (1997), p. 14.
  4. ^ Tiersma (1999), p. 9.
  5. ^ Visser (1997), p. 24.
  6. ^ Visser (1997), p. 19.
  7. ^ a b c van der Veen (2001), p. 102.
  8. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 6, 8, 10.
  9. ^ Tiersma (1999), p. 11.
  10. ^ a b For instance Booij (1989), Tiersma (1999), van der Veen (2001), Keil (2003) and Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013).
  11. ^ 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).
  12. ^ Visser (1997), pp. 22–23.
  13. ^ Tiersma (1999), pp. 10–11.
  14. ^ Visser (1997), p. 17.
  15. ^ a b Hoekstra (2001), p. 86.
  16. ^ Tiersma (1999), p. 10.
  17. ^ Visser (1997), p. 23.
  18. ^ a b Hoekstra (2001), p. 83.
  19. ^ a b c de Haan (2010), p. 333.
  20. ^ Booij (1989), pp. 319–320.
  21. ^ Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013), pp. 509–510.
  22. ^ Hoekstra (2003:202), citing Hof (1933:14)
  23. ^ a b c Tiersma (1999), p. 12.
  24. ^ For instance Tiersma (1999), Keil (2003) and Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013).
  25. ^ For instance Booij (1989), Hoekstra (2001) and Keil (2003).
  26. ^ For instance Tiersma (1999) and Hoekstra & Tiersma (2013).
  27. ^ Tiersma (1999), pp. 12, 36.
  28. ^ Based on the consonant table in Sipma (1913:8). The allophones [ɲ, ɡ, β̞] are not included.
  29. ^ Hoekstra (2001), p. 84.
  30. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 8, 15–16.
  31. ^ Keil (2003), p. 7.
  32. ^ a b Keil (2003), p. 8.
  33. ^ Tiersma (1999), pp. 28–29.
  34. ^ Tiersma (1999), p. 29.
  35. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 8, 15–17.
  36. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 15, 17.
  37. ^ a b c d e Sipma (1913), p. 36.
  38. ^ Sipma (1913), p. 15.
  39. ^ Sipma (1913), pp. 16–17.
  40. ^ Tiersma (1999), p. 21.


  • Booij, Geert (1989). "On the representation of diphthongs in Frisian". Journal of Linguistics. 25: 319–332. JSTOR 4176008.
  • 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 30 March 2017.
  • 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 30 March 2017.
  • Hoekstra, Jarich (2001). "12. Standard West Frisian". In Munske, Horst Haider; Århammar, Hans. Handbook of Frisian studies. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag GmbH. pp. 83–98. ISBN 3-484-73048-X. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  • Hoekstra, Jarich; Tiersma, Peter Meijes (2013) [First published 1994]. "16 Frisian". In König, Ekkehard; van der Auwera, Johan. The Germanic Languages. Routledge. pp. 505–531. ISBN 0-415-05768-X. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  • Hof, Jan Jelles (1933). Friesche Dialectgeographie (PDF) (in Dutch). The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. Archived (PDF) from the original on 7 October 2016. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  • Keil, Benjamin (2003). "Frisian phonology" (PDF). Los Angeles: UCLA Department of Linguistics. Archived (PDF) from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  • Sipma, Pieter (1913). Phonology & grammar of modern West Frisian. London: Oxford University Press. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  • 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.
  • van der Veen, Klaas F. (2001). "13. West Frisian Dialectology and Dialects". In Munske, Horst Haider; Århammar, Hans. Handbook of Frisian studies. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag GmbH. pp. 98–116. ISBN 3-484-73048-X. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  • 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 30 March 2017.

Further readingEdit

  • 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. 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.