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Standard Vowel Systems of English, German, and Dutch

Variation in Norm

Ernst-August Müller

This is the first book-length study that, from a typological perspective, deals with the latest phonological changes which have affected the spoken standards of the three major West Germanic languages and offers a uniform theoretical analysis of the phenomena. It is primarily intended for professional linguists, but is also geared toward language instructors and students who want to acquaint themselves with these mainly vocalic developments in the pronunciation norms. The study is empirically grounded in personal auditory observations, which in many instances, however, have been verified elsewhere by instrumental acoustic evidence. For each of the three languages, including the American and British English standards, two vowel systems are described and explained: a conventional and slightly dated system, certain features of which younger speakers are inclined to consider somewhat stilted or outmoded, and a more modern and progressive system that incorporates substantive changes and seems to be favored by younger speakers. While a hypothesis is briefly put forward on the common sociopolitical causes of the recent changes, the main phonological finding relates to the role of vowel quantity. In the progressive systems of the three languages, segmental vowel length proves to be a secondary phonological parameter correlating with a specific phonotactic property of the sound.


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4 The conservative British vowel system


The conservative British vowel system underlies the familiar, regionally unmarked accent described in Cruttenden 62001, Roach 2004, and a host of other, mostly pedagogically oriented publications. Its designation Received Pronuncia­ tion is these days generally avoided because of the rather unfavorable connota­ tions of social elitisms which are often associated with it; other names such as BBC English, BBC accent or Standard (Southern) British English are preferred. As with the conservative American system, the attribute “conservative” is here meant to imply ‘long established’ and ‘minimally innovative’, so that this accent is identical or close to what has been called General RP, Mainstream RP, or Tra­ ditional RP (Cruttenden 62001: 80–81, Upton: 2004: 219). This established prestige accent is non-rhotic. In it the consonant [ɹ] is under tight distributional restriction: it only occurs in pre-vocalic position, i.e. in syl­ lable onsets, but not in syllable rhymes. Nonetheless, I shall assume a fully rhotic underlying base for this accent, thus advocating a linguistic approach where rhotic phonological structures in BrE undergo synchronic rules that mirror his­ torical processes in synchrony. I deem such an approach appropriate for various reasons. It draws its strongest support from the phenomenon of linking­r, which is characteristic of this accent, i.e. the surfacing of /ɹ/ in front of vowels and its alternation with Ø in connected speech and word formation. The alternation can be illustrated by the ca[ɹ] is old – the caø stopped, ca[ɹ] owneøs – caø pool, secu[ɹ]e accommodation – secuøe jobs – secu[ɹ]ity....

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