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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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5 The progressive British vowel system


The last vowel inventory we are going to consider for English does not constitute a system in its own right. Structurally it is identical to the previous one; no sys­ temic changes like the loss or addition of a phoneme, but only subphonemic, i.e. allophonic and implementational differences characterize the progressive British pronunciation of vowels. Thus its underlying phonemic system is likewise repre­ sented by Figure III above. Almost all the rules and conventions which are listed as (11) through (17) also apply to this form of accent. In the standard language a number of phonetic shifts and changes have occurred over recent decades or are currently underway in the speech of pre­ dominantly younger, but also middle­aged British speakers. Their effects will be the essential ingredients of a British accent of the future. The features of such an accent are not so much those of what is known as Estuary English, a social speech form, which has emerged in the southeast of England and seems likely to retain a limited geographical distribution (cf. Cruttenden 72008: 79, 87, Przedlacka 2002, Altendorf 2003), but they generally are widespread traits characteristic of the subtypes of Received Pronunciation which have been called Regional or Near­ RP; they are non­salient, relatively unobtrusive features of a regional origin. The more liberal and tolerant attitude toward dialectal deviations and speech forms that can be observed for Great Britain (and other English­speaking countries) over the last few decades appears to have paved the way...

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