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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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7 The conservative German vowel system


7.1 Standard pronunciation in Germany, Austria and Switzerland It is assumed that worldwide more than 120 million people speak German as a native language, which places it among the ten languages with the highest number of speakers (Göttert 2010: 353, DA 2009, p. 1). In contrast to the situation holding for English, there are some indications in the major German­speaking countries Germany, Austria and Switzerland that a common standard of spoken language counts as a desirable and attainable objective of their cultural policies. There also seems to be overwhelming agreement that such a standard should be close to a form of German that historically has its origin and is naturally spoken in the north of Germany. To date, only Germany can boast a standard pronuncia­ tion which is exhaustively codified in comprehensive dictionaries: DUDEN: Aus- sprachewörterbuch (DUA, 62005) and Deutsches Aussprachewörterbuch (DA, 2009), which supersedes Großes Wörterbuch der deutschen Aussprache (GWDA, 1982). The phonetic codification in the latter two dictionaries incorporates the results of many empirical investigations that were carried out on actual language use in the electronic mass media (especially newscasts and talk shows). The old standard pronouncing dictionary by Theodor Siebs Deutsche Bühnenaussprache – Hochsprache (131922), which was based on an earlier book from the year 1898 and whose last edition appeared as Siebs: Deutsche Aussprache (191969), nowa­ days appears to be rather dated. It is not insignificant for this erstwhile authorita­ tive and indirectly still influential dictionary that its author was...

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