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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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8 The progressive German system

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The vocalic segments of the progressive system all differ in terms of phonetic quality. As in the English standard systems, quantity is a secondary parameter, derivable from the phonotactic dichotomy [±free]. Figure V portrays this system and includes an illustration of significant lexical incidences. In the literature a system along these lines seems to have been first proposed by Moulton (1962a); it was staunchly defended by Eisenberg (1994), and is currently propagated by Maas (22006), Neef (2005) and others. i y u ɪ ʏ ʊ e ø ə o ɛ œ ↖ɔʏ ɔ ↖aɪ ([ɐ]) ɑʊ↗ a ɑ e Zeh, stehlen, Seele, sehen, Heer, Ehre; zäh, spät, Käse, stählen, Säle, säen, Bär, Ähre a (= [a̝ ]) satt, alt, Masse, starr, warten ɑ (= [ɑ̟ ]ː) nah, Saat, rasen, waten, Star, Schar Figure V: The vowels and true diphthongs of the progressive German system and illustration of significant lexical incidences Since the system lacks the long open e-phoneme [ɛ ]ː, it includes only fifteen distinctive monophthongal segments instead of the sixteen monophthongs of the conservative system. The qualitative disparity of the a­vowels structurally imparts an abstract quadrangular shape on the whole sound model; it contrasts with the triangular conservative German system and in this respect coincides with the standard English vowel systems. Four properties commonly combine to characterize the progressive standard: (a) its speakers lack the phoneme /ɛː/, whose lexical incidences are in their speech subsumed under those of the free vowel /e/, so that word pairs like Zeh­zäh, stehlen-stählen, Seele-Säle, and Ehre-Ähre are homophones;54...

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