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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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10 The conservative Dutch vowel system


10.1 Standard pronunciation in the Netherlands and Belgium: ABN and the Taalunie Dutch is the native language of around sixteen million Dutch and six million Bel­ gian citizens. Roughly sixty percent of the inhabitants of Belgium are speakers of Dutch.62 The Belgian variety is often called Flemish (Vlaams). This is not quite appropriate because the term in its strict sense would exclude the Dutch language spoken in the northeastern parts of Belgium and in the bilingual Brussels area. During the last couple of decades separate pronunciation standards seem to have been arising in the Netherlands and in the Dutch­speaking regions of Belgium that markedly, but in terms of their phonological properties rather insignificantly, differ from each other (cf. Verhoeven 2005 and Adank et al. 2004). These major two varieties will here be referred to by the designations (standard) Belgian Dutch and Netherlandic Dutch, or BD and ND for short. The focus of the present study is on the modern pronunciation of Netherlandic Dutch. The debate over the standard language in the recent history of Dutch has centered on a normative form of the language called Algemeen Beschaafd Ned- erlands. It was in the nineteenth century that the pronunciation based on the cultivated varieties of the Holland provinces – particularly the speech of the upper classes in the big cities – had started to function as a standard norm and was spreading over much of the Netherlands. After its consolidation around 1900, this standard, which also came to embrace normative aspects of...

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