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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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11 The progressive Dutch vowel system


11.1 Significant features In the course of the twentieth century a steadily increasing number of people came to use the standard pronunciation of ABN, causing a continuous decrease in dialectal variation in the whole Dutch speaking area. However, in the late sixties the situation changed, at least in the Netherlands. During the sociopolitical anti­ establishment climate at that time, which resulted in a permissive general attitude toward social norms in the subsequent years, several language sounds that had before been regarded as non­standard were increasingly used or tolerated in edu­ cated speech. Such sounds were able to gradually establish themselves as more or less accepted variants in the common ND standard. 11.1.1 Diphthong lowering (Polder Dutch) It was the Amsterdam linguist Jan Stroop who at the beginning of the 1990s drew attention to the salient lowering of the ABN diphthong /ɛɪ/ among well- educated speakers. Later, in a small book aimed at a general readership, he more specifically characterized these speakers as an avant-garde group comprising predominantly younger and middle­aged female artists, journalists, writers and other intellectuals, and also representatives of commerce and pop culture (Stroop 1998). Stroop observed that they not only tended to lower the prominent first part of the diphthong that is spelled , but also the prominent parts of the diphthongs which are in the present study transcribed as /œʏ/ and /ʌʊ/. In all three diphthongs the lowering is in the direction of [a] or [ɑ]. He contends that a rapidly growing number...

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