Variation in Norm
14 Epilogue: The recent developments and their external causes
With this rather lengthy treatise on a phonological subcomponent of English, German, and Dutch I’ve endeavored to meet three objectives when I presented a comparative study of standard vowel systems, placed the crosslinguistic accounts in a larger typological context, and along the way argued that each of the four standard varieties of modern AmE, BrE, German, and Dutch exhibits a conserva tive and a progressive vowel system. The account establishing this claim may be summarized as follows: the two competing vowel systems in AmE and German involve radical phonological changes such as phoneme mergers, resulting in the loss of /ɔ(ː )/ in AmE and /ɛː/ in German; moreover, the two vowel systems of German mark the shift from a triangular to a quadrangular form and simultane ously the transition from a phonology with a primary vowel length parameter to one in which vowel length is a secondary parameter; otherwise the vocalic developments encompassed by the competing systems of each language and their associated accents are – apart from minor differences in the lexical incidence of specific vowels – essentially subphonemic, i.e. non-distinctive, phonetic changes and furthermore trends in the application of rules that affect or generate vocalic sounds. Most remarkable here are the phonetic lowering of the phoneme /æ/ in BrE, the lowering of the systemic diphthongs /æɪ, œʏ, ʌʊ/ in Dutch, and in German the qualitative differentiation of the low vowels /a/ and /aː/ into /a/ and /ɑ(ː )/, plus the expanding formation of rdiphthongs and the extension...
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