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|Sound change and alternation|
Final-obstruent devoicing or terminal devoicing is a systematic phonological process occurring in languages such as German, Dutch, Russian, Turkish, and Wolof. In such languages, voiced obstruents become voiceless before voiceless consonants and in pausa.
In the southern varieties of German, the contrast between homorganic obstruents is rather an opposition of fortis and lenis than an opposition of voiceless and voiced sounds. Therefore, the term devoicing may be misleading, since voice is only an optional feature of German lenis obstruents. Likewise, the German term for the phenomenon, Auslautverhärtung, does not refer to a loss of voice and is better translated as 'final hardening'. However, the German phenomenon is similar to the final devoicing in other languages in that the opposition between two different kinds of obstruents disappears at the ends of words. The German varieties of the north, and many pronunciations of Standard German, do distinguish voiced and voiceless obstruents however.
Some examples from German include:
|Bad [baːt]||bath||Bäder [ˈbɛːdɐ]||red! [ʁeːt]||talk!||reden [ˈʁeːdn̩]|
|Maus [maʊ̯s]||mouse||Mäuse [ˈmɔʏ̯zə]||lies! [liːs]||read!||lesen [ˈleːzn̩]|
|Raub [ʁaʊ̯p]||robbery||Raube [ˈʁaʊ̯bə]||reib! [ʁaɪ̯p]||rub!||reiben [ˈʁaɪ̯bn̩]|
|Zug [t͡suːk]||train||Züge [ˈt͡syːɡə]||sag! [zaːk]||say!||sagen [ˈzaːɡn̩]|
|Fünf [fʏɱf]||five||Fünfen [ˈfʏɱvn̩]|
In Dutch and Afrikaans, terminal devoicing results in homophones such as hard 'hard' and hart 'heart' as well as differences in consonant sounds between the singular and plural forms of nouns, for example golf-golven (Dutch) and golf-golwe (Afrikaans) for 'wave-waves'.
The history of the devoicing phenomenon within the West Germanic languages is not entirely clear but the discovery of a runic inscription from the early fifth century that shows devoicing suggests that its origins are Frankish. Of the old West Germanic languages, Old Dutch, a descendant of Frankish, is the earliest to show any kind of devoicing, and final devoicing had also occurred in Frankish-influenced Old French.
Final-obstruent devoicing can lead to the neutralization of phonemic contrasts in certain environments. For example, Russian бес ('demon', phonemically /bʲes/) and без ('without', phonemically /bʲez/) are pronounced identically in isolation as [bʲes].
The presence of this process in Russian is also the source of the seemingly variant transliterations of Russian names into "-off" (Russian: -ов), especially by the French.
English does not have phonological final-obstruent devoicing of the type that neutralizes phonemic contrasts; thus pairs like bad and bat are distinct in all major accents of English. Nevertheless voiced obstruents are devoiced to some extent in final position in English, especially when phrase-final or when followed by a voiceless consonant (for example, bad cat [bæd̥ kʰæt]).
Differences between languages
Devoicing is lexicalized in some languages, purely phonological in others. In Dutch, for example, words that are devoiced in isolation retain that final devoicing when they are part of a compound: badwater "bath water" has a voiceless /t/, like bad "bath" does by itself, though the plural baden "baths" has a voiced /d/. Similarly, avondzon "evening sun" has /ts/, though avonden "evenings" has /d/. In contrast, Slovene does not do this: Voicing depends solely on position and on assimilation with adjacent consonants.
Languages with final-obstruent devoicing
All modern continental West Germanic languages developed final devoicing, the earliest evidence appearing in Old Dutch around the 9th or 10th century. Gothic (an East Germanic language) also developed final devoicing independently.
- Dutch (also Old and Middle Dutch)
- Old and Middle English (for fricatives)
- German and varieties (also Middle High German)
- Gothic (for fricatives)
- Limburgish (for z, g and v)
- Low German (also Middle Low German)
Of the North Germanic languages Danish, the closest to German, has final devoicing, while Norwegian and Swedish do not. Icelandic devoices all stops completely, but still has word-final voiced fricatives.
- Old French (preserved in certain Modern French inflections such as -if vs. -ive)
- Serbo-Croatian (Kajkavian and Čakavian dialects)
- Armenian (for stops)
- Cypriot Greek as opposed to Standard Modern Greek
- Georgian (for stops)
- Korean (nuanced; see Korean phonology)
- Marshallese (in common articulation only; there is no phonemic contrast between voiceless and voiced obstruents)
- Mongolian
- Tok Pisin
- Turkish (for stops)
Note: Hungarian, which lies geographically between Germanic and Slavic languages, does not have it.
- Brockhaus, Wiebke. (1995) Final Devoicing in the Phonology of German. Max Niemeyer Verlag.
- Crowley, Terry. (1997) An Introduction to Historical Linguistics. 3rd edition. Oxford University Press.
- B. Mees, The Bergakker inscription and the beginnings of Dutch, in: Amsterdamer beiträge zur älteren Germanistik: Band 56- 2002, edited by Erika Langbroek, Annelies Roeleveld, Paula Vermeyden, Arend Quak, Published by Rodopi, 2002, ISBN 90-420-1579-9, ISBN 978-90-420-1579-1
- In Middle High as opposed to Modern German, devoicing is represented in writing, thus Kriemhilt is the shortened form of Kriemhilde.
- Final Devoicing or 'Why does <naoi> sound like <naoich>?' – explanation of devoicing with regard to Scottish Gaelic
- Final Devoicing – extract (with illustrative audio clips) from Peter Ladefoged's A Course in Phonetics
- Final Devoicing – from The Talking Map | Tips for pronunciation