The consonant inventory of Luxembourgish is quite similar to that of Standard German.
Fortis /p t k/ are aspirated in most positions, and lenis /b d ɡ/ are often voiceless. Luxembourgish features final-obstruent devoicing; voiced stops are devoiced in coda position, unless resyllabified. In addition, resyllabified fortis stops are subject to voicing if followed by a vowel, e.g. eng interessant Iddi [eŋ intʀæˈsɑnd‿ˈidi] "an interesting idea".
The affricate /p͡f/ is non-native to Luxembourgish and occurs only in words of German origin. Just as among many native German-speakers, it tends to be simplified to [f] word-initially. For example, Pflicht ("obligation") is pronounced [fliɕt], or in careful speech [p͡fliɕt].
[ɕ] and [ʑ] are allophones of /χ/ and /ʁ/, respectively; /χ ʁ/ occur before back vowels, and the allophones in all other positions. Speakers increasingly do not distinguish between postalveolar and alveolo-palatal fricatives.
[w] is an allophone of /v/ after /k t͡s ʃ/, e.g. zwee [t͡sweː] "two". [ʒ] may replace /j/ in some instances, e.g. Juni [ˈjuːniː] or [ˈʒuːniː] "June".
In external sandhi, syllable-final /n/ is deleted unless followed by [n t d t͡s h], with few exceptions. Furthermore, some unusual consonant clusters may arise post-lexically after cliticisation of the definite article d' (for feminine, neuter and plural forms), e.g. d'Land [dlɑnt] "the country" or d'Kräiz [tkʀæːɪ̯t͡s] "the cross".
Pronunciation of the letter g
In Luxembourgish, the letter g has no fewer than nine possible pronunciations, depending both on the origin of a word and the phonetic environment of g. By the now very common mergers of [ʒ] and [ʑ], as well as [ʃ] and [ɕ], this number may be reduced to seven, however. The pronunciation [j] is also (generally) not obligatory but a common allophone of [ʑ] in the environment indicated below.
IPA Applies in Phonetic environment Example IPA Meaning g native and German words stem-initially géi gɜɪ̯ go g few German words stem-internally Drogen ˈdʀoːgən drugs g French words stem-initially and internally before written a, o, u, or consonant Negatioun negɑˈsjəʊ̯n negation k French and few German words word-finally Drog dʀoːk drug ʒ French words stem-initially and internally before written e or i originell oʀiʒiˈnæl original ʃ French words word-finally before mute e Plage plaːʃ beach ʑ native and most German words stem-internally after consonants and front or central vowels except [aː] Verfügung fɐˈfyːʑuŋ disposal ɕ native and most German words word-finally after consonants and front or central vowels except [aː] bëlleg ˈbələɕ cheap ʁ native and most German words stem-internally after back vowels and [aː] Lager ˈlaːʁɐ store χ native and most German words word-finally after back vowels and [aː] Dag daːχ day j native and most German words in the unstressed sequences [əjə] and [əjɐ] bëllegen ˈbələjən cheap [inflected]
Luxembourgish has eleven vowel monophthong phonemes: /i, iː, u, uː, o, oː, e, eː, æ, aː, ɑ/.
/aː/ is the long variant of /ɑ/. /æ/ doesn't have a long variant.
- Native monophthong phonemes
- /i, iː/ are close front unrounded [i, iː].
- /u, uː/ are close back rounded [u, uː].
- /e/ has two allophones:
- /eː/ has been variously described as near-close front unrounded [e̝ː] and close-mid front unrounded [eː]. The near-close realization may overlap with /i/.
- /o/ is close-mid back rounded [o], but for some speakers it may be open-mid [ɔ]. This is especially frequent before /ʀ/.
- /oː/ has been variously described as near-close back rounded [o̝ː] and close-mid back rounded [oː]. The near-close realization may overlap with /u/.
- /æ/ has been variously described as slightly lowered near-open front unrounded [æ̞] and near-open front unrounded [æ].
- /aː/ has been variously described as slightly retracted open front unrounded [aː] and open front unrounded [aː]. Sometimes it may have the same quality as the short /æ/.
- /ɑ/ has been variously described as near-open back unrounded [ɑ̝] and open near-back unrounded [ɑ̟].
- The sequence /əʀ/ is realized as a low unrounded vowel, the quality of which has been variously described as near-open near-back vowel [ɐ̠] and near-open central vowel [ɐ].
Luxembourgish has eight diphthong phonemes: /iə, uə, ɜɪ, əʊ, æːɪ, æːʊ, ɑɪ, ɑʊ/. Long vowels in diphthongs may be pronounced short in fast speech and in unstressed position. Additional diphthongs arise after vocalisation of /ʀ/.
- Native diphthong phonemes
- /iə/ begins in the close front unrounded area [i], ends in the mid central unrounded area [ə].
- /uə/ begins in the close back rounded area [u], ends in the mid central unrounded area [ə].
- /ɜɪ/ begins in the mid near-front unrounded area [e̽], ends in the close front unrounded area [i]. The starting point has also been described as close-mid front [e].
- /əʊ/ begins in the mid central unrounded area [ə], ends in the close back rounded area [u].
- /æːɪ/ begins open front unrounded area [a], ends in the close front unrounded area [i]. The starting point has also been described as somewhat higher, i.e. near-open [æ].
- /æːʊ/ begins in the open front unrounded area [a], ends in the close back rounded area [u]. The starting point has also been described as somewhat higher, i.e. near-open [æ].
- /ɑɪ/ begins in the near-open back unrounded area [ɑ̝], ends in the close front unrounded area [i]. The starting point has also been described as somewhat lower, i.e. open [ɑ].
- /ɑʊ/ begins in the near-open back unrounded area [ɑ̝], ends in the close back rounded area [u]. The starting point has also been described as somewhat lower, i.e. open [ɑ].
Non-native vowel phonemes
Eight additional vowel phonemes occur: /yː, y, øː, œː, œ, oɪ, ɛ̃ː, ɑ̃ː, õː/ in loanwords from German and French. Although they are absent in the originally Luxembourgish vocabulary and therefore relatively infrequent, nearly all speakers distinguish these phonemes.
Note that the letter é is today pronounced like ë before -ch. The ostensibly inconsistent spelling é is based on the traditional, now widely obsolete pronunciation of -ch as a palatal /ç/. As this is a relatively backward consonant, it triggered the use of allophone /e/ as before velar consonants (/k/, /ŋ/). Since the more forward alveo-palatal /ɕ/ has replaced /ç/ in almost all speakers, the allophone /ə/ is used as before any non-velar consonant. So the word mécht ("[he] makes"), which is now pronounced /məɕt/, used to be pronounced /meçt/, and this is the reason for its spelling. (One might now change the orthography to mëcht, but this is non-standard as yet.)
- Gilles, Peter; Trouvain, Jürgen (2013), "Luxembourgish" (PDF), Journal of the International Phonetic Association 43 (1): 67–74, doi:10.1017/S0025100312000278
- Trouvain, Jürgen; Gilles, Peter (2009), PhonLaf - Phonetic Online Material for Luxembourgish as a Foreign Language 1 (PDF), pp. 74–77