Luxembourgish phonology

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This article aims to describe the phonology and phonetics of central Luxembourgish, which is regarded as the emerging standard.[1]


The consonant inventory of Luxembourgish is quite similar to that of Standard German.[1]

Consonant phonemes of Luxembourgish[1]
Labial Alveolar Postalveolar Dorsal Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive fortis p t k
lenis b d ɡ
Affricate fortis (p͡f) t͡s t͡ʃ
lenis (d͡z) (d͡ʒ)
Fricative fortis f s ʃ χ h
lenis v z ʒ ʁ
Trill ʀ
Approximant l j
  • /m, p, b/ are bilabial, /p͡f/ is bilabial-labiodental, whereas /f, v/ are labiodental.[1]
    • /p͡f/ occurs only in loanwords from Standard German.[2] 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].
    • /v/ is realized as [w] when it occurs after /k, t͡s, ʃ/, e.g. zwee [t͡sweː] ('two').[3]
  • /p, t, k/ are voiceless fortis [p, t, k]. They are aspirated [pʰ, tʰ, kʰ] in most positions,[4] but not when /s/ or /ʃ/ precedes in the same syllable, or when another plosive or affricate follows.
  • /b, d, ɡ/ are unaspirated lenis, more often voiceless [, , ɡ̊] than voiced [b, d, ɡ].[4][are the lenis affricates /d͡z, d͡ʒ/ also voiceless?]
  • /d͡z/ as a phoneme appears only in a few words, such as spadséieren /ʃpɑˈd͡zɜɪ̯eʀen/ ('to go for a walk'). /d͡ʒ/ as a phoneme occurs only in loanwords from English.[2]
    • Note that phonetic [d͡z] and [d͡ʒ] occur due to voicing of word-final /t͡s/ and /t͡ʃ/; see below.
  • /s/ does not occur word-initially except in French and English loanwords. (In the oldest loans from French it is often replaced with /t͡s/.) /s/ and /z/ only contrast between vowels.
  • /ŋ, k, ɡ/ are velar, /ʀ/ is uvular, whereas /j/ is palatal.[1]
    • The normal realization of /ʀ/ is more often a trill [ʀ] than a fricative [ʁ]. The fricative variant is used after short vowels before consonants. If the consonant is voiceless, the fricative is also voiceless, i.e. [χ]. Older speakers use the consonantal variant [ʀ ~ ʁ] also in the word-final position, where younger speakers tend to vocalize the /ʀ/ to a central vowel [ə] or [ɐ].[4]
    • /j/ is frequently realized as [ʒ], e.g. Juni [ˈjuːniː] or [ˈʒuːniː] ('June').[3]
  • /χ, ʁ/ have two types of allophones: alveolo-palatal [ɕ, ʑ] and uvular [χ, ʁ]. The latter occur after back vowels, whereas the former occur in all other positions.[4]
    • The [ʑ] allophone appears only in a few words intervocalically, e.g. Spigel [ˈʃpiʑəl] ('mirror'), héijen [ˈhɜɪ̯ʑən] (inflected form of héich 'high'). Note that an increasing number of speakers do not distinguish between the alveolo-palatal allophones [ɕ, ʑ] and the postalveolar phonemes /ʃ, ʒ/.[5]
  • /l/ is always "clear" [l], never "dark" (velarized) *[ɫ].

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').[2] Due to cluster simplification this article often disappears entirely between consonants.

Word-final obstruents[edit]

Phonetically, word-final /b, d, d͡ʒ, ɡ, v, z, ʒ, ʁ/ are realized exactly the same as /p, t, t͡ʃ, k, f, s, ʃ, χ/. In most cases, they are realized the same as the main allophones of /p, t, t͡ʃ, k, f, s, ʃ, χ/ (i.e. voiceless), but when the next word begins with a vowel and is pronounced without a pause, they are realized the same as the main allophones of /b, d, d͡ʒ, ɡ, v, z, ʒ, ʁ/, i.e. voiced and are resyllabified, that is, moved to the onset of the first syllable of the next word (the same happens with /ts/, which becomes [d͡z], and the non-native affricate /p͡f/, which is also voiced to [b͡v]). For instance, sech eens (phonemically /zeχ ˈeːns/) is pronounced [zəˈʑeːns],[6] although this article transcribes it [zəʑ‿ˈeːns] so that it corresponds more closely to the spelling. Similarly, eng interessant Iddi [eŋ intʀæˈsɑnd‿ˈidi] ('an interesting idea').

Pronunciation of the letter g[edit]

In Luxembourgish, the letter g has no fewer than nine possible pronunciations, depending both on the origin of a word and the phonetic environment. Natively, it is pronounced [ɡ] initially and [ʁ ~ ʑ] elsewhere, the latter being devoiced to [χ ~ ɕ] at the end of a morpheme. Words from French, English and (in a few cases) German have introduced [ɡ] (devoiced [k]) in other environments, and French orthography's "soft g" indicates [ʒ] (devoiced [ʃ]).

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 alternative to [ʑ] in the environment indicated below.

Summary of pronunciation of ⟨g⟩
Phoneme Allophone Applies in Phonetic environment Example IPA Meaning
/ɡ/ [k] French and some
German words
word-finally Drog [dʀoːk] drug
[ɡ] native and German
stem-initially géi [ɡɜɪ̯] go
some German words stem-internally Drogen [ˈdʀoːɡən] drugs
French words stem-initially and internally before written a, o, u, or consonant Negatioun [neɡɑˈsjəʊ̯n] negation
/ʃ/ [ʃ] French words word-finally before mute e Plage [plaːʃ] beach
/ʒ/ [ʒ] stem-initially and internally before written e, i or y originell [oʀiʒiˈnæl] original
/χ/ [χ] native and most
German words
word-finally after back vowels Dag [daːχ] day
[ɕ] word-finally after consonants and non-back vowels bëlleg [ˈbələɕ] cheap
/ʁ/ [ʁ] stem-internally after back vowels Lager [ˈlaːʁɐ] store
[ʑ] stem-internally after consonants and non-back vowels Verfügung [fɐˈfyːʑuŋ] disposal
[j] in the unstressed sequences /eʁe/ ([əjə]) and /eʁeʀ/ ([əjɐ]) bëllegen [ˈbələjən] cheap [inflected]



Native monophthongs of Luxembourgish, from Gilles & Trouvain (2013:70)
Front Back
short long short long
Close i u
Mid e o
Open æ ɑ
Oral Nasal
short long
Close y
Close-mid œ øː õː
Open-mid œː ɛ̃ː
Open ɑ̃ː
  • The nasal vowels appear only in loanwords from French, whereas the oral front rounded vowels appear in loans from both French and German.[2]
  • /i, iː, u, uː, o/ are close to the corresponding cardinal vowels [i, u, o].[7]
    • Some speakers may realize /o/ as open-mid [ɔ], especially before /ʀ/.[7]
  • /e/ has two allophones:
    • Before velars: close-mid [e], which for some speakers may be open-mid [ɛ] – this is especially frequent before /ʀ/.[7]
    • All other positions: mid central vowel with variable rounding, but more often slightly rounded [ə̹] than unrounded [ə̜]. Contrary to Standard German, the sequence of [ə] and a sonorant never results in a syllabic sonorant; however, Standard German spoken in Luxembourg often also lacks syllabic sonorants, so that e.g. tragen is pronounced [ˈtʀaːɡən], rather than [ˈtʀaːɡn̩] or [ˈtʀaːɡŋ̍].[8][9]
  • /eː, oː/ are higher than close-mid [e̝ː, ] and may be even as high as /i, u/.[7]
    • Before /ʀ/, /eː/ is realized as open-mid [ɛː].[7]
  • The quality of /æ/ matches the prototypical IPA value of the ⟨æ⟩ symbol ([æ]).[7]
  • /aː/, a phonological back vowel (the long counterpart of /ɑ/), is phonetically near-front [a̠ː]. Sometimes, it may be as front and as high as /æ/ ([æː]), though without losing its length.[10]
  • /ɑ/ is near-open [ɑ̝].[7]
  • The unstressed, non-prevocalic sequence /eʀ/ is not realized as [əʀ] but as a near-open near-back vowel [ɐ̠]. It is similar in quality to /ɑ/, but it is somewhat more front and it appears exclusively in unstressed syllables.[7]


Part 1 of native diphthongs of Luxembourgish, from Gilles & Trouvain (2013:71)
Part 2 of native diphthongs of Luxembourgish, from Gilles & Trouvain (2013:71)
Diphthong phonemes[11]
Closing ɜɪ̯ əʊ̯ oɪ̯ æːɪ̯ æːʊ̯ ɑɪ̯ ɑʊ̯
Centering iə̯ uə̯
  • The ending points of the closing diphthongs are fairly close, more like [i, u] than [ɪ, ʊ].[11]
  • The starting points of /ɜɪ̯, əʊ̯/ are typically schwa-like [ə], but the first element of /ɜɪ̯/ may be more of a centralized front vowel [ë̞].[11]
  • The starting points of /æːɪ̯, æːʊ̯/, /ɑɪ̯, ɑʊ̯/ as well as /iə̯/ and /uə̯/ are similar to the corresponding short monophthongs [æ, ɑ, i, u].[11]
    • The first elements of /æːɪ̯, æːʊ̯/ may be phonetically short [æ] in fast speech or in unstressed syllables.[11]
  • The centering diphthongs end in the mid central unrounded area [ə].[11]
  • /oɪ̯/ appears only in loanwords from Standard German.[2]

The /æːɪ̯ – ɑɪ̯/ and /æːʊ̯ – ɑʊ̯/ contrasts arose from a former lexical tone contrast: the shorter /ɑɪ̯, ɑʊ̯/ were used in words with Accent 1, whereas the lengthened /æːɪ̯, æːʊ̯/ were used in words with Accent 2 (see Pitch-accent language#Franconian dialects.)[2]

Additional phonetic diphthongs arise after vocalisation of /ʀ/.[11] These are [iːə̯, uːə̯, oːə̯, ɛːə̯], with [iːɐ̯, uːɐ̯, oːɐ̯, ɛːɐ̯] as possible alternatives. However, the sequence /aːʀ/ is realized the same as long /aː/, unless a vowel follows within the same word.

Orthography of vowels[edit]

  1. ^ Note that the letter ⟨é⟩ today represents the same sound as ⟨ë⟩ before ⟨ch⟩. The ostensibly inconsistent spelling ⟨é⟩ is based on the traditional, now widely obsolete pronunciation of the sound represented by ⟨ch⟩ as a palatal [ç]. As this consonant is pronounced further back in the mouth, it triggered the use of the front allophone of /e/ (that is [e]) as is the case before the velars (/k, ŋ/). Since the more forward alveolo-palatal [ɕ] has replaced the palatal [ç] for 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]; this is the reason for the spelling. The spelling ⟨mëcht⟩, which reflects the contemporary pronunciation, is not standard.
  2. ^ In the standard orthography, /ɑʊ̯/ and /æːʊ̯/ are not distinguished; this is due to the conflicting use of ⟨äu⟩ in German words to indicate /oɪ̯/.



Further reading[edit]