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.

Consonants[edit]

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

Consonant phonemes[1]
Labial Alveolar Post-alveolar Dorsal Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Stop p b t d k ɡ
Affricate t͡s t͡ʃ
Fricative f v s z ʃ ʒ χ ʁ h
Trill ʀ
Approximant l j

According to Trouvain & Gilles (2009), /χ, ʁ/ are velar [x, ɣ].[2] For this reason, they transcribe them as /x, ɣ/.[2]

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,[3] 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".[4]

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].

/ʀ/ may be [ʁ] for some speakers. It is vocalised to [ə] or [ɐ] word-finally. It is [ʁ] before short vowels and voiced consonants, and [χ] before voiceless consonants.[3]

[ɕ] and [ʑ] are allophones of /χ/ and /ʁ/, respectively; /χ ʁ/ occur before back vowels, and the allophones in all other positions.[3] Speakers increasingly do not distinguish between postalveolar and alveolo-palatal fricatives.[5]

[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".[6]

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".[4]

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 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]

Vowels[edit]

Monophthongs[edit]

Monophthong phonemes as well as four allophones [e, ə, ɛː, ɐ] of Luxembourgish on a vowel chart. Adapted from Gilles & Trouvain (2013:70).

Luxembourgish has eleven vowel monophthong phonemes: /i, iː, u, uː, o, oː, e, eː, æ, aː, ɑ/.

Front Back
short long short long
Close i u
Mid e o
Open æ ɑ

/aː/ is the long variant of /ɑ/. /æ/ doesn't have a long variant.

Notes
  • Native monophthong phonemes
    • /i, iː/ are close front unrounded [i, ].[2][7]
    • /u, uː/ are close back rounded [u, ].[2][7]
    • /e/ has two allophones:
      • Before velars: close-mid front unrounded [e],[2][7] which some speakers it may be open-mid [ɛ].[7] This is especially frequent before /ʀ/.[7]
      • All other positions: mid central rounded vowel [ɵ̞].[7] More rarely, it can be realized as unrounded [ə].[7]
    • /eː/ has been variously described as near-close front unrounded [e̝ː][7] and close-mid front unrounded [].[2] The near-close realization may overlap with /i/.[7]
      • Before /ʀ/ it is realized as open-mid front unrounded [ɛː].[7]
    • /o/ is close-mid back rounded [o],[2][7] but for some speakers it may be open-mid [ɔ].[7] This is especially frequent before /ʀ/.[7]
    • /oː/ has been variously described as near-close back rounded [o̝ː][7] and close-mid back rounded [].[2] The near-close realization may overlap with /u/.[7]
    • /æ/ has been variously described as slightly lowered near-open front unrounded [æ̞][7] and near-open front unrounded [æ].[2]
    • /aː/ has been variously described as slightly retracted open front unrounded [][7] and open front unrounded [].[2] Sometimes it may have the same quality as the short /æ/.[8]
    • /ɑ/ has been variously described as near-open back unrounded [ɑ̝][7] and open near-back unrounded [ɑ̟].[2]
  • 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][7] and near-open central vowel [ɐ].[2]

Diphthongs[edit]

Diphthong phonemes of Luxembourgish on a vowel chart. Adapted from Gilles & Trouvain (2013:71).

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],[2][8] ends in the mid central unrounded area [ə].[2][8]
    • /uə/ begins in the close back rounded area [u],[2][8] ends in the mid central unrounded area [ə].[2][8]
    • /ɜɪ/ begins in the mid near-front unrounded area [],[8] ends in the close front unrounded area [i].[2][8] The starting point has also been described as close-mid front [e].[2]
    • /əʊ/ begins in the mid central unrounded area [ə],[2][8] ends in the close back rounded area [u].[2][8]
    • /æːɪ/ begins open front unrounded area [a],[8] ends in the close front unrounded area [i].[2][8] The starting point has also been described as somewhat higher, i.e. near-open [æ].[2]
    • /æːʊ/ begins in the open front unrounded area [a],[8] ends in the close back rounded area [u].[2][8] The starting point has also been described as somewhat higher, i.e. near-open [æ].[2]
    • /ɑɪ/ begins in the near-open back unrounded area [ɑ̝],[8] ends in the close front unrounded area [i].[2][8] The starting point has also been described as somewhat lower, i.e. open [ɑ].[2]
    • /ɑʊ/ begins in the near-open back unrounded area [ɑ̝],[8] ends in the close back rounded area [u].[2][8] The starting point has also been described as somewhat lower, i.e. open [ɑ].[2]

Trouvain & Gilles (2009) transcribe /ɜɪ, æːɪ, æːʊ/ as /eɪ, æˑɪ, æˑʊ/.[2]

Non-native vowel phonemes[edit]

Eight additional vowel phonemes occur: /, y, øː, œː, œ, , 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.)

References[edit]

Bibliography[edit]