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]

Consonants[edit]

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 voiceless (p͡f) t͡s t͡ʃ
voiced (d͡z) (d͡ʒ)
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ χ h
voiced v z ʒ ʁ
Rhotic ʀ
Approximant l j
  • /m, p, b/ are bilabial, /p͡f/ is bilabial-labiodental, whereas /f, v/ are labiodental.[1][2]
    • /p͡f/ occurs only in loanwords from Standard German.[3] 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').[4]
  • /p, t, k/ are voiceless fortis [p, t, k]. They are aspirated [pʰ, tʰ, kʰ] in most positions,[5] 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˭].[5][are the lenis affricates /d͡z, d͡ʒ/ also voiceless?]
  • /d͡z/ as a phoneme appears only in a few words, such as spadséieren /ʃpɑˈd͡zɜɪ̯əʀən/ ('to go for a walk'). /d͡ʒ/ as a phoneme occurs only in loanwords from English.[3]
    • 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][2]
    • 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].[5]
    • /j/ is frequently realized as [ʒ], e.g. Juni [ˈjuːniː] or [ˈʒuːniː] ('June').[4]
  • /χ, ʁ/ have two types of allophones: alveolo-palatal [ɕ, ʑ] and velar/uvular [χ, ʁ]. The latter occur after back vowels, whereas the former occur in all other positions.[5]
    • 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/.[6]
    • There is not a complete agreement about the nature of the posterior allophones of /χ, ʁ/; Gilles & Trouvain (2013) describe them as uvular [χ, ʁ], whereas Trouvain & Gilles (2009) describe them as velar [x, ɣ].[2]
  • /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').[3] 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 is pronounced [zəˈʑeːns],[7] although this article transcribes it [zəʑ‿ˈeːns] for simplicity. 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 allophone of [ʑ] in the environment indicated below.

Summary of pronunciation of ⟨g⟩
IPA Applies in Phonetic environment Example IPA Meaning
[ɡ] native and German words 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
[k] French and some German words word-finally Drog [dʀoːk] drug
[ʃ] French words word-finally before mute e Plage [plaːʃ] beach
[ʒ] stem-initially and internally before written e, i or y originell [oʀiʒiˈnæl] original
[ɕ] native and most German words word-finally after consonants and non-back vowels except [aː] bëlleg [ˈbələɕ] cheap
[ʑ] stem-internally after consonants and non-back vowels except [aː] Verfügung [fɐˈfyːʑuŋ] disposal
[χ] word-finally after back vowels and [aː] Dag [daːχ] day
[ʁ] stem-internally after back vowels and [aː] Lager [ˈlaːʁɐ] store
[j] 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). The non-native /y, yː, øː, œ, œː/ nor /õː, ɛ̃ː, ɑ̃ː/ are not shown.
Monophthong phonemes[8]
Front Back
unrounded rounded
short long short long short long
Close i (y) () u
Close-mid e (øː) o
Open-mid (ɛː) (œ) (œː)
Open æ ɑ
  • /i, iː/ are close front unrounded [i, ].[2][8]
  • The front rounded vowels /y, yː, øː, œ, œː/ appear only in loanwords from French and Standard German.[3] /œ/ often merges with the [ə] allophone of /e/, particularly in German loanwords.
  • In loanwords from French, nasal /õː, ɛ̃ː, ɑ̃ː/ also occur.[3]
  • /u, uː/ are close back rounded [u, ].[2][8]
  • /e/ has two allophones:
    • Before velars: close-mid front unrounded [e],[2][8] which for some speakers may be open-mid [ɛ] – this is especially frequent before /ʀ/.[8]
    • All other positions: mid central vowel, more often slightly rounded [ɵ̞] than unrounded [ə].[8] Contrary to Standard German, the sequence of [ə] and a sonorant never results in a syllabic sonorant;[9] however, Standard German spoken in Luxembourg often also lacks syllabic sonorants, so that e.g. tragen is pronounced [ˈtʀaːɡən], rather than [ˈtʀaːɡn̩] or [ˈtʀaːɡŋ̍].[10]
    • [ə] does not occur word-finally except where a trailing /n/ has been deleted by the Eifeler Regel.
  • /eː/ has been variously described as near-close front unrounded [e̝ː][8] and close-mid front unrounded [].[2] The near-close realization may overlap with /i/.[8]
    • Before /ʀ/ it is realized as open-mid front unrounded [ɛː].[8] French and German loanwords may also include [ɛː] in other positions.
  • /o/ is close-mid back rounded [o].[2][8] Especially before /ʀ/, it may be open-mid [ɔ] for some speakers.[8]
  • /oː/ has been variously described as near-close back rounded [o̝ː][8] and close-mid back rounded [].[2] The near-close realization may overlap with /u/.[8]
  • /æ/ has been variously described as slightly lowered near-open front unrounded [æ̞][8] and near-open front unrounded [æ].[2]
  • /aː/ is the long variant of /ɑ/, not /æ/ (which does not have a long counterpart). It has been variously described as slightly retracted open front unrounded [][8] and open front unrounded [].[2] Sometimes it may have the same quality as the short /æ/.[9]
  • /ɑ/ has been variously described as near-open back unrounded [ɑ̝][8] and open near-back unrounded [ɑ̟].[2]
  • The unstressed, non-prevocalic sequence /eʀ/ is not realized as [əʀ] but as a low unrounded vowel, the quality of which has been variously described as near-open near-back vowel [ɐ̠][8] and near-open central vowel [ɐ].[2]

Trouvain & Gilles (2009) transcribe [ə] and /ɑ̃ː/ as [ë] and /ãː/.[2]

Diphthongs[edit]

Diphthong phonemes of Luxembourgish on a vowel chart. Adapted from Gilles & Trouvain (2013:71). The non-native /oɪ̯/ is not shown.
Diphthong phonemes[9]
Ending point
Front Central Back
Close iə̯ uə̯
Mid ɜɪ̯ (oɪ̯) əʊ̯
Open æːɪ̯ ɑɪ̯ æːʊ̯ ɑʊ̯
  • /iə̯/ begins in the close front unrounded area [i], ends in the mid central unrounded area [ə].[2][9]
  • /uə̯/ begins in the close back rounded area [u], ends in the mid central unrounded area [ə].[2][9]
  • /ɜɪ̯/ has two variants:
    • A variant which begins in the mid central unrounded area [ə], ends in the close front unrounded area [i].[9]
    • A variant which begins in the mid near-front unrounded area [],[9] ends in the close front unrounded area [i].[2][9] The starting point of this variant has also been described as close-mid front [e].[2]
  • /oɪ̯/ appears only in loanwords from Standard German.[11]
  • /əʊ̯/ begins in the mid central unrounded area [ə], ends in the close back rounded area [u].[2][9]
  • /æːɪ̯/ begins open front unrounded area [a],[9] ends in the close front unrounded area [i].[2][9] The starting point has also been described as somewhat higher, i.e. near-open [æ].[2]
    • The first element may be phonetically short in fast speech or in unstressed syllables.[9]
  • /æːʊ̯/ begins in the open front unrounded area [a],[9] ends in the close back rounded area [u].[2][9] The starting point has also been described as somewhat higher, i.e. near-open [æ].[2]
    • The first element may be phonetically short in fast speech or in unstressed syllables.[9]
  • /ɑɪ̯/ begins in the near-open back unrounded area [ɑ̝],[9] ends in the close front unrounded area [i].[2][9] The starting point has also been described as somewhat lower, i.e. open [ɑ].[2]
  • /ɑʊ̯/ begins in the near-open back unrounded area [ɑ̝],[9] ends in the close back rounded area [u].[2][9] The starting point has also been described as somewhat lower, i.e. open [ɑ].[2]

Trouvain & Gilles (2009) transcribe /ɜɪ̯, oɪ̯, æːɪ̯, æːʊ̯/ as /eɪ̯, ɔɪ̯, æˑɪ̯, æˑʊ̯/.[2]

The /æːɪ̯ – ɑɪ̯/ and /æːʊ̯ – ɑʊ̯/ contrasts arose from the 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.[11]

Additional phonetic diphthongs arise after vocalisation of /ʀ/.[9] These are [iːɐ̯, uːɐ̯, oːɐ̯, ɛːɐ̯]. 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/.

References[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

Further reading[edit]