Final-obstruent devoicing

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Final-obstruent devoicing or terminal devoicing is a systematic phonological process occurring in languages such as Catalan, German, Dutch, Breton, Russian, Polish, Lithuanian, Turkish, and Wolof. In such languages, voiced obstruents in final position (at the end of a word) become voiceless before voiceless consonants and in pausa. The process can be written as *C[+voice] → C[-voice]/__#.[1]

Languages with final-obstruent devoicing[edit]

Germanic languages[edit]

Most modern continental West Germanic languages developed final devoicing, the earliest evidence appearing in Old Dutch around the 9th or 10th century.

In contrast to other continental West Germanic languages, (Eastern)-Yiddish notably does not alter final voiced sounds; this appears to be a later reversal, most probably under Slavic influence. In its earliest recorded example (Yiddish, written evidence), it has final-obstruent devoicing (טַק "tak" instead of "tag" for day.)

Of the North Germanic languages, Norwegian and Swedish do not have final devoicing, whereas Danish does not even have voiced obstruents that could be devoiced. As in Danish, Icelandic stops are voiceless, but it has voiced fricatives which may also occur word-finally.

Gothic (an East Germanic language) also developed final devoicing independently.

Romance languages[edit]

Among the Romance languages, word-final devoicing is common in the Gallo-Romance languages, some of which tend to exhibit strong Frankish influence (itself the ancestor of Old Dutch, above).


  • Standard French (by final schwa losses, see above for notes) and Romanian do not have final devoicing, however, varieties of French with substrates of Occitan and Catalan (and other final devoicing languages) do have it.
  • Other Romance languages such as Italian rarely have words with final voiced consonants for different reasons in their phonological histories, but borrowings from English into Italian that have a voiced final consonant (such as weekend) are not devoiced.
  • Portuguese merges [s] and [z] in word-final position (nós and noz are homophones) but has a few words ending with voiced stops like sob (although some dialects feature an epenthetic vowel after the final consonant).

Slavic languages[edit]

Most Slavic languages exhibit final devoicing, but notably standard (Štokavian) Serbo-Croatian and Ukrainian do not.

Other Indo-European languages[edit]

Non-Indo-European languages[edit]



Dutch and Afrikaans[edit]

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 suggests that this terminal devoicing[7] originated in 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 also occurred in Frankish-influenced Old French.

Amelands, spoken on the Wadden Sea island of Ameland, is the only Dutch dialect that does not feature final-obstruent devoicing.[8]


Standard varieties of English do 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]). Additionally, the voiced alveolar stop /d/ is regularly devoiced in African-American Vernacular English (AAVE).[9]

Old English had final devoicing of /v/, although the spelling did not distinguish [f] and [v]. It can be inferred from the modern pronunciation of half with a voiceless /f/, from an originally voiced fricative [β] in Proto-Germanic *halbaz (preserved in German halb and Gothic halba). There was also final devoicing of [ɣ] to [x] finally, evidenced by spellings like burh alongside burg.


Final-obstruents devoicing occurs in the varieties from Northern Germany.[10] The German contrast between homorganic obstruents is more properly described as a fortis and lenis opposition 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. By contrast, the German term for the phenomenon, Auslautverhärtung ("final-sound hardening"), refers to fortition rather than devoicing. 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, and in fact at the ends of all syllables,[11] making homophones of such pairs as Rad ("wheel") and Rat ("council, counsel"), both pronounced [ʁaːt]. The German varieties of the north, and many pronunciations of Standard German, involve voice in the distinction between fortis and lenis obstruents however. Final devoicing applies to all plosives and fricatives, and to loan words as well as native words.

Some examples from Northern German include:

Nouns/adjective Verbs
Singular Translation Plural Imperative Translation Infinitive
Bad [baːt] bath Bäder [ˈbɛːdɐ] red! [ʁeːt] talk! reden [ˈʁeːdn̩]
Raub [ʁaʊ̯p] robbery Raube [ˈʁaʊ̯bə] reib! [ʁaɪ̯p] rub! reiben [ˈʁaɪ̯bn̩]
Zug [t͡suːk] train Züge [ˈt͡syːɡə] sag! [zaːk] say! sagen [ˈzaːɡn̩]
Archiv [ʔaɐ̯ˈçiːf] archive Archive [ʔaɐ̯ˈçiːvə]
Maus [maʊ̯s] mouse Mäuse [ˈmɔʏ̯zə] lies! [liːs] read! lesen [ˈleːzn̩]
orange [ʔoˈʁaŋʃ] orange (adj./n.) Orange [ʔoˈʀaŋʒə] manage! [ˈmɛnətʃ] manage! managen [ˈmɛnədʒən]


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, as well as older English transcriptions.

Devoicing in compounds[edit]

In compounds, the behaviour varies between languages:

  • In some languages, devoicing is lexicalized, which means that words that are devoiced in isolation retain that final devoicing when they are part of a compound. In English, for example, there is an alternation between voiced and voiceless fricatives in pairs such as the following:
    • thief ([f]) – thieve ([v])
    • bath ([θ]) – bathe ([ð])

The process is not productive in English, however; see article Consonant voicing and devoicing.

  • In other languages, it is purely phonological, which means that voicing depends solely on position and on assimilation with adjacent consonants. Example: German.


  1. ^ See Crowley and Bowern (2010), p. 24
  2. ^ In normalised Middle High German as opposed to modern New High German, devoicing is represented in writing, thus Kriemhilt is the shortened form of Kriemhilde.
  3. ^ van der Veen, Klaas F. (2001). "West Frisian Dialectology and Dialects". In Munske, Horst Haider; Århammar, Nils; Vries, Oebele; Faltings, Volker F.; Hoekstra, Jarich F.; Walker, Alastair G. H.; Wilts, Ommo (eds.). Handbook of Frisian studies. Walter de Gruyter. p. 104. ISBN 978-3-484-73048-9.
  4. ^ Mokari, Payam Ghaffarvand; Werner, Stefan (2017). "Azerbaijani". Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 47 (2): 207. doi:10.1017/S0025100317000184. S2CID 232347049.
  5. ^ S., Effendi (2012). Panduan Berbahasa Indonesia dengan Baik dan Benar (Guidebook for Speaking Indonesian Well and Correct). Dunia Pustaka Jaya. p. 228. ISBN 978-6232212350.
  6. ^ Tuisk, Tuuli (2016). "Main features of the Livonian sound system and pronunciation". Eesti ja Soome-Ugri Keeleteaduse Ajakiri. 7 (1): 121–143. doi:10.12697/jeful.2016.7.1.06. Retrieved March 13, 2022.
  7. ^ Langbroek, Erika; Roeleveld, Annelies; Quak, Arend; Vermeyden, Paula (2002). Amsterdamer Beitrge Zur lteren Germanistik. Rodopi. p. 23. ISBN 978-90-420-1579-1.
  8. ^ Van der Veen, Klaas F. (2001), "13. West Frisian Dialectology and Dialects", in Munske, Horst Haider; Århammar, Hans (eds.), Handbook of Frisian studies, Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag GmbH, p. 104, ISBN 3-484-73048-X
  9. ^ Treiman, Rebecca (April 2004). "Spelling and dialect: Comparisons between speakers of African American vernacular English and White speakers". Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. 11 (2): 338–342. doi:10.3758/bf03196580. PMID 15260203. S2CID 7684083.
  10. ^ Ammon et al. 2004, p. lvii.
  11. ^ Wiese, Richard (2000). The Phonology of German. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 200–206. ISBN 0-19-824040-6.


  • Ammon, Ulrich; Bickel, Hans; et al., eds. (2004). Variantenwörterbuch des Deutschen. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 3110165759.
  • Brockhaus, Wiebke. (1995). Final Devoicing in the Phonology of German. Max Niemeyer.
  • Chow, Daryl; Kharlamov, Viktor (September 2018). "Final devoicing in Singapore English". The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 144 (3): 1902. Bibcode:2018ASAJ..144Q1902C. doi:10.1121/1.5068331. S2CID 125369723.
  • Dmitrieva, Olga (October 2014). "Final voicing and devoicing in American English". The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 136 (4): 2174. Bibcode:2014ASAJ..136.2174D. doi:10.1121/1.4899867.
  • Grijzenhout, Janet (2000). "Voicing and devoicing in English, German, and Dutch: Evidence for domain-specific identity constraints". CiteSeerX
  • Crowley, Terry & Bowern Claire. (2010). An Introduction to Historical Linguistics (Fourth ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195365542

See also[edit]

External links[edit]