FWF DACH I 536-G20: 2011-2013
Cooperation with the Institute of Phonetics and Speech Processing, LMU Munich.

Project leader (Austria): Sylvia Moosmüller
Project leader (Germany): Jonathan Harrington

Objective:

Across languages, the distinction between so-called tense and lax vowels, e.g., Miete - Mitte ("rent" - "center") or Höhle - Hölle ("cave" - "hell"), is encountered in many languages. However, many different articulatory adjustments might cause this distinction, and these are language-specific.

In the current project, we address this issue by analysing high tense and lax vowel pairs of the type bieten - bitten ("to offer" - "to request"), Hüte - Hütte ("hats" - "hut"), and Buße - Busse ("penance" - "busses") in two related language varieties: Standard Austrian German (SAG) and Standard German German (SGG). Previous studies suggest that high lax vowel pairs like bitten, Hütte, or Busse tend to approximate their respective tense cognates bieten, Hüte, and Buße.

The research questions were investigated by a) comparing the tense and lax vowel pairs in SAG and SGG, b) by investigating whether high lax vowel pairs approximate their tense cognates in SAG, c) by investigating whether the high vowel pairs in SAG are distinguished by quality, by quantity, or by quantity relations with the following consonant, and d) by investigating whether an ongoing sound change can be observed in SAG, with young SAG speakers exhibiting a higher degree to merge the vowels than old SAG speakers.

Main Results:

SGG speakers clearly distinguish the high vowel pairs by quality, whereas speaker-specific strategies can be observed in SAG, with some speakers distinguishing high tense and lay vowel pairs by quality, others merging the quality contrast, but restricting the merger to velar contexts only, and still others merging high tense and lax vowels alltogether. In case of distinction, the differences between high tense and high lax vowels are less pronounced in SAG than in SGG and still less pronounced in the speech of young SAG speakers as compared to old SAG speakers. The same result was observed for quantity distinctions: All speakers differentiate the high vowel pairs by quantity, meaning that the tense vowels of the type bieten, Hüte, and Buße are longer than their respective lax cognates. Again, the differences are most pronounced in SGG and least pronounced in the speech of the young SAG speakers, meaning that the tense vowels of the type bieten, Hüte, and Buße are truncated in the speech of young SAG speakers as compared to old SAG speakers and SGG speakers. Results on the quantity interactions of vowel + consonant sequences prove quantifying aspects in SAG. Again, some age-specific differences emerged insofar as overall, young SAG speakers have shorter durations than old SAG speakers. However, they maintain the timing relations observed for the old SAG speakers. Results on perception strongly suggest that SAG speakers make use of quantity cues in order to distinguish the vowel pairs, whereas SGG speakers rather rely on cues connected with quality. Generally, it can be concluded that quantity distinctions are more relevant in SAG than in SGG.

Project Related Publications:

Harrington, Jonathan, Hoole, Philip, & Reubold, Ulrich. (2012). A physiological analysis of high front, tense-lax vowel pairs in Standard Austrian and Standard German. Italian Journal of Linguistics, 24, 158-183.

Brandstätter, Julia & Moosmüller, Sylvia. (in print). Neutralisierung der hohen Vokale in der Wiener Standardsprache – A sound change in progress? In M. Glauninger & A. Lenz (Eds.), Standarddeutsch in Österreich – Theoretische und empirische Ansätze. Vienna: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Brandstätter, Julia, Kaseß, Christian H., & Moosmüller, Sylvia (accepted). Quality and quantity in high vowels in Standard Austrian German. In: A. Leemann, M-J. Kolly & V. Dellwo (Eds.), Trends in phonetics and phonology in German-speaking Europe. Zurich: Peter Lang.

Cunha, Conceição, Harrington, Jonathan, Moosmüller, Sylvia, & Brandstätter, Julia (accepted). The influence of consonantal context on the tense-lax contrast in two standard varieties of German. In: A. Leemann, M-J. Kolly & V. Dellwo (Eds.), Trends in phonetics and phonology in German-speaking Europe. Zurich: Peter Lang.

Moosmüller, Sylvia. (in print). Methodisches zur Bestimmung der Standardaussprache in Österreich. In: M. Glauninger & A. Lenz (Eds.), Standarddeutsch in Österreich – Theoretische und empirische Ansätze. Vienna: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht (=Wiener Arbeiten zur Linguistik).

Moosmüller, Sylvia & Brandstätter, Julia. (in print). Phonotactic Information in the temporal organisation of Standard Austrian German and the Viennese Dialect. Language Sciences.