Previous abstract | Workshop Maps and Grammar | Next abstract

Between voicing and aspiration

Nina Ouddeken, Marc van Oostendorp & Roberta D'Alessandro

The linguistic status of varieties that are spoken in border areas, i.e. varieties that are geographically situated in between other linguistic varieties but do not form a variety on their own, is often undecided. The varieties often show characteristics of the different neighbouring varieties, such that a decision is indeed difficult if not impossible to make. In this talk we will explore how the geographical mapping of linguistic data can help making informed decisions on the status of such linguistic varieties.

The focus of the present study is on linguistic varieties spoken in the Dutch-German dialect continuum, more specifically on the voicing distinctions in plosive systems in this region. Dialects on the westernmost side of the continuum are examples of true voicing languages (Lisker & Abramson (1964), Van Alphen & Smits (2004)), whereas dialects on the easternmost side are aspiration languages (Iverson & Salmons (1995), Jessen & Ringen (2002)). Phonetically, the main difference between these two types of languages is one of Voice Onset Time (VOT): the moment in time at which the vocal folds start vibrating with respect to release of the plosive closure. Lenis plosives in voicing languages are characterised by a negative VOT (prevoicing), while the fortis plosives are characterised by a short-lag VOT. In aspiration languages the lenis plosives are characterised by a short-lag VOT and the fortis plosives by a long-lag VOT (aspiration) (though both are context-sensitive in aspiration languages).

In this talk we will map both phonetic (VOT values) and phonological (voicing or aspiration system) data for the transitional dialects spoken in the Netherlands. We use data from the Goeman-Taeldeman-Van Reenen project (GTRP) (

Since VOT is a continuous variable, we do expect to find a phonetically gradual transition in VOT values. Phonologically, however, we do not expect to find a gradual transition but rather an abrupt boundary: a linguistic variety is either characterised phonologically as a voicing language or as an aspiration language, but intermediate values are not expected to exist. In this talk we will explore how the mapping of both phonetic and phonological values can shed light on the interplay between these two. Do we find phonological and phonetic boundaries cooccuring, or do phonology and phonetics display different patterns on the map? With the help of these maps, finally, we hope to be able to find a turning point between voicing systems and aspiration systems.


Alphen van, Petra M. & Roel Smits (2004). Acoustical and perceptual analysis of the voicing distinction in Dutch initial plosives: the role of prevoicing. JPh 32. 455-491.

Iverson, Gregory K. & Joseph C. Salmons (1995). Aspiration and laryngeal representation in Germanic. Phonology 12. 369-396.

Jessen, Michael & Catherine Ringen. 2002. Laryngeal features in German. Phonology 19. 1-30.

Lisker, Leigh & Arthur S. Abramson (1964): A cross-language study of voicing in initial stops : Acoustical measurements. Word 20. 384-422.

Last update: September 04, 2014.