On Vowel Fronting in German

Essay 2005 6 Pages

American Studies - Linguistics


On Vowel fronting in German

I. Introduction

Throughout the history of phonology, there have been numerous attempts to explain the phenomenon of vowel fronting in German. Even OT is left with a number of problems when tackling German vowel fronting[1] - because the process seems to originate from around the interface of phonology and morphology; because the phenomenon only seems to behave in more or less generalizable patterns; and because there is a lot of inter-speaker and intra-speaker variation. This paper will start out by describing umlauting and umlaut-triggering conditions in some detail. The description will be followed by a brief overview of the most dominant ideas that had been brought forward in pre-OT literature, and the paper will close with a suggestion of a possible constraint-ranking responsible for umlauting, not forgetting the problems that remain even in an OT-based account.

II. German vowel fronting – the phenomenon

The patterns for which vowels can be fronted in German and which vowels they turn into as a consequence is straight-forward in German: the vowels that can be fronted are the six [back] monophthongs of German, three of them tense, three of them lax, and one back diphthong. In umlaut-triggering conditions, they all turn into their [front] counterpart. An irregularity can be observed in the fronting of /a/ and /a:/, because the vowels they turn into, /ɛ/ and /ɛ:/, are not the exact front counterparts, they are higher. This is usually explained by an underspecification of /a/ and /a:/ for [low]. The German vowel inventory also does not feature an /æ/. A second irregularity can be observed in the fronting of /aʊ/ which changes both vocalic parts to /ɔy/. Wiese assumes a case of Rounding Assimilation for the first part of the diphthong, the change from /ʊ/ to /y/ is completely regular. German spelling places a diacritic of two dots above the umlauted vowel.


[1] Henceforth ‘German vowel fronting’ will be equal to ‘umlauting’ or ‘Umlaut’ for the sake of brevity


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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409 KB
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Institution / College
State University of New York at Stony Brook – Linguistics
Vowel Fronting German Phonology




Title: On Vowel Fronting in German