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Nucleus
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The nucleus position of a syllable in Standard Dutch is standardly occupied by a vowel. Some varieties of Dutch also allow for nasals in nucleus position (Booij 1995:24). Glides are never syllabic in Dutch.

Any Dutch lexical word minimally has to contain one full vowel. This can either be an A-class vowel, a B-class vowel, a diphthong or one of the three loan vowels /ɛ:, œ:, ɔ:/ which occur in loan words. Due to the fact that lexical words must have stress and schwa cannot carry stress in Dutch, lexical words that only contain schwa do not exist in Dutch. However, there are a few function words containing schwa like er/ər/, 'm/əm/ or 't/ət/(Cohen 1972:89). Furthermore, schwas do not occur word-initially in polysyllabic words.

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[+] A-class vowels

The term A-class vowel refers to the following set of Dutch vowels: /i, y, u, e, ø, o, a/ (cf. Moulton (1962) for the terminology). Depending on the phonological theory adopted, they are alternatively called long vowels or tense vowels. They can occur in open syllables (see 1) and closed syllables (see 2).

Example 1

knie /kni/ knee
nu /ny/ now
moe /mu/ tired
zee /ze/ sea
beu /bø/ sick, enough
zo /zo/ so, like
la /la/ drawer
Example 2

dier /dir/ animal
puur /pyr/ pure
boek /buk/ book
zeep /zep/ soap
neus /nøs/ nose
boot /bot/ boat
kaal /kal/ bald
[+] B-class vowels

The term B-class vowel refers to the following set of Dutch vowels: /ɪ, ʏ, ɛ, ɔ, ɑ/ (cf. Moulton (1962) for the terminology). Depending on the phonological theory adopted, they are alternatively called short vowels or lax vowels. They can exclusively occur in closed syllables (see 3).

Example 3

vis /vɪs/ fish
mus /mʏs/ sparrow
bes /bɛs/ berry
bos /bɔs/ forest
bas /bɑs/ bass
[+] Diphthongs

Dutch possesses the following three diphthongs /ɛi, œy, ɑu/, all of which are closing diphthongs. The diphthongs are usually analysed as bipositional segments. What is special to Dutch diphthongs is the fact that the first part is always a B-class vowel and the second part an A-class vowel. The three diphthongs behave phonotactically like A-class vowels in that they can occur in open syllables and comply with the same co-occurrence restrictions.

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Dutch also possesses a set of what are called pseudo diphthongs or 'fake' diphthongs, which are vowel + glide sequences: /uj, oj, aj, iʋ, yʋ, eʋ/ as in words like roeirow, ooiewe, aaicaress, nieuwnew, uwyour or eeuwcentury, respectively.


Table 1
Diphthongs Example Pseudo diphthongs Example Pseudo diphthongs Example
/~ʋ/ /~j/
A-class vowels
/i/ /ɛi/ bij/bɛi/bee /iʋ/ nieuw/niʋ/new
/y/ /œy/ uil/œyl/owl /yʋ/ uw/yʋ/your
/u/ /ɑu/ blauw/blɑu/blue /uj/ boei/buj/buoy
/e/ /eʋ/ eeuw/eʋ/century
/ø/
/o/ /oj/ ooi/oj/ewe
/a/ /aj/ aai/aj/caress
B-class vowels
/ɪ/
/ʏ/
/ɛ/ /ɛi/ bij/bɛi/bee
/ɔ/
/ɑ/ /ɑu/ blauw/blɑu/blue
(/œ/) /œy/ uil/œyl/owl

[+] Vowel + coda consonant(s) restrictions - rhyme restrictions

Table 2 illustrates the possible and impossible nucleus + coda combinations (rhyme structures) in Dutch. As can be seen, A-class vowels and diphthongs pattern alike in that they can occur in open syllables and in closed syllables with one single coda consonant. They cannot precede a branching coda. In contrast, B-class vowels cannot occur in open syllables. They must be followed by at least one and may be followed by maximally two coda consonants. Non-coronal coda consonant clusters of more than two consonants are prohibited. The numbers refer to the individual tree structures given in figure 1 below.

Table 2
A-class vowels B-class vowels Diphthongs
V (open syllable) la/la/[la]drawer (cf. (v)) /*rɑ/ (cf. (i)) lui/lœy/[lœy]lazy (cf. (v))
VC (closed syllable) raam/ram/[ram]window (cf. (vi)) ram/rɑm/[rɑm]ram (cf. (ii)) ruim/rœym/[rœym]spacious (cf. (vi))
VCC /*ramp/ (cf. (vii)) ramp/rɑmp/[rɑmp]disaster (cf. (iii)) /*ruimp/ (cf. (vii))
VCCC /*zɑlmp/ (cf. (iv))

If a classification is adopted that distinguishes A-class vowels and B-class vowels based on their structural length, i.e. A-class vowels occupy two nuclear positions, whereas B-class vowels occupy only one position, one can account for the above-mentioned vowel + coda consonant distribution quite elegantly. Under the assumption that a rhyme in Dutch requires at least two positions but must not exceed three positions, representation (i) in figure 1 is ruled out since it is too short and representations (iv) and (vii) are excluded for being too long.


Figure 1

[click image to enlarge]

[+] Short/long contrast, tense/lax contrast or contrast in syllable structure

The classification of Dutch vowels is an old and well-discussed problem (see Van Oostendorp 1995:26 for an extensive list of references; see Van Oostendorp 1995:53 for an historical overview of the discussion). There are three essential approaches to the classification of Dutch vowels. Each of them has its advantages but also its limitations. As a result, the three approaches have taken turns throughout the years. The three approaches for distinguishing A-class vowels from B-class vowels and some representatives of each approach are given in the following list:

  1. The property of length is basic; the other properties are derived from this (Moulton 1962;Zonneveld 1978;Trommelen 1984;Van der Hulst 1984;Booij 1995;Kooij and Van Oostendorp 2003).
  2. The property of tenseness is basic; the other properties are derived from this (Cohen 1959;De Rijk 1967;Smith et al. 1989;Hermans 1992;Van Oostendorp 1995,2000;Gussenhoven 2009).
  3. The (phonological) distinction between open and closedsyllables is basic; the other (phonetic) properties are derived from this (Trubetzkoy 1939;Botma and van Oostendorp 2012).

More information on this discussion can be found in the topic on rhymes.

References:
  • Booij, Geert1995The phonology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Booij, Geert1995The phonology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Botma, Bert & Oostendorp, Marc van2012A propos of the Dutch vowel system 21 years on, 22 years onPhonological Explorations: Empirical, Theoretical and Diachronic IssuesBerlinMouton de Gruyter
  • Cohen, Antonie, Ebeling, C.L., Eringa, P., Fokkema, K. & Holk, A.G.F. van1959Fonologie van het Nederlands en het Fries: Inleiding tot de moderne klankleerMartinus Nijhoff
  • Cohen, Antonie, Ebeling, C.L., Fokkema, K. & Holk, A.G.F. van1972Fonologie van het Nederlands en het Fries. Inleiding tot de moderne klankleerMartinus Nijhoff
  • Gussenhoven, Carlos2009Vowel duration, syllable quantity and stress in DutchThe nature of the word. Essays in honor of Paul KiparskyCambridge, MA.; LondonMIT Press181--198
  • Hermans, Ben1992On the representation of quasi-long vowels in Dutch and LimburgianBok-Bennema, R. & Hout, R. van (eds.)Linguistics in the NetherlandsAmsterdam
  • Hulst, Harry van der1984Syllable structure and stress in DutchDordrechtForis
  • Kooij, Jan & Oostendorp, Marc van2003Fonologie. Uitnodiging tot de klankleer van het NederlandsAmsterdamAmsterdam University Press
  • Moulton, William G1962The vowels of Dutch: phonetic and distributional classesLingua11294-312
  • Moulton, William G1962The vowels of Dutch: phonetic and distributional classesLingua11294-312
  • Moulton, William G1962The vowels of Dutch: phonetic and distributional classesLingua11294-312
  • Oostendorp, Marc van1995Vowel Quality and Phonological ProjectionTilburg UniversityThesis
  • Oostendorp, Marc van1995Vowel Quality and Phonological ProjectionTilburg UniversityThesis
  • Oostendorp, Marc van1995Vowel Quality and Phonological ProjectionTilburg UniversityThesis
  • Oostendorp, Marc van2000Phonological ProjectionNiemeyer
  • Rijk, Rudolf de1967Apropos of the Dutch vowel systemMIT
  • Smith, Norval S.H., Bolognesi, Roberto, Leeuw, Frank van der, Rutten, Jean & Wit, Helen de1989Apropos of the Dutch vowel system 21 years onLinguistics in the Netherlands 1989DordrechtForis133--142
  • Trommelen, Mieke1984The Syllable in DutchDordrechtForis
  • Trubetzkoy, Nikolai S1939Grundzüge der PhonologiePragueJednota českých matematiků a fysiků
  • Zonneveld, Wim1978A formal theory of exceptions in generative phonologyDordrechtForis
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