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The unrounded low front-central vowel /a/
quickinfo

The unrounded low front-central A-class vowel/a/ is found in words such as:

Example 1

a. la /la/ drawer
b. trema /tre.ma/ [ˈtrema] diaeresis
c. gitaar /xi.tar/ [xiˈtar] guitar
d. granaat /xra.nat/ [xraˈnat] grenade, shell

It is spelled with a single letter <a> in open syllables; this letter is doubled (<aa>) in closed syllables.

Figure 1(cf. Gussenhoven 1992) depicts the (Dutch) vowel's position within the vowel chart.

Figure 1: Vowel chart

[click image to enlarge]

Articulation
/a/ is an unrounded, low, front-central, A-class vowel. The tongue body is relatively neutral, and the jaw lowered (Collins and Mees 2003; Eijkman 1937).

Duration
/a/ is the longest monophthongal vowel of Dutch (Adank et al. 2004; Collins and Mees 2003). In Northern Standard Dutch, it has a fronted and raised allophone before /r/, and is retracted before /l/ (Collins and Mees 2003). Absolute duration varies with the type of speech and speaking rate, but reported average durations have ranged from 102 ms in spontaneous speech (Jacobi 2009) to 214 ms in elicited read speech (Adank et al. 2004).

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[+] Acoustics: vowel quality

Formant values vary with the type of speech, gender of the speaker, and speech community (the Netherlands or Flanders). Below are some reported average F1/F2 values.


Table 1
F1 mixed female male
Netherlands 801 986 795
771 912 738
670
Flanders 826 868 717
807

Table 2
F2 mixed female male
Netherlands 1498 1443 1301
1509 1572 1409
1425
Flanders 1506 1640 1429
1511

Examples

Table 3: Soundfiles, waveforms and spectrograms of the above sound files, with indications of the relevant acoustic parameters of Northern Standard Dutch /a/
wordgroup phonological context soundfile waveform/spectogram
in de la van de kassain the drawer of the cash desk word-final
[click image to enlarge]
brooden kaasbreads with cheese pre-obstruent
[click image to enlarge]
van het opdoemende gevaarfrom the looming danger pre-liquid
[click image to enlarge]

Table 4: Soundfiles, waveforms and spectrograms of the above sound files, with indications of the relevant acoustic parameters of Southern Standard Dutch /a/
wordgroup phonological context soundfile waveform/spectogram
in mijn la liggen (...)in my drawer lie (...) word-final
[click image to enlarge]
tomaten en verse kaastomatoes and fresh cheese pre-obstruent
[click image to enlarge]
daar is geen gevaar voorfrom that no danger is expected pre-liquid
[click image to enlarge]

[+] Phonological analysis of /a/

Features
A possible feature specification of /a/ is -high, +low, +tense, -round, +back.

/a/ as an A-class vowel
/a/ is most profitably seen as an A-class vowel, and as an alternant of the B-class vowel [ɑ] (see Phonology of /ɑ/). From the argument above, it follows in any case that /a/ and /ɑ/ differ only in whatever feature it is that distinguishes A from B-class vowels. However, in this particular case, the vowels seem closer to each other than other pairs of A and B-class vowels. For instance we find variation that is not otherwise attested in such pairs. E.g.:

Example 2

Canada [kanada]  / [kɑnadɑ]  / [kɑnɑda]  / [kɑnɑdɑ]  / [*kanadɑ]  / [*kanɑdɑ]

This variation is at least partially regional and has not been seriously studied; it seems to us for instance, that [ɑ] at the end of the word is only found in Flanders. What exactly determines the reason why some a[a]’s can be realized as [ɑ]'s or vice versa, whereas others cannot, is not clear. Also otherwise, the two vowels seem sometimes to change position. For instance, the generalization that intervocalic fricatives are voiced after a tautomorphemic A-class vowel and voiceless after a B-class vowel has exceptions exactly with this pair:

Example 3

a. mazzel [mɑzəl] good luck
b. Pasen [pasən] Easter

Interaction with other glides
Unlike other A-class vowels, there is no glide insertion after /a/ before another vowel. Instead, a glottal stop is inserted in words such as chaos[xaʔɔs]chaos.

Behaviour before /r/
When placed before an /r/ consonant,  in the same foot, the vowel lengthens to [aː] (Gussenhoven 1993).

Phonotactics
Like other A-class vowels /a/ can occur at the end of a syllable; and like other A-class vowels /ø/ tends to not occur before two non-coronal consonants, with the exception of the numeral twaalftwelve and placenames such as MaarnMaarn.

References:
  • Adank, Patti, Hout, Roeland van & Smits, Roel2004An acoustic description of the vowels of Northern and Southern Standard DutchJournal of the Acoustical Society of America1161729--1738
  • Adank, Patti, Hout, Roeland van & Smits, Roel2004An acoustic description of the vowels of Northern and Southern Standard DutchJournal of the Acoustical Society of America1161729--1738
  • Collins, B. & Mees, I2003The Phonetics of English and DutchLeidenE.J. Brill
  • Collins, B. & Mees, I2003The Phonetics of English and DutchLeidenE.J. Brill
  • Collins, B. & Mees, I2003The Phonetics of English and DutchLeidenE.J. Brill
  • Eijkman, L.P.H1937Phonetiek van het NederlandsHaarlemDe Erven F. Bohn N.V.
  • Gussenhoven, Carlos1992DutchJournal of the International Phonetic Association2245-47
  • Gussenhoven, Carlos1993The Dutch foot and the chanted callJournal of Linguistics2937-63
  • Jacobi, Irene2009On Variation and Change in Diphthongs and Long Vowels of Spoken DutchUniversity of AmsterdamThesis
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