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Final Devoicing and neutralization

A word-final underlying contrast between a voiceless and a voiced plosive is erased by Final Devoicing. Though the nouns leat /lɪət/ (off)shoot and lead /lɪəd/ lead are a minimal pair ‒ they only differ with respect to their final segments, /t/ vs /d/, respectively ‒ they have the same realization, viz. [lɪət] (with final [t]). The neutralizing effect of the operation of Final Devoicing is the subject of this topic.


In word-initial position, all pairs of voiceless and voiced plosives stand in phonological opposition, examples of which are given in the following table:

Table 1: Examples of minimal pairs with word-initial voiceless and voiced plosives
With a voiceless plosive With a voiced plosive Translation
pân /pɔ:n/ bân /bɔ:n/ pawn - band; tyre
tún /tyn/ dún /dyn/ garden - dune
kêst /kɛ:st/ gêst /ɡɛ:st/ article (in a statute) - yeast

The plosives can have distinctive voice values in word-final position as well. Examples of minimal pairs with the word-final oppositions /t/ - /d/ and /p/ - /b/ are shown in the table below:

Table 2: Examples of minimal pairs with the word-final oppositions /t/ - /d/ and /p/ - /b/
With the opposition /t/ - /d/ With the opposition /p/ - /b/
haat hatred, hate - haad head flap flap; thud, clap - flab algae in fresh water
freet gob, trap - freed friday rap quick - rab(je) to gossip
litt(e) to let; to cause - lid member krap tight - krab crab
bit bit; hole (in the ice) - bidd(e) to pray sip glum, sour, sullen - sib familiar
leat (off)shoot - lead lead skip ship - skib chip, sliver
graat fishbone - graad degree slip skid - slib silt; sludge
kâlt confabulation - kâld cold kop cup - kob (sea) gull
akkoart agreement - akkoard chord ropp(e) to call, to shout - rob seal

The contrast between the voiceless and voiced plosives comes to light in pairs of the simplex word versus inflected and/or derived forms, as in leaten (off)shoots - leaden lead (made of lead) and koppen cups - kobben (sea) gulls. It is, however, neutralized in word-final position, where only voiceless obstruents are allowed.

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The fricatives have a fundamentally asymmetrical distribution. In word-medial and word-final position, the voiced fricatives ‒ /v/, /z/, and /ɣ/ ‒ show a preference for being preceded by a long sequence, viz. a long monophthong, a falling or centring diphthong or a short vowel + l/r, whereas the voiceless fricatives ‒ /f/, /s/, and /x/ ‒ prefer to follow a short sequence, i.e. a short monophhong or a (short) rising diphthong (see the obstruents: the fricatives). Consequently, there are hardly any minimal pairs with the word-final opposition voiceless fricative - voiced fricative.