Luxembourgish phonology

This article aims to describe the phonology and phonetics of central Luxembourgish, which is regarded as the emerging standard.[1]


The consonant inventory of Luxembourgish is quite similar to that of Standard German.[1]

Consonant phonemes of Luxembourgish[1]
Labial Alveolar Postalveolar Dorsal Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive fortis p t k
lenis b d ɡ
Affricate voiceless (p͡f) t͡s t͡ʃ
voiced (d͡z) (d͡ʒ)
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ χ h
voiced v z ʒ ʁ
Trill ʀ
Approximant l j
  • /m, p, b/ are bilabial, /p͡f/ is bilabial-labiodental, whereas /f, v/ are labiodental.[1]
    • /p͡f/ occurs only in loanwords from Standard German.[2] Just as among many native German-speakers, it tends to be simplified to [f] word-initially. For example, Pflicht ('obligation') is pronounced [fliɕt], or in careful speech [p͡fliɕt].
    • /v/ is realized as [w] when it occurs after /k, t͡s, ʃ/, e.g. zwee [t͡sweː] ('two').[3]
  • /p, t, k/ are voiceless fortis [p, t, k]. They are aspirated [pʰ, tʰ, kʰ] in most positions,[4] but not when /s/ or /ʃ/ precedes in the same syllable, or when another plosive or affricate follows.
  • /b, d, ɡ/ are unaspirated lenis, more often voiceless [, , ɡ̊] than voiced [b, d, ɡ].[4]
  • /d͡z/ as a phoneme appears only in a few words, such as spadséieren /ʃpɑˈd͡zɜɪ̯eʀen/ ('to go for a walk'). /d͡ʒ/ as a phoneme occurs only in loanwords from English.[2]
    • Note that phonetic [d͡z] and [d͡ʒ] occur due to voicing of word-final /t͡s/ and /t͡ʃ/; see below.
  • /s/ does not occur word-initially except in French and English loanwords. (In the oldest loans from French it is often replaced with /t͡s/.) /s/ and /z/ only contrast between vowels.
  • /ŋ, k, ɡ/ are velar, /ʀ/ is uvular, whereas /j/ is palatal.[1]
    • The normal realization of /ʀ/ is more often a trill [ʀ] than a fricative [ʁ]. The fricative variant is used after short vowels before consonants. If the consonant is voiceless, the fricative is also voiceless, i.e. [χ]. Older speakers use the consonantal variant [ʀ ~ ʁ] also in the word-final position, where younger speakers tend to vocalize the /ʀ/ to a central vowel [ə] or [ɐ].[4]
    • /j/ is frequently realized as [ʒ], e.g. Juni [ˈjuːniː] or [ˈʒuːniː] ('June').[3]
  • /χ, ʁ/ have two types of allophones: alveolo-palatal [ɕ, ʑ] and uvular [χ, ʁ]. The latter occur after back vowels, whereas the former occur in all other positions.[4]
    • The [ʑ] allophone appears only in a few words intervocalically, e.g. Spigel [ˈʃpiʑəl] ('mirror'), héijen [ˈhɜɪ̯ʑən] (inflected form of héich 'high'). Note that an increasing number of speakers do not distinguish between the alveolo-palatal allophones [ɕ, ʑ] and the postalveolar phonemes /ʃ, ʒ/.[5]
  • /l/ is always "clear" [l], never "dark" (velarized) *[ɫ].

In external sandhi, syllable-final /n/ is deleted unless followed by [n t d t͡s h], with few exceptions. Furthermore, some unusual consonant clusters may arise post-lexically after cliticisation of the definite article d' (for feminine, neuter and plural forms), e.g. d'Land [dlɑnt] ('the country') or d'Kräiz [tkʀæːɪ̯t͡s] ('the cross').[2] Due to cluster simplification this article often disappears entirely between consonants.

Word-final obstruents

Phonetically, word-final /b, d, d͡ʒ, ɡ, v, z, ʒ, ʁ/ are realized exactly the same as /p, t, t͡ʃ, k, f, s, ʃ, χ/. In most cases, they are realized the same as the main allophones of /p, t, t͡ʃ, k, f, s, ʃ, χ/ (i.e. voiceless), but when the next word begins with a vowel and is pronounced without a pause, they are realized the same as the main allophones of /b, d, d͡ʒ, ɡ, v, z, ʒ, ʁ/, i.e. voiced and are resyllabified, that is, moved to the onset of the first syllable of the next word (the same happens with /ts/, which becomes [d͡z], and the non-native affricate /p͡f/, which is also voiced to [b͡v]). For instance, sech eens (phonemically /zeχ ˈeːns/) is pronounced [zəˈʑeːns],[6] although this article transcribes it [zəʑ‿ˈeːns] so that it corresponds more closely to the spelling. Similarly, eng interessant Iddi [eŋ intʀæˈsɑnd‿ˈidi] ('an interesting idea').

Pronunciation of the letter g

In Luxembourgish, the letter g has no fewer than nine possible pronunciations, depending both on the origin of a word and the phonetic environment. Natively, it is pronounced [ɡ] initially and [ʁ ~ ʑ] elsewhere, the latter being devoiced to [χ ~ ɕ] at the end of a morpheme. Words from French, English and (in a few cases) German have introduced [ɡ] (devoiced [k]) in other environments, and French orthography's "soft g" indicates [ʒ] (devoiced [ʃ]).

By the now very common mergers of [ʒ] and [ʑ], as well as [ʃ] and [ɕ], this number may be reduced to seven, however. The pronunciation [j] is also (generally) not obligatory but a common alternative to [ʑ] in the environment indicated below.

Summary of pronunciation of g
PhonemeAllophoneApplies inPhonetic environmentExampleIPAMeaning
/ɡ/ [k] French and some
German words
word-finally Drog [dʀoːk] drug
[ɡ] native and German
stem-initially géi [ɡɜɪ̯] go
some German words stem-internally Drogen [ˈdʀoːɡən] drugs
French words stem-initially and internally before written a, o, u, or consonant Negatioun [neɡɑˈsjəʊ̯n] negation
/ʃ/ [ʃ] French words word-finally before mute e Plage [plaːʃ] beach
/ʒ/ [ʒ] stem-initially and internally before written e, i or y originell [oʀiʒiˈnæl] original
/χ/ [χ] native and most
German words
word-finally after back vowels and /aː/ Dag [daːχ] day
[ɕ] word-finally after consonants and non-back vowels except /aː/ bëlleg [ˈbələɕ] cheap
/ʁ/ [ʁ] stem-internally after back vowels and /aː/ Lager [ˈlaːʁɐ] store
[ʑ] stem-internally after consonants and non-back vowels except /aː/ Verfügung [fɐˈfyːʑuŋ] disposal
[j] in the unstressed sequences /eʁe/ ([əjə]) and /eʁeʀ/ ([əjɐ]) bëllegen [ˈbələjən] cheap [inflected]



Front Back
short long short long
Close i u
Mid e o
Open æ ɑ
Oral Nasal
short long
Close y
Close-mid øː õː
Open-mid œ œː ɛ̃ː
Open ɑ̃ː
  • The nasal vowels appear only in loanwords from French, whereas the oral front rounded vowels appear in loans from both French and German.[2]
  • /i, iː, u, uː, o/ are close to the corresponding cardinal vowels [i, u, o].[7]
    • Some speakers may realize /o/ as open-mid [ɔ], especially before /ʀ/.[7]
  • /e/ has two allophones:
    • Before velars: close-mid [e], which for some speakers may be open-mid [ɛ] – this is especially frequent before /ʀ/.[7]
    • All other positions: mid central vowel with variable rounding, but more often slightly rounded [ə̹] than unrounded [ə̜]. Contrary to Standard German, the sequence of [ə] and a sonorant never results in a syllabic sonorant; however, Standard German spoken in Luxembourg often also lacks syllabic sonorants, so that e.g. tragen is pronounced [ˈtʀaːɡən], rather than [ˈtʀaːɡn̩] or [ˈtʀaːɡŋ̍].[8][9]
  • /eː, oː/ are higher than close-mid [e̝ː, ] and may be even as high as /i, u/.[7]
    • Before /ʀ/, /eː/ is realized as open-mid [ɛː].[7]
  • The quality of /æ/ matches the prototypical IPA value of the æ symbol ([æ]).[7]
  • /aː/, a phonological back vowel (the long counterpart of /ɑ/), is phonetically near-front [a̠ː]. Sometimes, it may be as front and as high as /æ/ ([æː]), though without losing its length.[7]
  • /ɑ/ is near-open [ɑ̝].[7]
  • The unstressed, non-prevocalic sequence /eʀ/ is not realized as [əʀ] but as a near-open near-back vowel [ɐ̠]. It is similar in quality to /ɑ/, but it is somewhat more front and it appears exclusively in unstressed syllables.[7]


Diphthong phonemes[10]
Closing ɜɪ̯ əʊ̯ oɪ̯ æːɪ̯ æːʊ̯ ɑɪ̯ ɑʊ̯
Centering iə̯ uə̯
  • The ending points of the closing diphthongs are fairly close, more like [i, u] than [ɪ, ʊ].[10]
  • The starting points of /ɜɪ̯, əʊ̯/ are typically schwa-like [ə], but the first element of /ɜɪ̯/ may be more of a centralized front vowel [ë̞].[10]
  • The starting points of /æːɪ̯, æːʊ̯/, /ɑɪ̯, ɑʊ̯/ as well as /iə̯/ and /uə̯/ are similar to the corresponding short monophthongs [æ, ɑ, i, u].[10]
    • The first elements of /æːɪ̯, æːʊ̯/ may be phonetically short [æ] in fast speech or in unstressed syllables.[10]
  • The centering diphthongs end in the mid central unrounded area [ə].[10]
  • /oɪ̯/ appears only in loanwords from Standard German.[2]

The /æːɪ̯ – ɑɪ̯/ and /æːʊ̯ – ɑʊ̯/ contrasts arose from a former lexical tone contrast: the shorter /ɑɪ̯, ɑʊ̯/ were used in words with Accent 1, whereas the lengthened /æːɪ̯, æːʊ̯/ were used in words with Accent 2 (see Pitch-accent language#Franconian dialects.)[2]

Additional phonetic diphthongs arise after vocalisation of /ʀ/.[10] These are [iːə̯, uːə̯, oːə̯, ɛːə̯], with [iːɐ̯, uːɐ̯, oːɐ̯, ɛːɐ̯] as possible alternatives. However, the sequence /aːʀ/ is realized the same as long /aː/, unless a vowel follows within the same word.

Orthography of vowels

  1. Note that the letter é today represents the same sound as ë before ch. The ostensibly inconsistent spelling é is based on the traditional, now widely obsolete pronunciation of the sound represented by ch as a palatal [ç]. As this consonant is pronounced further back in the mouth, it triggered the use of the front allophone of /e/ (that is [e]) as is the case before the velars (/k, ŋ/). Since the more forward alveolo-palatal [ɕ] has replaced the palatal [ç] for almost all speakers, the allophone [ə] is used as before any non-velar consonant. So the word mécht ('[he] makes'), which is now pronounced [məɕt], used to be pronounced [meçt]; this is the reason for the spelling. The spelling mëcht, which reflects the contemporary pronunciation, is not standard.
  2. In the standard orthography, /ɑʊ̯/ and /æːʊ̯/ are not distinguished; this is due to the conflicting use of äu in German words to indicate /oɪ̯/.



Further reading

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