World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Final devoicing

Article Id: WHEBN0005616130
Reproduction Date:

Title: Final devoicing  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Tok Pisin, Tatar language, Mahlab
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Final devoicing

Sound change and alternation

Final-obstruent devoicing or terminal devoicing is a systematic phonological process occurring in languages such as German, Dutch, Polish, and Russian, among others. In these languages, voiced obstruents become voiceless before voiceless consonants and in pausa.


In the southern varieties of German, the contrast between homorganic obstruents is rather an opposition of fortis and lenis than an opposition of voiceless and voiced sounds. Therefore, the term devoicing may be misleading, since voice is only an optional feature of German lenis obstruents. Likewise, the German term for the phenomenon, Auslautverhärtung, does not refer to a loss of voice and is better translated as 'final hardening'. However, the German phenomenon is similar to the final devoicing in other languages in that the opposition between two different kinds of obstruents disappears at the ends of words. The German varieties of the north, and many pronunciations of Standard German, do distinguish voiced and voiceless obstruents however.

Some examples from German include:

Nouns Verbs
Singular Translation Plural Imperative Translation Infinitive
Bad [baːt] bath Bäder [ˈbɛːdɐ] red! [ʁeːt] talk! reden [ˈʁeːdn̩]
Maus [maʊ̯s] mouse Mäuse [ˈmɔʏ̯zə] lies! [liːs] read! lesen [ˈleːzn̩]
Raub [ʁaʊ̯p] robbery Raube [ˈʁaʊ̯bə] reib! [ʁaɪ̯p] rub! reiben [ˈʁaɪ̯bn̩]
Zug [t͡suːk] train Züge [ˈt͡syːɡə] sag! [zaːk] say! sagen [ˈzaːɡn̩]
Fünf [fʏɱf] five Fünfen [ˈfʏɱvn̩]


In Dutch and Afrikaans, terminal devoicing results in homophones such as hard 'hard' and hart 'heart' as well as differences in consonant sounds between the singular and plural forms of nouns, for example golf-golven (Dutch) and golf-golwe (Afrikaans) for 'wave-waves'.

The history of the devoicing phenomenon within the West Germanic languages is not entirely clear but the discovery of a runic inscription from the early fifth century that shows devoicing[1] suggests that its origins are Frankish. Of the old West Germanic languages, Old Dutch, a descendant of Frankish, is the earliest to show any kind of devoicing, and final devoicing had also occurred in Frankish-influenced Old French.


Final-obstruent devoicing can lead to the neutralization of phonemic contrasts in certain environments. For example, Russian бес ('demon', phonemically /bʲes/) and без ('without', phonemically /bʲez/) are pronounced identically in isolation as [bʲɛs].

The presence of this process in Russian is also the source of the seemingly variant transliterations of Russian names into "-off" (Russian: -ов), especially by the French.


English does not have phonological final-obstruent devoicing of the type that neutralizes phonemic contrasts; thus pairs like bad and bat are distinct in all major accents of English. Nevertheless voiced obstruents are devoiced to some extent in final position in English, especially when phrase-final or when followed by a voiceless consonant (for example, bad cat [bæd̥ kʰæt]).

List of languages with final-obstruent devoicing

Germanic languages

All modern continental West Germanic languages developed final devoicing, the earliest evidence appearing in Old Dutch around the 9th or 10th century. Gothic (an East Germanic language) also developed final devoicing independently.

Of the North Germanic languages Danish, the closest to German, has final devoicing, while Norwegian and Swedish do not. Icelandic devoices all stops completely, but still has word-final voiced fricatives.

Romance languages

Among the Romance languages, word-final devoicing is common in the Gallo-Romance languages, which tend to exhibit strong Frankish influence (itself the ancestor of Old Dutch, above).

Romanian does not have it. Other Romance languages such as Italian rarely have words with final voiced consonants.

Slavic languages

Most Slavic languages exhibit final devoicing, but notably Serbo-Croatian (the Štokavian dialect) and Ukrainian do not.

Other languages

Note: Hungarian, which lies among Germanic and Slavic languages, does not have it.

See also


  • Brockhaus, Wiebke. (1995) Final Devoicing in the Phonology of German. Max Niemeyer Verlag.
  • Crowley, Terry. (1997) An Introduction to Historical Linguistics. 3rd edition. Oxford University Press.

External links

  • Scottish Gaelic
  • Final Devoicing – extract (with illustrative audio clips) from Peter Ladefoged's A Course in Phonetics
  • Final Devoicing – from The Talking Map | Tips for pronunciation
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Hawaii eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.