Realizing [χ] for /r/ in Eifel German and Corresponding Attitudes

"… man klingt dann halt schon irgendwie wie ein Bauer"

Scientific Study, 2018

30 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Theoretical Background
2.1. Realization of /r/ in Germany
2.2. Realizations of /r/ in the Rhineland
2.3. Attitudes Towards Dialects

3. Methodology
3.1. Informants
3.2. Research Instruments
3.3. Data Collection Procedure
3.4. Coding Scheme

4. Results
4.1. Age Comparison
4.2. Speech Style Comparison
4.3. Attitudes towards Eifel German

5. Discussion

6. Conclusion


1. Introduction

It has been proposed that in Modern Standard German no other phoneme is as variable in terms of pronunciation as /r/ (cf. Auer 1990, Tęcza 2018). Although the IPA system includes seven types of rhotics in its system, it has been argued that several more r-sounds exist which are not included in the class of rhotics due to a lack of a consistent definition (cf. Schrambke 2010, Wiese 2003). One of these r-sounds, not included in the class of rhotics, is the voiceless uvular fricative [χ] which has been found to be frequently used for /r/ by speakers of Eifel German in the Eifel area (cf. Cornelissen 2002, Atlas der deutschen Alltagssprache, Rheinischer Landesverbund LVR, Rein n.d.).

Past research has suggested a steady decline in the use of dialects and regiolects, which are becoming more and more gerontolects (cf. Cornelissen 2002). This is also true for Eifel German which has been proposed to be rather used by older generations nowadays (cf. Cornelissen 2002). In addition to age, it has been claimed that speech style also has an effect on speakers of a certain dialect altering their speech behavior in careful and casual speech styles (cf. Labov 1972). While several studies exist on peoples’ assessment which specific pronunciations are most frequently used in the area in which they live (cf Cornelissen 2002), no systematic study exist on the actual speech behavior of the people living in the Eifel area in which speech styles are varied, as to the knowledge of the author. This study tries to fill this research gap by, first of all, investigating whether there is a difference in the realization [χ] for /r/ across age groups, secondly, the effects of different speech styles in actual speech behavior and lastly analyzing informants’ attitudes towards Eifel German.

By analyzing four age groups ranging from 20 to 59 and varying speech styles, the study tries to gain greater insights into age differences and the effect of careful and casual speech styles on actual linguistic behavior from people coming from the Eifel area. Two informants were used for each age group amounting to a total of eight participants. To elicit casual speech data a taboo game was used, whereas as wordlist-reading task was used to gather careful speech data. Based on previous findings, the study aims at finding out whether the Eifel German dialect is in decline and how people living in the Eifel feel about this dialect.

The paper starts with the theoretical background providing a comprehensive overview giving a general definition of /r/, its realization in Germany and the Rhineland generally and then more specifically in Eifel German. A short introductory chapter about aspects of attitudes towards different dialects in Germany is further included. The methodology chapter will present details of the informants, research instruments used to elicit the data, the data collection procedure and the coding scheme used to classify the data. The fourth chapter includes most important findings which are relevant to answer the research questions. The discussion chapter will be used to look at the results in the light of previous findings and theories. At last, the paper will close with a summary of all relevant and noteworthy findings and will offer an outlook and ideas for future research worth investigating.

2. Theoretical Background

2.1. Realization of /r/ in Germany

Before different realizations of the phoneme /r/ can be discussed for Germany, the question of what /r/ actually is needs to be answered. The IPA-system suggests at least seven r-sounds (see table 1). Several researchers (cf. Schrambke 2010, Wiese 2003) have described the problematics of defining /r/. Wiese (2003: 25) proposes that although r-sounds seem to vary greatly, there are also similarities “which justifies the common usage of phonetics and linguistics of talking about ‘r’ and the class of ‘r-sounds’ or ‘rhotics’”. As the place and manner of r-sound articulation are variable, the list of r-sounds is longer compared to other consonants. Wiese (2003: 25) suggests that r-sounds “may assume at east a dental/alveolar, postalveolar, retroflex, or uvular place of articulation”. Next to different places of articulation, the manner of articulation is equally variable. Wiese (2003: 25) names at least five manners of articulation in which r-sounds can be found: trills, taps or flaps, fricatives, approximants and vowels.

Table 1. Overview of r-sounds in the IPA system

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Studies of the phoneme /r/ suggest that this list offered by the IPA system is not exhaustive and also not fully agreed upon (cf. Wiese 2003, Wiese 2001). For example, Ladefoged and Maddieson (1996) regard [ʁ] as a uvular approximant instead of a fricative, but confusingly there is no simple symbol for it. Wiese (2001: 336) uses this example to explain that although there might not be any logic behind the suggestion made by Ladefoged and Maddieson (1996), there are other segments that are also considered rhotics. Wiese (2001: 336) further notes that even if symbols belong to rhotic sounds, they may indeed not be actually used for the class of rhotics. There are a number of sounds which are not treated clearly in this regard. For example, the voiceless counterpart of [ʁ], namely [χ], is either interpreted as a voiceless uvular fricative but in some cases also as a rhotic (cf. Wiese 2001: 337). Although [ʁ] is included in the rhotics class in the IPA system, [χ] is not. As of now, there are no clear cut characteristics, which all r-sounds or r-like sounds share. Although [χ] is not included in the rhotics class in the IPA system, there are languages, for example in French or German, in which /r/ may well be a voiceless uvular fricative sound and could arguably be defined as a rhotic. There are many more examples where rhotics are ambiguous but represent variants of /r/ in the respective language (cf. Wiese 2003: 27).

Thus, it seems that r-sounds cannot be defined in segmental terms. Wiese (2003: 27) suggests a phonotactic approach to define rhotics and argues that “the class of rhotics is to be defined as a particular slot in the sonority hierarchy, namely the one between /l/ and the glides or high vowels”. The sonority scale is defined as “nothing but an abstract ordering of relative positions” (Wiese 2003: 28). The definition of r-sounds in relation to a sonority scale seems to be problematic as the term ‘relative positions’ suggests context-dependence and can always be different. This would, however, explain the vast variations of rhotics across and even within languages.

German is a good example to demonstrate different kinds of realizations of the phoneme / r/ as it can vary greatly. Nevertheless, it has been proposed that the voiced uvular fricative/ approximant [ʁ] can be assumed to appear most frequently in Modern Standard German (cf. Schrambke 2010, Wiese 2003, Wiese 2006). While the voiced uvular fricative is part of the IPA system, a voiced uvular approximant is not acknowledged by a simple symbol. Wiese (2006: 171) claims that /r/ in Modern Standard German is best to be described as an approximant which is defined as [+ consonantal, - obstruent, + continuant]. This means that, theoretically, /r/ is a consonant realized with obstructed airflow without a complete closure in oral activity. Looking at how differently /r/ may be realized, Wiese (2006) claims the only feature that can describe all r-sounds is the [+ continuant] feature. Further, Wiese (2006: 171) states that although the “major place of articulation is uvular in Standard German, alveolar articulation can be found as well” with the place of articulation being constant for any particular dialect. He claims that “variation between these places of articulation is interdialectal variation, but not allophonic or other variation within a given system” (Wiese 2006: 171). In postvocalic position, /r/ is usually vocalized by Modern Standard German speakers while it is pronounced as a fricative if it appears in inital position (cf. Wiese 2006: 253). However, in some regions of Germany, /r/ may be realized as a fricative after a short vowel (cf Wiese 2006: 253). It has indeed been proposed that in Standard German no other phoneme allows for so many variations as /r/ (cf. Auer 1990, Tęcza 2018).

The numerous alternations of /r/ in Germany are most visible when we take a look German dialects. Wiese (2003: 29) claims that “almost all known variants of /r/ occur within the dialects of German” and reports on a study by Joachim Göschel (1971). In this study rural dialects of German were recorded and classified with their most frequently used r-sound in prevocalic position. Map 1 below shows an overview of the variation of /r/ found across Germany.

Map 1. Articulation of /r/ in Germany

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

(cf. Joachim Göschel 1971: 94)

Göschel (1971) noted alveolar, retroflex and voiceless uvular r-sounds as well as voiced uvular fricatives. It must be noted, however, that the data was collected in 1936 and may be outdated. The map is therefore rather used for demonstration purposes to show that the variation of /r/ is indeed widespread. It further does not allow for fine-grained analysis and roughly defines its regions.

It has been argued that the reason for the great variation of r-sounds is due to the fact that they are by themselves “unstable sounds” (Schiller 1999: 262) which can be demonstrated with the example of a trilled /r/. Realizing a trilled /r/ is so complex in terms of articulation that it is learnt rather late in language acquisition, which may lead to “rhotacism as a speech error” (Schiller 1999: 262). Further, Schiller (1999) states that trilled rhotics are highly open to sound changes leading to further variation.

Moreover, it has been found that how /r/ is actually pronounced depends on its position in the syllable as depicted in table 2. The table is taken from Schiller (1999). The overview shows that if /r/ is the first letter of a word, it is usually pronounced as a uvular trill. In C-clusters, the uvular fricative is most common. If /r/ is preceded by a vowel, it is most often vocalized or realized with a fricative.

Table 2. Realization of /r/ dependent on the position in the syllable

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

While table 2 might make sense, it must be noted that empirical evidence to support the author’s hypothesis are limited and have to be revised. It only offers four realization strategies and could be criticized to be incomplete, especially if different German dialects are taken into account. The differences surely are very much regional dependent. This will be easily seen if we take a closer look at a specific dialect. One example of such a regional dependence is the Eifel area. Realizations of /r/ in the Eifel area are discussed in the following.

2.2. Realizations of /r/ in the Rhineland

The Rheinische Landeskunde institute offers a comprehensive overview of dialect maps and regions. The area investigated for this study is the Eifel area which belongs to the Rhineland. The dialect spoken in the Eifel area exhibits specific pronunciation features and can, hence, be seen as a regional dialect. Six different dialects have been found to be spoken in the Rhineland (see map 2). Map 2 shows that the investigated area of this study, Euskirchen, belongs to the ripuarian area which is in the same group with cities like Cologne, Bonn or Aachen. Although Euskirchen is part of the region where Rhineland German is theoretically spoken, several differences have been found in the pronunciation of specific words.

Map 2. Dialects in the Rhineland

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: im_rheinland/dialekte/dialekte_im_rheinland.html

A special case is the pronunciation of /r/ if it appears between a short vowel and an obstruent like <t>, as for example in <hart> (cf. Cornelissen 2002). In Rhineland German the <r> would be vocalized and realized as /haat/ or rather [ha:t]. This is different in the Eifel area in which it has been found that <hart> is realized as /hacht/ or rather [haxt] with a strong /ach/- sound (cf. Atlas der deutschen Alltagssprache, Cornelissen 2002, Wiese 2001). Map 3 above shows the results of a comprehensive study by Cornelissen (2002) on Rhineland German and depicts the distribution of this phenomenon in the Rhineland. The more south we look on the map, the more likely it is to find a voiceless uvular fricative. It is the Ripuarian area in which this phenomenon is most likely to be found. The Atlas zur deutschen Alltagssprache reports similar findings as can be seen in map 4 above.

Map 3. Realization of <hart> in the Rhineland

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Map 4. Realization of <Sport> in the Rhineland

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The realization of /r/ as a vocal or as a voiceless uvular fricative is connected. It has been claimed that pronouncing /r/ as [χ] is a means of compensating for the vocalization of <r> which has started to appear in the 18th century (cf. Macha 1991: 145). Macha (1991: 145–149) claims that at this time the majority of the people living in the Rhineland spoke a Rhineland dialect but due to access to higher education people also started to learn Standard German. Back then, the standard realization of /r/ was an alveolar trill [r] realized with the tip of the tongue. Macha (1991) argues that people had difficulties realizing this trilled /r/ and therefore started to produce a [χ] sound instead. Although people knew that this was not the ‘correct’ form, they kept their pronunciation.


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Realizing [χ] for /r/ in Eifel German and Corresponding Attitudes
"… man klingt dann halt schon irgendwie wie ein Bauer"
University of Bonn  (IAAK)
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realizing, eifel, german, corresponding, attitudes, bauer
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Katja Grasberger (Author), 2018, Realizing [χ] for /r/ in Eifel German and Corresponding Attitudes, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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