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Kahn (1976:34) presented an analysis in which 'intervocalic consonants [...] may belong simultaneously to a preceding and a following vowel's syllable'. These consonants are called ambisyllabicconsonants.

Applied to Dutch, a word-medial intervocalic consonant following a B-class vowel could be analyzed as ambisyllabic. This is illustrated in the following simplified example emmer[ˈɛmər]bucket, in which the intervocalic bilabialnasal is assigned to the coda of the first syllable due to the preceding B-class vowel and to the onset of the second syllable due to the onset maximization principle (see below):

Figure 1

[click image to enlarge]

With the exception of /h/, which is generally prohibited in codas in Dutch, almost all consonants can be ambisyllabic. While most consonants occur freely in ambisyllabic position, the occurrence of /ŋ/ is restricted. Ambisyllabic /ŋ/ can only follow B-class vowels and can only precede schwa as in engel[ˈɛŋəl]angel.

[+] Ambisyllabicity in Dutch

Intervocalic consonants following a B-class vowel always become ambisyllabic in Dutch, at least under the assumption that B-class vowels only occur in closed syllables. That is, they are connected to the coda of the first syllable as well as to the onset of the second syllable. The ambisyllabicity follows from the interaction of the following two constraints:

  1. *B.CV: A B-class vowel (B) does not occur in an open syllable (Van Oostendorp 1995, 2000; see also Minimal Rhyme ConstraintBooij 1995).
  2. Onset: A syllable must have an onset (see also Syllable Contact Constraint / Maximal Onset Constraint;Murray and Vennemann 1983; Clements 1990).
While (1) rules out the structure B.CV, where a B-class vowel would occur in an open syllable, (2) prohibits the syllabification BC.V with a B-class vowel in a closed syllable followed by an onsetless syllable (V). Given that these two generalizations are obeyed, this only leaves a syllabification where the consonant C is realized as an ambisyllabic consonant. While ambisyllabicity of consonants is thus required in a string BCV, it is prohibited if the intervocalic consonant follows an A-class vowel or a diphthong.

Almost all Dutch consonants can be ambisyllabic (see 1). The voiced fricative /h/ cannot occur ambisyllabically since it is generally prohibited in codas. Furthermore, the two glides /j, ʋ/ do not occur in ambisyllabic position. Lastly, due to a general co-occurrence restriction holding between B-class vowels and voiced fricatives in Dutch, words of this type cannot be found, with the exception of the two loanwords mazzel/mɑzəl/luck and puzzel/pʏzəl/puzzle. There is the tendency for the latter one to be pronounced as [ˈpy.zəl].

Example 1

appel [ˈɑpəl] apple
otter [ˈɔtər] otter
akker [ˈɑkər] acre
bobbel [ˈbɔbəl] blob
modder [ˈmɔdər] mud
zeggen [ˈzɛɣə(n)] say
knuffel [ˈknʏfəl] hug
tussen [ˈtʏsə(n)] between
lachen [ˈlɑxə(n)] laugh
puzzel [ˈpʏzəl] puzzle
hammer [ˈhɑmər] hammer
Onno [ˈɔno] (name)
zanger [ˈzɑŋər] singer
lallen [ˈlɑlə(n)] babble, jabber
porren [ˈpɔrə(n)] poke

While most consonants occur freely in ambisyllabic position, the occurrence of /ŋ/ is restricted:

Engma restriction
[ŋ] can only occur in an onset if it is ambisyllabic and the following vowel is a schwa. It is not allowed if the following vowel is a full vowel.
As a result, intervocalic velar nasals exclusively follow B-class vowels and precede schwa. If /ŋ/ followed an A-class vowel or diphthong, the Onset Constraint / Syllable Contact Constraint / Maximal Onset Constraint would enforce the velar nasal to be assigned to the onset position of the `second' syllable, which is prohibited. Therefore, we find intervocalic /ŋ/ only in words like:

Example 2

singel [ˈsɪŋəl] canal
slungel [ˈslʏŋəl] gawk, beanpole
engel [ˈɛŋəl] angel
zwanger [ˈzʋɑŋər] pregnant
honger [ˈhɔŋər] hunger
  • Booij, Geert1995The phonology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Clements, George N1990The role of the sonority cycle in core syllabificationPapers in Laboratory Phonology1Cambridge University Press283-333
  • Kahn, Daniel1976Syllable-based generalizations in English phonologyMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyThesis
  • Murray, R.W. & Vennemann, T1983Sound change and syllable structure in Germanic phonologyLanguage59514-528
  • Oostendorp, Marc van1995Vowel Quality and Phonological ProjectionTilburg UniversityThesis
  • Oostendorp, Marc van2000Phonological ProjectionNiemeyer
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