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The unrounded high-mid front vowel /e/
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The unrounded, high-mid, front A-class vowel/e/ is found in words such as:

Example 1

a. zee /ze/ sea
b. deel /del/ part
c. beer /ber/ bear
d. been /ben/ leg
e. benen /be.nə(n)/ legs

It is spelled with a single letter <e> in open syllables (see 1e, but notice 1a); this letter is doubled (<ee>) in closed syllables (see 1b-1d).

Figure 1(cf. Gussenhoven 1992) depicts the (Dutch) vowel's position within the vowel chart.

Figure 1: Vowel chart

[click image to enlarge]

Articulation
/e/ is an unrounded, high-mid, front, A-class vowel (Collins and Mees 2003). The tongue body is fronted and raised, but less so than for /i/, the tongue tip is down. There is a large front cavity, and a small back cavity due to larynx raising (Eijkman 1937).

In the Netherlands, /e/ is a narrow closing diphthong [ei], except before /r/ in the same word, where it has a centring glide [eə](Gussenhoven 1992), and before /l/, where it is also retracted (Botma et al. 2012). Younger speakers of Northern Standard Dutch may have a wider diphthong, towards [ɛɪ](Jacobi 2009). In Belgian Standard Dutch, /e/ is a monophthong (Verhoeven 2005).

Duration
/e/ is phonetically long, though shorter than /a/ and the true diphthongs (Adank et al. 2004). It is lengthened before /r/. Absolute duration varies with the type of speech and speaking rate, but reported average durations have ranged from 96 ms in spontaneous speech (Jacobi 2009) to 181 ms in elicited read speech (Adank et al. 2004).

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[+] Acoustic properties of /e/

In the Netherlands, the quality of the initial element of /e/ before /r/, produced as a centring diphthong, may be close to [ɪ](Collins and Mees 2003). Formant values vary with the type of speech, gender of the speaker, and speech community (the Netherlands or Flanders). Below are some reported average F1/F2 values. Where the table shows only one measurement, this was taken from the midpoint of the vowel; where two measurements are reported, these are taken from the onset and offset of the vowels, showing the diphthongal quality of the Northern Dutch vowel, especially.

Table 1
F1 mixed female male
Netherlands 428-352 471 407
442 403
400
Flanders 383-363 436 384

Table 2
F2 mixed female male
Netherlands 2107-2308 2352 2017
2343 2218
1995
Flanders 2285-2375 2420 1993

Examples

Table 3: Soundfiles, waveforms and spectrograms of the above sound files, with indications of the relevant acoustic parameters of Northern Standard Dutch /e/
wordgroup phonological context soundfile waveform/spectogram
naar zeeto the sea word-final
[click image to enlarge]
ik pakte het stuurwiel beetI grabbed the steering-wheel pre-obstruent
[click image to enlarge]
een beer die heel wat had meegemaakta bear that had been through a lot pre-liquid
[click image to enlarge]

Table 4: Soundfiles, waveforms and spectrograms of the above sound files, with indications of the relevant acoustic parameters of Southern Standard Dutch /e/
wordgroup phonological context soundfile waveform/spectogram
hij is een paar jaar op zee geweesthe has sailed the sea for some years word-final
[click image to enlarge]
maar de kastanje hielt hij beetbut he held the chestnut tightly pre-obstruent
[click image to enlarge]
precies de omtrek van een beerright the contour of a bear pre-liquid
[click image to enlarge]

[+] Phonological analysis of /e/

Features
A possible feature specification of /e/ is -high, -low, +tense, -round, -back.

/e/ as an A-class vowel
/e/ is most profitably seen as a A-class vowel alternant of /ɪ/ (cf. topic about ɪ for arguments). Sometimes it also functions as an A-class vowel alternant of /ɛ/, e.g. in pairs such as gebedprayer, sg gebedenprayer, pl (‘prayer’ sg-pl), for which see topic about ɛ.

'Allophony' with schwa
A striking characteristic of /e/, which makes it stand out from other A-class vowels, is that it rarely occurs in unstressed position. The two exceptions are toffee[tɔfe]toffee and dominee[domine]Reverend. Although neither of these words would probably be recognized by a Dutch speaker as in any way ‘strange’, other words do not contain this vowel. There may be a connection between this fact and the fact that [e] seems to be the A-class vowel that reduces most easily to schwa when it is unstressed. One could imagine that [e] is the only vowel of Dutch which behaves like most English tense vowels: it reduces to schwa whenever it ends up in an unstressed position. This behaviour also makes that [e] can be seen as a stress-attractor in surface-based algorithms for stress assignment (Daelemans et al. 1994). Toffee and dominee are then lexicalized exceptions to this regularity.

Behaviour before /r/
When placed before an /r/ consonant, /e/ colours to an [ɪ]-like segment. When the /r/ occurs in the same foot, the vowel furthermore lengthens to [ɪː] (Gussenhoven 1993).

[+] Phonotactics

/e/ is an A-class vowel and therefore it occurs in open syllables or before at most one non-coronal consonant (followed by an optional range of voiceless coronal obstruents). The toponym (De) Meern is a possible exception.

References:
  • Adank, Patti, Hout, Roeland van & Smits, Roel2004An acoustic description of the vowels of Northern and Southern Standard DutchJournal of the Acoustical Society of America1161729--1738
  • Adank, Patti, Hout, Roeland van & Smits, Roel2004An acoustic description of the vowels of Northern and Southern Standard DutchJournal of the Acoustical Society of America1161729--1738
  • Botma, E.D., Sebregts, K. & Smakman, D2012The phonetics and phonology of Dutch mid vowels before /l/Laboratory Phonology3273-298
  • Collins, B. & Mees, I2003The Phonetics of English and DutchLeidenE.J. Brill
  • Collins, B. & Mees, I2003The Phonetics of English and DutchLeidenE.J. Brill
  • Daelemans, Walter, Gillis, Steven & Durieux, Gert1994The acquisition of stress: a data-oriented approachComputational Linguistics20421-451
  • Eijkman, L.P.H1937Phonetiek van het NederlandsHaarlemDe Erven F. Bohn N.V.
  • Gussenhoven, Carlos1992DutchJournal of the International Phonetic Association2245-47
  • Gussenhoven, Carlos1992DutchJournal of the International Phonetic Association2245-47
  • Gussenhoven, Carlos1993The Dutch foot and the chanted callJournal of Linguistics2937-63
  • Jacobi, Irene2009On Variation and Change in Diphthongs and Long Vowels of Spoken DutchUniversity of AmsterdamThesis
  • Jacobi, Irene2009On Variation and Change in Diphthongs and Long Vowels of Spoken DutchUniversity of AmsterdamThesis
  • Verhoeven, Jo2005Belgian Standard DutchJournal of the International Phonetic Association35243-247
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