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The rounded high back vowel /u/
quickinfo

The rounded, high, back A-class vowel /u/ is found in words such as:

Example 1

a. moe /mu/ tired
b. soepel /su.pəl/ [ˈsupəl] supple, flexible
c. meloen /mə.lun/ [məˈlun] melon
d. soep /sup/ soup
e. toernooi /tur.noj/ [turˈnoj] tournament

It is invariably spelled with the letters <oe>.

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

Figure 1: Vowel chart

[click image to enlarge]

Articulation
/u/ is a rounded, high, back, A-class vowel. The tongue body is retracted and raised, tongue tip down. There is a large front cavity, but also a relatively large back cavity due to larynx lowering (Collins and Mees 2003; Eijkman 1937).

Duration
/u/ is phonetically short, but it has a lengthened allophone before /r/. In Northern Standard Dutch, this allophone is also centralised and glides towards [ə] (Collins and Mees 2003). Absolute duration varies with the type of speech and speaking rate, but reported average durations have ranged from 70 ms in spontaneous speech (Jacobi 2009) to 98 ms in elicited read speech (Adank et al. 2004).

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[+] Acoustic properties of /u/

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.


Table 1
F1 mixed female male
Netherlands 293 320 339
279 286 334
259
Flanders 310 321 266
301

Table 2
F2 mixed female male
Netherlands 890 842 810
929 938 813
805
Flanders 968 1019 978
1035

Differences between NSD and BSD
/u/ has been said to have a somewhat longer duration in Belgian Standard Dutch than in Northern Standard Dutch (Collins and Mees 2003), although Adank et al. (2004) only show this for their female speakers.

/u/ is a back-central, rather than a back vowel in Belgian Standard Dutch (Collins and Mees 2003;Verhoeven 2005).

Examples

Table 3: Soundfiles, waveforms and spectrograms of the above sound files, with indications of the relevant acoustic parameters of Northern Standard Dutch /u/
wordgroup phonological context soundfile waveform/spectogram
(...) die nooit moe worden(...) that never get tired word-final
[click image to enlarge]
met zijn hoge hoedwith his high hat pre-obstruent
[click image to enlarge]
dat vet heeft wel degelijk een doelthis fat does have a purpose actually 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 /u/
wordgroup phonological context soundfile waveform/spectogram
ze zag er moe uitshe looked tired word-final
[click image to enlarge]
(...) dat je je hoed niet verkreukelt(...) that you don't crumple your hat pre-obstruent
[click image to enlarge]
het doel van deze militaire interventiethe purpose of this military intervention pre-liquid
[click image to enlarge]

[+] Phonological analysis of /u/

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

/u/ as an A-class vowel
/u/ is most profitably seen as a A-class vowel, although it is not so clear what its B-class vowel alternant would be. A further problem in analyzing /u/ (or the other high vowels /y/ and /i/) as an A-class vowel is that phonetically it is really short, and A-class vowels are sometimes analysed as ‘long’ vowels. An important reason to still see /u/ as an A-class vowel is phonotactic (see section phonotactics below).

Interaction with [ʋ]
When followed by another vowel, /i/ typically develops a glide [ʋ]: douane[duʋanə]customs. On the other hand, [ʋ] seems avoided before /u/. Although there are words starting with [ʋu] ( woestmad) or [zʋul] zwoelwarm, there are no words starting with [tʋu] or [kʋu], even though [tʋ] and [kʋ] are not uncommon clusters (e.g. kwal[kʋɑl]jellyfish; see also Complex Onsets).

Behaviour before /r/
When placed before an /r/ consonant in the same foot, /u/ lengthens to [uː] (Gussenhoven 1993).

Phonotactics
Like other A-class vowels /u/ can occur at the end of a syllable; and like other A-class vowels /u/ does not occur before two non-coronal consonants.

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
  • Collins, B. & Mees, I2003The Phonetics of English and DutchLeidenE.J. Brill
  • Collins, B. & Mees, I2003The Phonetics of English and DutchLeidenE.J. Brill
  • Collins, B. & Mees, I2003The Phonetics of English and DutchLeidenE.J. Brill
  • Collins, B. & Mees, I2003The Phonetics of English and DutchLeidenE.J. Brill
  • Eijkman, L.P.H1937Phonetiek van het NederlandsHaarlemDe Erven F. Bohn N.V.
  • 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
  • Verhoeven, Jo2005Belgian Standard DutchJournal of the International Phonetic Association35243-247
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