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The back-central diphthong /ɑu/
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The back-central diphthong /ɑu/ is found in words such as:

Example 1

a. kou /kɑu/ cold
b. fout /fɑut/ wrong
c. Paul /pɑul/ (proper name)

Spelling
Dutch spells [ɑu] in two different ways: as <au> and <ou>. These reflect different historical origins for the sound, but there is no standard variety of Dutch pronunciation which reflects the distinction anymore. (See also the topic about the spelling of diphthongs).

Figure 1(cf. Gussenhoven 1992) depicts the position of the (Dutch) diphthong within the vowel chart.

Figure 1: Vowel chart

[click image to enlarge]

Articulation
/ɑu/ is a back-central diphthong that moves from low-mid to high-mid and from unrounded to rounded (Collins and Mees 2003). Some speakers may have a more rounded first element. Younger speakers of Northern Standard Dutch may have a wider diphthong (Jacobi 2009).

Duration
/ɑu/ is phonetically long, like the other true diphthongs and /a/ (Adank et al. 2004). Absolute duration varies with the type of speech and speaking rate, but reported average durations have ranged from 113 ms in spontaneous speech (Jacobi 2009) to 205 ms in elicited read speech (Adank et al. 2004).

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[+] Acoustic properties of /ɑu/

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 diphthongs.


Table 1
F1 mixed female male
Netherlands 682-393 715 580
Flanders 616-390 696 549

Table 2
F2 mixed female male
Netherlands 1209-984 1280 1117
Flanders 1102-942 1282 1127

Examples

Table 3: Soundfiles, waveforms and spectrograms of the above sound files, with indications of the relevant acoustic parameters of Northern Standard Dutch /ɑu/
wordgroup phonological context soundfile waveform/spectogram
het is mooi geweest met die kou hierit was nice with the coldness here word-final
[click image to enlarge]
(...) lapjes rood en blauw hadden plaats gemaakt (...)(...) pieces of red and blue had made room (...) word-final
[click image to enlarge]
genoeg hout om jaren achtereen te kunnen stokenenough wood for several years of heating pre-obstruent
[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 /ɑu/
wordgroup phonological context soundfile waveform/spectogram
zij scheen de kou niet te voelenshe seemed not to feel the coldness word-final
[click image to enlarge]
blauw papierblue paper word-final
[click image to enlarge]
(...) van pas gesneden hout(...) of freshly cut wood pre-obstruent
[click image to enlarge]

[+] Phonological analysis of /ɑu/

Features
A possible feature specification of  /ɑu/ as a diphthong is -high, +low, -tense, +round, +back +high, -low, -tense, +round, +back. This assumes that the place of articulation features between the two parts of the diphthong are shared, which may be something of an idealization.

Phonotactics
The phonotactic distribution of /ɑu/ is rather limited; it occurs only before coronal consonants, in particular coronal voiceless stops, such as in 2a and 2b. There are a few words and names in which it occurs before other voiceless plosives, such as in 2c and 2d, and one relatively common word in which it occurs before a voiceless velar plosive, such as in 2e It can occur word-finally, however.

Example 2

a. paus pope
b. koud cold
c. faun faun
d. Paul Paul (proper name)
e. pauk kettledrum

Stress
As a diphthong, /ɑu/ attracts stress; there are no monomorphemic words with /ɑu/ in unstressed position.

Alternation with o
In some words [ɑu] seems to alternate with [o]. E.g., the word for car is [ɑuto] for some speakers and [oto] for others. There is no reason to believe that this is a real phonological fact of Dutch, however. It is more likely that the former is a pronunciation which came directly from Greek (or is derived from the spelling), whereas the latter variant is a pronunciation deriving from French.

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
  • Gussenhoven, Carlos1992DutchJournal of the International Phonetic Association2245-47
  • 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
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