The Vowel Space Paradox. A Sociophonetic Study on Dutch.

S. van der Harst

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 3 (Research UU / Graduation NOT UU)


    In both phonetics and sociolinguistics, it has been widely observed that the speech style changes with a change in situation. Both fields have studied this topic independently of each other. When the results of sociolinguistic studies and phonetic studies on stylistic vowel variation are combined, a paradox (referred to as ‘the Vowel Space Paradox) arises. That is, on the one hand, phonetic studies have found that more informal speech yields a smaller vowel space in comparison with formal speech, i.e. vowels in the vowel space are reduced in more informal speech, as compared to their realization in formal speech. On the other hand, sociolinguistic studies have repeatedly shown that (some, not all) vowels show more sociolinguistically conditioned variation in more informal speech. Thus, individual vowels can cover a larger area in this smaller vowel space, as compared to these vowels in formal speech. At the same time, it has been shown that in more informal speech contrasts between vowels remain largely intact, despite the smaller overall vowel space and the larger individual vowel spaces. The current dissertation explains this paradox by investigating the sociogeographic variation in read and spontaneous speech of speakers of Standard Dutch. In addition to explaining the paradox, this study gives experimentally based recommendations on how to perform vowel normalization, formant measurements and how to give an optimal temporal representation. Therefore, this dissertation is of interest to anyone who studies vowel variation. Finally, it offers a description of sociogeographic variation in the pronunciation of Standard Dutch vowels.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Radboud University Nijmegen
    • Zonneveld, W, Primary supervisor
    • van Hout, R.W.N.M., Supervisor, External person
    • van de Velde, Hans, Supervisor
    Award date19 Apr 2011
    Place of PublicationUtrecht
    Print ISBNs978-94-6093-056-0
    Publication statusPublished - 19 Apr 2011


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