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Articulatory Variation: Speech Patterns Case Study

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Updated: Sep 22nd, 2020


Articulatory variation in different language speakers can be preconditioned by a variety of factors, including their origin and socio-cultural background (Collins and Mees 15). The following project will observe the differences in speech patterns between a Dutch English (DE) speaker and American English (AE) speaker. Below, the information on the speakers’ personal background will be provided.

The Dutch speaker is born in Holland in the town of Velp. He was a butcher by family trade and grew up during the World War II era. The man arrived in the USA when he was 25 years old, with his wife. His intention was to remove himself from the danger of being exposed to another World War. Today, he is an old man of 89 years, just celebrating on May 12. The speaker learned English in grade school because the Dutch curriculum mandates that each student learns four additional languages. So, he learned English, French, German, and Latin.

The American speaker was born in Italy and came to the United States as a one-year-old baby. He grew up in an Upstate New York city. When he graduated from high school, he joined the Marine Corps and became a linguist for the force recon. He learned three languages while he was enrolled, including Spanish, Arabic, and Italian.

The methodology chosen for the current research project amounts to transcribing the speech patterns of both speakers and performing the comparative analysis with the help of the acquired International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) (Priester, Post, and Goorhuis-Brouwer 1470). The primary focus of research is to distinguish the common and different features between consonants and vowels and phonological processes in English and Dutch.

The preliminary results of the comparative analysis demonstrate that English and Dutch phonetics differ in terms of sounds articulation and words stressing to a certain degree. The differences in sounds articulation are conditioned by the variations in the places of articulation in the speakers. The differences in words stressing occur based on the language’s peculiar features (Domahs, Plag, and Carroll 60). However, the two languages also have many features in common. According to Van Heuven (7), English and Dutch have similar intonation patterns. In addition, they tend to distribute logic stress in the same way.

Still, intonation patterns in the two languages are not fully similar. Because in the Dutch language, speakers tend to stress each word in a sentence separately, they continue to have the habit of stressing every single word instead of swallowing them as the native English speakers do (Van Heuven 7). To illustrate: they place the stress on the service words and conjunctions. For example, in a sentence, Kate is shorter than her brother but taller than her sister, the Dutch-speaking English learners will tend to stress than and but.

Comparison between Consonants and Vowels of English and Dutch

Comparative analysis has demonstrated a number of differences between English and Dutch vowels and consonants. First, they differ in terms of place of articulation. Therefore, DE speakers tend to change some sounds according to their habits. This tendency is especially noticeable in the vowel sounds. The examples of this phenomenon are pronunciation of [sit] instead of [si:t] or [bed] instead of [bæd] (Flanagan 24).

Another tendency that the Dutch-speaking people have when they speak English is devoicing the ending consonants at the end of the words. For instance, they tend to pronounce such English words as bird or pub with devoicing the ending consonant sounds in the following way: [bƏ:t] and [pʌp] (Smits et al. 360). One more peculiarity of articulation that Dutch speakers who learned English have is the tendency to pronounce [w] as [v] (Smits et al. 360).

This phenomenon is also explained by the peculiarity of the place of articulation of this sound in both languages that affect a speaker’s ability to pronounce it in a certain way. Other sounds that present similar complexity to the Dutch speakers are [θ] and [ð]. The examples of the words of this group pronunciation are thought that tends to be pronounced as [sink] or [tink], and then that can be articulated as [den] or [zen] (Smits et al. 361).

Examples from Speakers’ Speech Patterns

Analysis of speech patterns of the DE and AE speakers has demonstrated the following common tendencies: the tendency to shorten the vowel sounds by the DE, the tendency to pronounce [w] as [v] by the DE speaker, and the tendency to devoice the consonant sounds at the end of the word by the DE speaker as the difference in phonological processes between two articulation patters of the two speakers (see Table 1).

First, when I listen to the DE speaker, I hear the way he shortens the vowel sounds, changing their nature. Here are the samples in his speech I have identified, listening to him speaking when he pronounced the words looking, good, and too: [lukiŋ], [gut], and [tu]. This tendency is supported by the information I have found in the class textbook, stating that the English learners that have a Dutch background are inclined to shorten the vowel sounds (Collins and Mees 8).

These scholars explain the given phenomenon by the peculiarity of the vowel sounds length in the Dutch language. For centuries, the majority of the Dutch vowel sounds were short. Thereafter, some sounds began to be pronounced longer. However, there was no significant difference in the word meaning, depending on the length of the vowel sounds. This phenomenon provides the rationale for the tendency of the Dutch speakers to reduce the length of the vowel sounds in other languages.

Speech Patterns Differences The DE speaker The AE speaker
The vowel sounds:
words looking, good, and too
The analysis demonstrated the tendency to shorten the vowel sounds:
[lukiŋ], [gut], and [tu]
No vowel sounds are shortened:
[lʊ;kiŋ], [gʊ;t], and [tʊ;]
The consonant sounds:
words were, were, and wall
The DE speaker pronounces [w] as [v]:
[vɒs], [veər], and|vɔl|
No changes are observed:
[wɒz], [weər], and|wɔːl|
The phonological process:
words bags was and said
The DE speaker devoices the consonant sounds at the end of the word:
|ˈbeɡs|, [vɒs], and |saɪt|
No changes are observed:
|ˈbæɡz|, [wɒz], and |saɪd|

Table 1. Comparison analysis of sounds articulation differences between the DE and AE speakers.

Next, I have noticed the tendency to pronounce [w] as [v] by the DE speaker when I listen to him including the following examples: [vɒs], [veər], and |vɔl|. This articulation variation is also conditioned by the phonemic influence of the Dutch language that has no sound [w] and uses the sound [v] in all cases (Smits et al. 360). Smits et al. explain this phenomenon by the lack of voicing during the production of obstruents by the Dutch speakers (360). As an outcome, the language has only the sound [v], and the phonologic phenomenon is so influential that the sound [v] continues to be devoiced to such a significant degree that some speakers may even say [f] instead of [v] (Smits et al. 361).

Finally, the DE speaker devoices the consonant sounds at the end of the word. I have noticed this tendency in the following words: bags, was, and said: |ˈbeɡs|, [vɒs], and |saɪt|. The phonological process of devoicing the ending consonants is the phenomenon peculiar to the Dutch language, according to Smits et al. (360).


In conclusion, it is important to point out that articulatory analysis of the DE and AE speakers’ speech variations demonstrates such common tendencies as change of the place of articulation of vowel and consonant sounds by the DE speaker, tendency to stress the service words, and tendency to pronounce the consonant sounds at the end of a sentence in a devoiced manner. Simultaneously, it has been noted that there are a number of common features in the speakers’ articulation patterns, including the sentence intonation and word-stressing patterns.

Performing the given task, I have learned how to explore the articulation variations in the speech patterns of English language learners and observed the linguistic phenomena that impact their pronunciation. I have found out that although the Dutch and English languages are very close phonetically, the DE speakers become affected by a row of tendencies, including shortening of the vowel sounds, devoicing the consonant sounds at the end of words, and changing the manner of articulation of the consonant sounds that are not present in the Dutch language.

Works Cited

Collins, Beverley, and Inger Mees. The Phonetics Of English And Dutch. 5th ed. 2003. Netherlands: Routledge. Print.

Domahs, Ulrike, Ingo Plag, and Rebecca Carroll. “Word Stress Assignment In German, English And Dutch: Quantity-Sensitivity And Extrametricality Revisited.” The Journal of Comparative Germanic Linguistics 17.1 (2014): 59-96. Print.

Flanagan, James L. Speech Analysis Synthesis And Perception. Vol. 3. New York, NI: Springer Science & Business Media, 2013. Print.

Priester, Gertrude H., Wendy J. Post, and Sieneke M. Goorhuis-Brouwer. “Measuring Speech Sound Development: An Item Response Model Approach.” International Journal Of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology 77.9 (2013): 1469-1473. Print.

Smits, Cas, et al. “A Comparison Between The Dutch And American-English Digits-In-Noise (DIN) Tests In Normal-Hearing Listeners.” International Journal Of Audiology 55.6 (2016): 358-365. Print.

Van Heuven, V. J. J. P. “Acoustic Correlates And Perceptual Cues Of Word And Sentence Stress: Mainly English and Dutch.” The Journal of Comparative Germanic Linguistics 16.4 (2014): 7. Print.

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