American English Phonetics

Another American English Faculty Project

Although all types of assimilation could be said to involve a saving of articulatory effort, it is not the case that all languages make these economies in the same way. In other words, we should not expect the same sound combinations to undergo the same assimilations in all languages. Indeed, it is quite common even for two accents of the same language to differ in this respect. For example, speakers of Eastern (including South-Eastern) Dutch accents will generally voice a word-final stop when followed by a vowel, as in Hoe laat is ’t?, ook al, spitsuur, where /t,k,ts/ may become /d,g,dz/. In standard Dutch, this type of voicing may affect fricatives, as in Pas op!, huisarts, hoefijzer, where /s,f/ may become /z,v/. Assimilations, in other words, are variety-specific. This is not to say that different languages or accents will not share any assimilations. In fact, quite a number of the assimilations discussed above, especially those involving /n/ and /s/, also occur in Dutch. But there are also important differences and some of these are discussed below.

The reason for this brief discussion of Dutch assimilation processes lies in the ease with which assimilations are transferred from the native language to a foreign language. Assimilations and elisions are largely automatic and subconscious. The same applies to the transfer of these processes to a foreign language. A speaker in whose Dutch accent lesuur has /z/ will not be particularly sensitive to the oppo- sition /s/ – /z/ in similar contexts in English, and will not only tend to say /ˈlɛz ˈiːzi/ and /ˈðɪz ɪz/ for less easy and this is, but may also find that this particular assimilation is difficult to avoid. In fact, it is usually the case that in order to avoid undesirable Dutch assimilations in English, you first need to be able to hear them in Dutch.

In the next sections, we give some Dutch assimilations that are not generally found in GA. Try to establish whether they occur in your own pronunciation of Dutch and avoid them when speaking English.