Assessing incomplete neutralization of final devoicing in German

Timo Röttger, Bodo Winter, Sven Grawunder, James Kirby, Martine Grice

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It has been claimed that the long established neutralization of the voicing distinction in domain final position in German is phonetically incomplete. However, many studies that have advanced this claim have subsequently been criticized on methodological grounds, calling incomplete neutralization into question. In three production experiments and one perception experiment we address these methodological criticisms. In the first production study, we address the role of orthography. In a large scale auditory task using pseudowords, we confirm that neutralization is indeed incomplete and suggest that previous null results may simply be due to lack of statistical power. In two follow-up production studies (Experiments 2 and 3), we rule out a potential confound of Experiment 1, namely that the effect might be due to accommodation to the presented auditory stimuli, by manipulating the duration of the preceding vowel. While the between-items design (Experiment 2) replicated the findings of Experiment 1, the between-subjects version (Experiment 3) failed to find a statistically significant incomplete neutralization effect, although we found numerical tendencies in the expected direction. Finally, in a perception study (Experiment 4), we demonstrate that the subphonemic differences between final voiceless and “devoiced” stops are audible, but only barely so. Even though the present findings provide evidence for the robustness of incomplete neutralization in German, the small effect sizes highlight the challenges of investigating this phenomenon. We argue that without necessarily postulating functional relevance, incomplete neutralization can be accounted for by recent models of lexical organization.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-25
JournalJournal of Phonetics
Early online date4 Feb 2014
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


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