Assessing incomplete neutralization of final devoicing in German

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

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32 Citations (Scopus)


It has been claimed that the long established neutralization of the voicing distinction in domain final position in German is phonetically incomplete. However, various studies leading to this claim have been criticized in terms of their methodology. 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. Here we bias the auditory stimuli against the phenomenon by manipulating the duration of the preceding vowel. While experiment 2 replicated our findings, experiment 3 failed to replicate incomplete neutralization statistically, even though 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 incomplete neutralization, the small effect sizes obtained further highlight the limits of investigating incomplete neutralization, emphasizing the limited importance of this phenomenon for everyday speech communication. We argue that without postulating functional relevance, incomplete neutralization can be accounted for by recent models of lexical organization.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-25
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Phonetics
Early online date4 Feb 2014
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


  • final devoicing
  • voicing
  • phonology
  • laboratory phonology
  • phonetics
  • incomplete neutralization
  • neutralization


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