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Segmental Phenomena in Germanic: Consonants  

Samantha Litty and Joseph Salmons

Speech sounds are divided into vowels and consonants, the latter being the focus here. Germanic includes ancient and modern “named languages”—traditionally divided into North Germanic (e.g., Swedish, Danish, Faroese), West Germanic (e.g., German, English, Yiddish), and East Germanic languages not spoken for centuries (notably Gothic). The family also includes countless “dialects,” which are often not mutually intelligible and so could be understood as distinct languages. Languages of the world vary in how many consonants distinguish differences in meaning (create phonological contrasts), like bear versus pear, from 6 to over 100. Most have about 20 and Germanic languages are near that number. Beyond abstract phonological contrasts, each consonant varies phonetically, in actual pronunciation, from varying degrees of aspiration on p, t, k and voicing on b, d, g to fundamental variation in the realizations of /r/, /l/, and /h/. Key consonantal phenomena are presented in historical context and for contemporary languages, with an emphasis on distinguishing abstract, phonological patterns from concrete, phonetic ones. Despite the long research tradition, many issues proffer opportunities to advance the field and are discussed to encourage readers to engage with them.