Luxembourgish phonology

This article aims to describe the phonology and phonetics of central Luxembourgish, which is regarded as the emerging standard.[1]


The consonant inventory of Luxembourgish is quite similar to that of Standard German.[1]

  • /m, p, b/ are bilabial, /pf/ is bilabial-labiodental, whereas /f, v/ are labiodental.[1]
    • /pf/ occurs only in loanwords from Standard German.[2] Just as among many native German-speakers, it tends to be simplified to [f] word-initially. For example, Pflicht ('obligation') is pronounced [fliɕt], or in careful speech [pfliɕt].
    • /v/ is realized as [w] when it occurs after /k, ts, ʃ/, e.g. zwee [tsweː] ('two').[3]
  • /p, t, k/ are voiceless fortis [p, t, k]. They are aspirated [pʰ, tʰ, kʰ] in most positions,[4] but not when /s/ or /ʃ/ precedes in the same syllable, or when another plosive or affricate follows. The fortis affricates are unaspirated and thus contrast with the lenis ones by voicing alone.
  • /b, d, ɡ/ are unaspirated lenis, more often voiceless [, , ɡ̊] than voiced [b, d, ɡ].[4] The lenis affricates are truly voiced.
  • /dz/ as a phoneme appears only in a few words, such as spadséieren /ʃpɑˈdzəɪeren/ ('to go for a walk'). /dʒ/ as a phoneme occurs only in loanwords from English.[2]
    • Note that phonetic [dz] and [dʒ] occur due to voicing of word-final /ts/ and /tʃ/; see below.
  • /s/ and /z/ only contrast between vowels. /s/ does not occur word-initially except in French and English loanwords. In the oldest loans from French it is often replaced with /ts/.
  • /ŋ, k, ɡ/ are velar, /j/ is palatal whereas /r/ is uvular.[1]
    • /j/ is frequently realized as [ʒ], e.g. Juni [ˈjuːniː] or [ˈʒuːniː] ('June').[3]
    • The normal realization of /r/ is more often a trill [ʀ] than a fricative [ʁ]. The fricative variant is used after short vowels before consonants. If the consonant is voiceless, the fricative is also voiceless, i.e. [χ]. Older speakers use the consonantal variant [ʀ ~ ʁ] also in the word-final position, where younger speakers tend to vocalize the /r/ to [ɐ], as in German and Danish.[4]
  • /χ, ʁ/ have two types of allophones: alveolo-palatal [ɕ, ʑ] and uvular [χ, ʁ]. The latter occur after back vowels, whereas the former occur in all other positions.[4]
    • The [ʑ] allophone appears only in a few words intervocalically, e.g. Spigel [ˈʃpiʑəl] ('mirror'), héijen [ˈhəɪʑən] (inflected form of héich /ˈhəɪʁ/ 'high'). Note that an increasing number of speakers do not distinguish between the alveolo-palatal allophones [ɕ, ʑ] and the postalveolar phonemes /ʃ, ʒ/.[5]

In external sandhi, syllable-final /n/ is deleted unless followed by [n t d ts h], with few exceptions. Furthermore, some unusual consonant clusters may arise post-lexically after cliticisation of the definite article d' (for feminine, neuter and plural forms), e.g. d'Land [dlɑnt] ('the country') or d'Kräiz [tkʀæːɪts] ('the cross').[2] Due to cluster simplification this article often disappears entirely between consonants.

Word-final obstruents

In the word-final position the contrast between the voiceless /p, t, tʃ, k, f, s, ʃ, χ/ on one hand and the voiced /b, d, dʒ, ɡ, v, z, ʒ, ʁ/ on the other is neutralized in favor of the former, unless a word-initial vowel follows in which case the obstruent is voiced and are resyllabified, that is, moved to the onset of the first syllable of the next word (the same happens with /ts/, which becomes [dz], and the non-native affricate /pf/, which is also voiced to [bv]). For instance, sech eens (phonemically /zeχ ˈeːns/) is pronounced [zəˈʑeːns],[6] although this article transcribes it [zəʑ ˈeːns] so that it corresponds more closely to the spelling. Similarly, eng interessant Iddi [eŋ intʀæˈsɑnd ˈidi] ('an interesting idea').

Pronunciation of the letter g

In Luxembourgish, the letter g has no fewer than nine possible pronunciations, depending both on the origin of a word and the phonetic environment. Natively, it is pronounced [ɡ] initially and [ʁ ~ ʑ] elsewhere, the latter being devoiced to [χ ~ ɕ] at the end of a morpheme. Words from French, English and (in a few cases) German have introduced [ɡ] (devoiced [k]) in other environments, and French orthography's "soft g" indicates [ʒ] (devoiced [ʃ]). By the now very common mergers of [ʒ] and [ʑ], as well as [ʃ] and [ɕ], this number may be reduced to seven, however.

In the unstressed intervocalic position when simultaneously following [ə, iə, uə] and preceding [ə] or [ɐ], [ʑ] may lose its friction and become an approximant [j], as in bëllegen [ˈbələjən] 'cheap (infl.)'. This is generally not obligatory and it happens regardless of whether [ʑ] merges with [ʒ], proving that the underlying phoneme is still /ʁ/ (/ˈbeleʁen/).

Summary of pronunciation of ⟨g⟩
Phoneme Allophone Applies in Phonetic environment Example IPA Meaning
/ɡ/ [ɡ] native and German
stem-initially géi [ɡəɪ] go
some German words stem-internally Drogen [ˈdʀoːɡən] drugs
French words stem-initially and internally before written a, o, u, or consonant Negatioun [neɡɑˈsjəʊn] negation
[k] French and some
German words
word-finally Drog [dʀoːk] drug
/ʒ/ [ʒ] French words stem-initially and internally before written e, i or y originell [oʀiʒiˈnæl] original
[ʃ] word-finally before mute e Plage [plaːʃ] beach
/ʁ/ [ʁ] native and most
German words
stem-internally after back vowels Lager [ˈlaːʁɐ] store
[χ] word-finally after back vowels Dag [daːχ] day
[ʑ] stem-internally after consonants and non-back vowels Verfügung [fɐˈfyːʑuŋ] disposal
[j] when both unstressed and intervocalic between [ə, iə, uə] and [ə, ɐ] bëllegen [ˈbələjən] cheap (inflected)
[ɕ] word-finally after consonants and non-back vowels bëlleg [ˈbələɕ] cheap


Native monophthongs of Luxembourgish, from Gilles & Trouvain (2013:70)
Part 1 of native diphthongs of Luxembourgish, from Gilles & Trouvain (2013:71)
Part 2 of native diphthongs of Luxembourgish, from Gilles & Trouvain (2013:71)
Native vowels
Front Central Back
short long short long
Close i u
Close-mid e ə o
Open-mid ɛː ɐ
Open æ ɑ
Diphthongs closing əɪ   əʊ   æːɪ   æːʊ   ɑɪ   ɑʊ
centering iə uə
opening iːɐ̯ uːɐ̯ ɛːɐ̯ oːɐ̯
Non-native vowels
short long
Close y
Close-mid øː
Open-mid œ œː
Nasal vowels õː   ɛ̃ː   ɑ̃ː
Diphthongs closing
opening yːɐ̯   øːɐ̯
  • /i, iː, u, uː, o/ are close to the corresponding cardinal vowels [i, u, o].[7]
    • Some speakers may realize /o/ as open-mid [ɔ], especially before /r/.[7]
  • /e/ is most usually realized as a mid central vowel with slight rounding ([ə̹]). Before velars, it is fronted and unrounded to [e], though this is sometimes as open as [ɛ]. Contrary to Standard German, the sequence of [ə] and a sonorant never results in a syllabic sonorant; however, Standard German spoken in Luxembourg often also lacks syllabic sonorants, so that e.g. tragen is pronounced [ˈtʀaːɡən], rather than [ˈtʀaːɡn̩] or [ˈtʀaːɡŋ̍].[8][9]
  • /eː, oː/ are higher than close-mid [e̝ː, o̝ː] and may be even as high as /i, u/.[7]
    • Before /r/, /eː/ is realized as open-mid [ɛː].[7]
  • The quality of /æ/ matches the prototypical IPA value of the ⟨æ⟩ symbol ([æ]).[7]
  • [ɐ] is the realization of a non-prevocalic, unstressed sequence /er/.[7]
  • /ɑ/ is near-open [ɑ̝].[7]
  • /aː/, a phonological back vowel (the long counterpart of /ɑ/), is phonetically near-front [a̠ː]. Sometimes, it may be as front and as high as /æ/ ([æː]), though without losing its length.[10]
  • The nasal vowels appear only in loanwords from French, whereas the oral front rounded vowels appear in loans from both French and German.[2]
    • The opposition between close-mid and open-mid vowels does not exist in native Luxembourgish words. In non-native words, there is a marginal contrast between the close-mid /øː/ and the open-mid /œː/.
    • The short non-native /œ/ is distinct from /e/ only on a phonemic level, as the latter is fronted and unrounded to [e] before velars (cf. the surname Böcker /ˈbœker/). In other positions, they are perceived as the same sound, as shown in the spelling of the word ëffentlech [ˈəfəntləɕ] 'public' (loaned from German öffentlich [ˈœfn̩tlɪç], meaning the same). For this reason, it is not differentiated from [ə] in phonetic transcription (so that Böcker is transcribed [ˈbəkɐ]). The long counterpart of this sound is transcribed with ⟨œː⟩ in both types of transcription, which does not imply a difference in quality.
  • The starting points of /əɪ, əʊ/ are typically schwa-like [ə], but the first element of /əɪ/ may be more of a centralized front vowel [ë̞].[11]
  • The starting points of /æːɪ, æːʊ/, /ɑɪ, ɑʊ/ as well as /iə/ and /uə/ are similar to the corresponding short monophthongs [æ, ɑ, i, u].[11]
    • The first elements of /æːɪ, æːʊ/ may be phonetically short [æ] in fast speech or in unstressed syllables.[11]
  • The centering diphthongs end in the mid central unrounded area [ə].[11]
  • /oɪ/ appears only in loanwords from Standard German.[2]

The /æːɪ ~ ɑɪ/ and /æːʊ ~ ɑʊ/ contrasts arose from a former lexical tone contrast: the shorter /ɑɪ, ɑʊ/ were used in words with Accent 1, whereas the lengthened /æːɪ, æːʊ/ were used in words with Accent 2 (see Pitch-accent language#Franconian dialects.)[2] The contrast between the two sets of diphthongs is only partially encoded in orthography, so that the fronting /ɑɪ, æːɪ/ are differentiated as ⟨ei⟩ or ⟨ai⟩ vs. ⟨äi⟩, whereas ⟨au⟩ can stand for either /ɑʊ/ or /æːʊ/. The difference is phonemic in both cases and there are minimal pairs such as fein /fɑɪn/ 'elevated' vs. fäin /fæːɪn/ 'decent' and faul /fɑʊl/ 'rotten' vs. faul /fæːʊl/ 'lazy'. The diphthongs contrast mainly in monosyllabics. In penultimate syllables, the short /ɑɪ, ɑʊ/ occur mainly before voiced consonants and in hiatus, whereas the long /æːɪ, æːʊ/ occur mainly before voiceless consonants (including phonetically voiceless consonants that are voiced in their underlying form). The last traces of the dative forms of nouns show a shortening from /æːɪ, æːʊ/ to /ɑɪ, ɑʊ/; compare the nominative forms Läif /læːɪv/ 'body' and Haus /hæːʊz/ 'house' with the corresponding dative forms Leif /lɑɪv/ and Haus /hɑʊz/.[12]

Additional phonetic diphthongs [iːɐ̯, uːɐ̯, oːɐ̯, ɛːɐ̯] arise after vocalisation of /r/ after long vowels. In loanwords from Standard German (such as Lürmann and Föhr) [yːɐ̯] and [øːɐ̯] also occur. The sequence /aːr/ is monophthongized to [], unless a vowel follows within the same word. It is also sporadically retained in the environments where it is vocalized after other long vowels, which is why the merger with the monophthong [] is assumed to be phonetic, rather than phonemic.[13] This variation is not encoded in transcriptions in this article, where the phonetic output of /aːr/ is consistently written with ⟨⟩.

/r/ after short vowels is not vocalized but fricativized to [ʁ] or [χ], depending on the voicing of the following sound (the lenis stops count as voiced despite their being unaspirated with variable voicing). The fricativization and devoicing to [χ] also occurs whenever the non-prevocalic /r/ is retained between /aː/ and a fortis consonant, as in schwaarz [ˈʃwaːχts] 'black', alternatively pronounced [ˈʃwaːts]. Thus, when the /r/ is retained on a phonetic level, /aː/ patterns at least partially with short vowels. When the following consonant is lenis or the /r/ occurs before a pause, it is unclear whether the more common consonantal realization of /r/ is a fricative or a trill.[4]


The sample text is a reading of the first sentence of The North Wind and the Sun. The transcription is based on a recording of a 26-year-old male speaker of Central Luxembourgish.[14]

Phonemic transcription

/ɑn der ˈtsæːɪt hun zeχ den ˈnordvɑnd ɑn ˈdzon ɡeˈʃtriden viə fun hinen ˈtsveː vuəl ˈməɪ ʃtaːrk viːr vəɪ en ˈvɑnderer deːn ɑn en ˈvaːrmen ˈmɑntel ˈɑɡepaːk vaːr ivert den ˈveː kəʊm/

Phonetic transcription

[ɑn dɐ ˈtsæːɪt | hun zəɕ dən ˈnoχtvɑnd ɑn ˈdzon ɡəˈʃtʀidən || viə fun hinən ˈtsweː | vuəl ˈməɪ ʃtaːk viːɐ̯ || vəɪ ə ˈvɑndəʀɐ || deːn ɑn ə ˈvaːmə ˈmɑntəl ˈɑɡəpaːk vaː || ivɐt də ˈveː kəʊm][15]

Orthographic version

An der Zäit hunn sech den Nordwand an d'Sonn gestridden, wie vun hinnen zwee wuel méi staark wier, wéi e Wanderer, deen an ee waarme Mantel agepak war, iwwert de Wee koum.[15]



  • Dudenredaktion; Kleiner, Stefan; Knöbl, Ralf (2015) [First published 1962], Das Aussprachewörterbuch (in German) (7th ed.), Berlin: Dudenverlag, ISBN 978-3-411-04067-4
  • Gilles, Peter; Trouvain, Jürgen (2013), "Luxembourgish" (PDF), Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 43 (1): 67–74, doi:10.1017/S0025100312000278
  • Keller, Rudolf Ernst (1961), German dialects: phonology and morphology, with selected texts, Manchester: Manchester University Press, ISBN 0-7190-0762-3

Further reading

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