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  • Author: Renate Schrambke x
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Linguistic Change in Southwest German: from apical to uvular r

We start with a brief description of the realization of /r/ in standard German and proceed to examine the evolution of the /r/ in Alemannic dialects in general. We then look at the specific conditions which apply to the /r/ in southwest Germany. Recordings for the ‘Atlas of Southwest German’ demonstrate a multitude of variations of the /r/; in the west, the uvular R dominates, whereas in the east the apical r is the most common realization. In the area around Lake Constance, there is a third variant, namely dorsal r.

According to the definition of sound change established by Haag (Teuthonista 6: 1–35, 1929), the change from apical to uvular r should be classified as the older one; it was a conscious adoption of uvular r, first by speakers in towns and their immediate surroundings, which then became incorporated into regional dialects. The transformation of lingual to dorsal r, on the other hand, is regarded in Haag's terms as a current sound change, which is still in progress.


Languages and dialects can change from one prosodic category to another, causing thereby phonetic and phonological changes. This happened in Danish as well as in Northern Alemannic when both changed their basic rhythm from a more syllable-based system to a more word-based one. The consequences of this transition were very similar, some even identical. This article focuses on these similarities comparing the development of the plosive sounds as well as the assimilation of nd >n in Danish and in a small area of Northern Alemannic in the transition area to Rhenish Franconian. Furthermore some of the changes that have taken place in a wider area of Northern Alemannic are discussed such as the deletion of word final vowels (apocope), the introduction of the glottal stop, the linking n in hiatus position as well as phonetic assimilation across word boundaries.