Do Dutch people know about final devoicing?

For my master’s thesis I asked 137 English teachers how they tackle the pronunciation issue of “final devoicing” in their classroom. You can read about the results here, and you can read about why I chose this subject here.

Just to have an extra “check” on my data, I also asked some Dutch people to fill in some questions about final devoicing. 53 students and ex-students filled in the survey. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very random sample; almost 50% of respondents had graduated between 1991 and 2000, a clear reflection of the fact that that is my own generation and it was mostly my friends who filled in the survey. (I did try to circulate the survey outside of my own circle, on Reddit, but got hardly any response there, so most respondents came via my own Facebook page.) However, the results can still give us a little bit of insight.

Do Dutch people know what “final devoicing” is?

When I explained to my respondents what “final devoicing” was, and asked if they were familiar with it, quite a lot (19%) of them did, which again might be a reflection of my own social circle; I am a languagy person, so of course many of my acquaintances are, too. (I am also a bit of a know-it-all, and like attracts like, so I also rather suspect my friends of saying “sure I’ve heard of that thing, yep, it sounds totally familiar”)

Of the 31 people that recognised the phenomenon, most claimed they had noticed it themselves. Interestingly, only 3 people said they had learned it at school; but this again my be a case of failing memory as two of those three people were currently still in school.

The most valuable advice for avoiding final devoicing, according to regular Dutch people

I also asked my respondents what the most valuable advice had been for them to deal with this pronunciation issue. Of the 18 people who answered this question, 9 people answered “listening to native speakers”. Two mentioned being laughed at or criticized by others which motivated them to really try to change their pronunciation. Four people mentioned making the last consonant sound soft and one person mentioned making the vowel longer. None of them talked about vibrating vocal cords.

A big thank you to my respondents

If you filled in my survey, I am very grateful! Even though you were not a random sample, you still helped me a lot 🙂 And if you have any thoughts to add, please feel free to add a comment.

Heddwen Newton is a teacher and translator. Her website is about efficient and unconventional ways for Dutch people to improve their already good English, and other nerdy stuff to do with English and Dutch. She also owns the Dutch website where she discusses difficult-to-translate Dutch words and their least-bad English translations.

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