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While the spelling of Dutch is officially standardised by an international organisation (the Dutch Language Union), the pronunciation has no official standard and relies on a de facto standard documented in reference works such as The Phonetics of English and Dutch by Beverley Collins and Inger M. Mees, The Phonology of Dutch by Geert Booij, Dutch by Carlos Gussenhoven, Belgian Standard Dutch by Jo Verhoeven or pronunciation dictionaries such as Uitspraakwoordenboek by Josée Heemskerk and Wim Zonneveld.
Standard Dutch has two main de facto pronunciation standards: Northern and Belgian. Northern Standard Dutch (henceforth Northern SD) is the most prestigious accent in the Netherlands. It is associated with high status, education and wealth. Even though its speakers seem to be concentrated mostly in the densely populated Randstad area in the provinces of North Holland, South Holland and Utrecht, it is often impossible to tell where in the country its speakers were born or brought up, so it cannot be considered a regional dialect within the Netherlands. Belgian Standard Dutch (henceforth Belgian SD) is used by the vast majority of Flemish journalists, which is why it is sometimes called VRT-Nederlands ("VRT Dutch"; formerly BRT-Nederlands "BRT Dutch"), after VRT, the national public-service broadcaster for the Flemish Region.
The following table shows the consonant phonemes of Dutch:
- The glottal stop [ʔ] is not phonemic because it occurs in a few specific predictable environments—namely, before vowel-initial syllables within words after /aː/ and /ə/ and often also at the beginning of a word.
- Apart from /r/, all alveolar consonants are laminal and can be realized as denti-alveolar in Belgium.
- /b/ and /d/ are fully voiced.
- /ɡ/ is not a native phoneme of Dutch and occurs only in borrowed words, like goal ('goal'); however /ɡ/ is nevertheless analyzed as a phoneme because minimal pairs exist—e.g. goal /ɡoːl/ and kool /koːl/ ('cabbage'). Additionally, in native words, [ɡ] occurs as an allophone of /k/ when it undergoes voicing assimilation, like in zakdoek [ˈzɑɡduk].
- In the north, /ɣ/ often devoices and merges with /x/; the quality of that merged sound has been variously described as:
- In the south, the distinction between /x/ and /ɣ/ is generally preserved as velar [x, ɣ] or post-palatal [x̟, ɣ˖]. Some southern speakers may alternate between the velar and post-palatal articulation, depending on the backness of the preceding or succeeding vowel. Velar, post-velar and uvular variants are called harde g "hard g", while the post-palatal variants are called zachte g "soft g". There is also a third variant called zwakke harde g "weak hard g", in which /ɣ/ is realized as [ɦ] and /x/ is realized as [h] and is used in Zeeland and West Flanders, which are h-dropping areas, so that /ɦ/ does not merge with glottal variants of /ɣ/ and /x/.
- In the Netherlands, /v/ can devoice and merge with /f/. According to Collins & Mees (2003), there are hardly any speakers of Northern SD who consistently contrast /v/ with /f/.
- In low-prestige varieties of Netherlandic Dutch (such as the Amsterdam accent) also /z/ can devoice and merge with /s/.
- Speakers who devoice /v/ and /z/ may also hypercorrectively voice /f/ and /s/: concert "concert" may thus be [kɔnˈzɛrt] compared to the more usual [kɔnˈsɛrt].
- Some speakers pronounce /ɦ/ as a voiceless [h]. Some dialects, particularly those from the southwest, exhibit h-dropping.
- In the Netherlands, /s/ and /z/ may have only mid-to-low pitched friction, and for many Netherlandic speakers, they are retracted. In Belgium, they are more similar to English /s, z/.
- The sequences /sj/ and /zj/ are often assimilated to palatalised [sʲ, zʲ], alveolo-palatal [ɕ, ʑ], postalveolar [ʃ, ʒ] or similar realisations.
- Before /j/, /k/ is realized as a voiceless post-palatal affricate [c̠͡ç̠].
- The sequences /tj/ and /dj/ are assimilated to [c] intervocalically and after /n/ unless they're at the beginning of a stressed syllable, barring loanwords and some names.
- [ʃ, ʒ] are not native phonemes of Dutch and usually occur only in borrowed words, like show and bagage "baggage". Depending on the speaker and the position in the word, they may or may not be distinct from the assimilated realisations of the clusters /sj, zj/. If they are not distinct, they will have the same range of realisations noted above.
- Unlike English and German, in Dutch the voiceless stops are unaspirated in all positions: thus while English tip and German Tipp are both [tʰɪp], Dutch tip is [tɪp] with an unaspirated [t].
- /m/ and /n/ assimilate their articulation to a following obstruent in many cases:
- Both become [m] before /p, b/, and [ɱ] before /f, v/.
- /n/ merges into /ŋ/ before velars (/k, ɡ, x, ɣ/). The realisation of /ŋ/, in turn, depends on how a following velar fricative is realised. For example, it will be uvular [ɴ] for speakers who realise /x, ɣ/ as uvulars.
- /n/ is realised as [ɲ] before /j/. That occurs also before /ʃ/ or /ʒ/ and, under assimilation, before /sj/ and /zj/.
- The exact pronunciation of /l/ varies regionally:
- In the North, /l/ is 'clear' before vowels and 'dark' before consonants and pauses. Intervocalic /l/ tends to be clear except after the open back vowels /ɔ, ɑ/. However, some speakers use the dark variant in all intervocalic contexts.
- Some accents, such as the Amsterdam and the Rotterdam ones, have dark /l/ in all positions. Conversely, some accents in the eastern regions, along the German border (for example around Nijmegen), as well as some Standard Belgian speakers, have clear /l/ in all contexts.
- The quality of dark /l/ varies; in the North it is pharyngealized [lˤ], but in a final position, many speakers produce a strongly pharyngealized vocoid with no alveolar contact ([ɤˤ]) instead. In Belgium, it is either velarized [lˠ] or post-palatalized [lʲ̠].
- The realization of /r/ phoneme varies considerably from dialect to dialect and even between speakers in the same dialect area:
- The historically original pronunciation is an alveolar trill [r], with the alveolar tap [ɾ] as a common allophone.
- The uvular trill [ʀ] is a common alternative, found particularly in the central and southern dialect areas. Uvular pronunciations appear to be gaining ground in the Randstad. Syllable-finally, it may be vocalized to [ɐ], much as in German. This is more common in the (south)eastern areas (Limburg, southeast Brabantian, Overijssel).
- The coastal dialects of South Holland produce a voiced uvular fricative [ʁ].
- The retroflex approximant [ɻ] or "bunched approximant" is found at the end of a syllable in the pronunciation of some speakers in the Netherlands, especially those from the Randstad, but not in Belgium. Its use has been increasing in recent years.
- The realization of /ʋ/ also varies by area (and less so by speaker):
- The main realisation is a labiodental approximant [ʋ], found in central and northern Netherlands.
- Speakers in southern Netherlands and Belgium use a bilabial approximant [β̞]. It is like [w] but without velarization.
- In Suriname and among immigrant populations, [w] is usual.[clarification needed]
- An epenthetic [ə] may be inserted between /l, r/ and word-final /m, n, p, k, f, x/. Thus melk /mɛlk/ "milk" may be pronounced [ˈmɛlək]. This may extend to compounds, e.g. melkboer [ˈmɛləkbuːr] "milkman". Although this pronunciation is mistakenly thought of as non-standard, it is found in all types of Dutch, including the standard varieties. There is also another type of [ə]-insertion that occurs word-medially (e.g. helpen [ˈɦɛləpə] "to help"), which is considered non-standard.
In many areas the final 'n' of the ending -en (originally /ən/, with a variety of meanings) is pronounced only when a word is being individually stressed; this makes -en words homophonous with otherwise identical forms ending in -e alone. The -n is dropped both word-finally and, in compound words, word-internally. This pronunciation can be morphologically sensitive and serve to distinguish words, since the -n is dropped only when it is part of the distinct ending -en and not when the word consists of an indivisible stem which happens to end in -en. Thus, the teken of ik teken ('I draw') always retains its -n because it is part of an indivisible stem whereas in teken ('ticks') it is dropped because it is part of a plural ending. Such pairs (teken = 'draw'; teken = 'ticks') are therefore not homophones in dialects that drop -n, despite being written identically.
Final -n is retained in the North East (Low Saxon) and the South West (East and West Flemish), where it is the schwa that disappears instead. This creates a syllabic [n] or (after velars) syllabic [ŋ] sounds: laten [ˈlaːtn̩]; maken [ˈmaːkŋ̍]. Some Low Saxon dialects that have uvular pronunciations of /ɣ/ and /x/ (or one of them) also have a syllabic uvular nasal, like in lagen and/or lachen [ˈlaːχɴ̩]
Final devoicing and assimilation
Dutch devoices all obstruents at the ends of words, as is partly reflected in the spelling. The voiced "z" in plural huizen [ˈɦœy̑zə] becomes huis [ɦœy̑s] ('house') in singular. Also, duiven [ˈdœy̑və] becomes duif [dœy̑f] ('dove'). The other cases are always written with the voiced consonant, but a devoiced one is actually pronounced: the "d" in plural baarden [ˈbaːrdə] is retained in singular spelling baard ('beard'), but the pronunciation of the latter is [baːrt], and plural ribben [ˈrɪbə] has singular rib ('rib'), pronounced [rɪp].
Because of assimilation, the initial /v z ɣ/ of the next word is often also devoiced: het vee ('the cattle') is [(ɦ)ət feː]. The opposite may be true for other consonants: ik ben ('I am') [ɪg bɛn].
Example words for consonants
|Phoneme||Phonetic IPA||Orthography||English translation|
Geert Bourgeois (Belgium)
Dutch has an extensive vowel inventory consisting of thirteen plain vowels and at least three diphthongs. Vowels can be grouped as front unrounded, front rounded, central and back. They are also traditionally distinguished by length or tenseness. The vowels /eː, øː, oː/ are included in one of the diphthong charts further below because Northern SD realizes them as diphthongs, but they behave phonologically like the other long monophthongs.
- Dutch vowels can be classified as lax and tense, checked and free or short and long. Phonetically however, the close vowels /i, y, u/ are as short as the phonological lax/short vowels unless they occur before /r/.
- Phonologically, /ɪ, ʏ, ʊ/ can be classified as either close or close-mid. Carlos Gussenhoven classifies them as the former, whereas Geert Booij says that they are the latter and classifies /ɛ, ɔ/ and the non-native mid vowels as open-mid.
- /ʏ/ has been traditionally transcribed with ⟨œ⟩, but modern sources tend to use ⟨ʏ⟩ or ⟨ɵ⟩ instead. Beverley Collins and Inger Mees write this vowel with ⟨ʉ⟩.
- The phonemic status of /ʊ/ is not clear. Phonetically, a vowel of the [ʊ̞ ~ ɔ̽] type appears before nasals as an allophone of /ɔ/, e.g. in jong [jʊŋ] ('young'). This vowel can also be found in certain other words, such as op [ʊp] ('on'), which can form a near-minimal pair with mop [mɔp] ('joke'). This, however, is subject to both individual and geographical variation.
- Many speakers feel that /ə/ and /ʏ/ belong to the same phoneme, with [ə] being its unstressed variant. This is reflected in spelling errors produced by Dutch children, for example ⟨binnu⟩ for binnen [ˈbɪnə(n)] ('inside'). Adding to this, the two vowels have different phonological distribution; for example, /ə/ can occur word-finally, while /ʏ/ (along with other lax vowels) cannot. In addition, the word-final allophone of /ə/ is a close-mid front vowel with some rounding [ø̜], a sound that is similar to /ʏ/.
- The native tense vowels /eː, øː, oː, aː/ are long [eː, øː, oː, aː] in stressed syllables and short [e, ø, o, a] elsewhere. The non-native oral vowels appear only in stressed syllables and thus are always long.
- The native /eː, øː, oː, aː/ as well as the non-native nasal /ɛ̃ː, œ̃ː, ɔ̃ː, ɑ̃ː/ are sometimes transcribed without the length marks, as ⟨e, ø, o, a, ɛ̃, œ̃, ɔ̃, ɑ̃⟩.
- /aː/, a phonological back vowel, is central [äː] or front [aː] in Standard Dutch.
- The non-native /iː, yː, uː, ɛː, œː, ɔː/ occur only in stressed syllables. In unstressed syllables, they are replaced by the closest native vowel. For instance, verbs corresponding to the nouns analyse /aːnaːˈliːzə/ ('analysis'), centrifuge /sɛntriˈfyːzjə/ ('spinner'), and zone /ˈzɔːnə/ ('zone') are analyseren /aːnaːliˈzeːrən/ ('to analyze'), centrifugeren /sɛntrifyˈɣeːrən/ ('to spin-dry'), and zoneren /zoːˈneːrən/ ('to divide into zones').
- /œː/ is extremely rare, and the only words of any frequency in which it occurs are oeuvre [ˈœːvrə], manoeuvre [maˈnœːvrə] and freule. In the more common words, /ɛː/ tends to be replaced with the native /ɛ/, whereas /ɔː/ can be replaced by either /ɔ/ or /oː/ (Belgians typically select the latter).
- The non-native nasal vowels /ɛ̃ː, œ̃ː, ɔ̃ː, ɑ̃ː/ occur only in loanwords from French. /ɛ̃ː, ɔ̃ː, ɑ̃ː/ are often nativized as /ɛn, ɔn, ɑn/, /ɛŋ, ɔŋ, ɑŋ/ or /ɛm, ɔm, ɑm/, depending on the place of articulation of the following consonant. For instance, restaurant /rɛstoːˈrɑ̃ː/ ('restaurant') and pardon /pɑrˈdɔ̃ː/ ('excuse me') are often nativized as /rɛstoːˈrɑnt/ and /pɑrˈdɔn/, respectively. /œ̃ː/ is extremely rare, just like its oral counterpart and the only word of any frequency in which it occurs is parfum /pɑrˈfœ̃ː/ ('perfume'), often nativized as /pɑrˈfʏm/ or /ˈpɑrfʏm/.
- The non-native /ɑː/ is listed only by some sources. It occurs in words such as cast /kɑːst/ ('cast').
The following sections describe the phonetic quality of Dutch monophthongs in detail.
- /ɪ/ is close to the canonical value of the IPA symbol ⟨ɪ⟩. The Standard Belgian realization has also been described as close-mid [ɪ̞]. In regional SD, the realization may be different: for example, in Antwerp it is closer, more like [i], whereas in places like Dordrecht, Nijmegen, West and East Flanders the vowel is typically more open than the SD counterpart, more like [ë]. Affected speakers of Northern SD may also use this vowel.
- /i, iː/ are close front [i, iː], close to cardinal [i].
- The majority of sources consider /ʏ/ to be close-mid central [ɵ], yet Beverley Collins and Inger Mees consider it to be close-mid front [ʏ̞]. The study conducted by Vincent van Heuven and Roos Genet has shown that native speakers consider the canonical IPA value of the symbol ⟨ɵ⟩ to be the most similar to the Dutch sound, much more similar than the canonical values of ⟨ʏ⟩ and ⟨œ⟩ (the sound represented by ⟨ʉ⟩ was not a part of the study). In regional SD /ʏ/ may be raised to near-close [ɵ̝], for example in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. In Antwerp, the vowel may be as high as /y/ and the two vowels may differ in nothing but length. A more open vowel of the [ɵ̞]-type is found in southern accents (e.g. in Bruges) and in affected Northern SD.
- /y, yː/ have been variously described as close front [y, yː], near-close front [y˕, y˕ː] and, in Northern SD, near-close central [ʉ̞, ʉ̞ː].
- /u, uː/ are close back [u, uː] in Northern SD and close near-back [u̟, u̟ː] in Belgian SD and some varieties of regional SD spoken in Antwerp and Flemish Brabant.
/i, y, u/ are frequently longer in Belgian SD and most Belgian accents than in Northern SD, in which the length of these vowels is identical to that of lax vowels.
Regardless of the exact accent, /i, y, u/ are mandatorily lengthened to [iː, yː, uː] before /r/ in the same word. In Northern SD and in Randstad, these are laxed to [i̽ː, y˕ː, u̽ː] and often have a schwa-like off-glide ([i̽ə, y˕ə, u̽ə]). This means that before /r/, /i, y, u/ are less strongly differentiated from /eː, øː, oː/ in Northern SD and Randstad than is usually the case in other regional varieties of SD and in Belgian SD. There is one exception to the lengthening rule: when /r/ is followed by a consonant different than /t/ and /s/, /i, y, u/ remain short. Examples of that are words such as wierp [ʋirp], stierf [stirf], zwierf [zʋirf] andbedierf [bəˈdirf]. The rule is also suppressed syllable-finally in certain compounds; compare roux-room [ˈruroːm] with roerroom [ˈruːr(r)oːm] and Ruhr-Ohm [ˈruːroːm].
- /ɛ, ɛː/ are open-mid front [ɛ, ɛː]. According to Jo Verhoeven, the Belgian SD variants are somewhat raised. Before /n/ and the velarized or pharyngealized allophone of /l/, /ɛ/ is typically lowered to [æ]. In some regional SD (e.g. in Dordrecht, Ghent, Bruges and more generally in Zeeland, North Brabant and Limburg), this lowering is generalized to most or even all contexts. Conversely, some regional SD varieties (e.g. much of Randstad Dutch, especially the Amsterdam dialect as well as the accent of Antwerp) realize the main allophone of /ɛ/ as higher and more central than open-mid front ([ɛ̝̈]).
- /œː/ is open-mid front [œː].
- /ə/ has two allophones, with the main one being mid central unrounded [ə]. The allophone used in word-final positions resembles the main allophone of /ʏ/ as it is closer, more front and more rounded ([ø̜]).
- /ɔ/ is open-mid back rounded [ɔ]. Collins and Mees (2003) describe it as "very tense", with pharyngealization and strong lip-rounding. There is considerable regional and individual variation in the height of /ɔ/, with allophones being as close as [ʊ] in certain words. The closed allophones are especially common in the Randstad area. /ɔː/ is close to /ɔ/ in terms of height and backness.
/ɛ, ɔ/ are typically somewhat lengthened and centralized before /r/ in Northern SD and Randstad, usually with a slight schwa-like offglide: [ɛ̈ə̆, ɔ̈ə̆]. In addition, /ɔ/ in this position is somewhat less rounded ([ɔ̜̈ə̆]) than the main allophone of /ɔ/.
The free vowels /eː, øː, oː/ are realized as monophthongs [eː, øː, oː] in Belgian SD (Jo Verhoeven describes the Belgian SD realization of /øː/ as mid central [ɵ̞ː]) and in many regional accents. In Northern SD, narrow closing diphthongs [eɪ, øʏ, oʊ] are used. The starting point of [oʊ] is centralized back ([ö]), and the starting point of [eɪ] has been described as front [e] by Collins and Mees and as centralized front [ë] by Gussenhoven. The monophthongal counterparts of [eɪ, oʊ] are peripheral; the former is almost as front as cardinal [eː], whereas the latter is almost as back as cardinal [oː]. Many speakers of Randstad Dutch as well as younger speakers of Northern SD realize /eː, øː, oː/ as rather wide diphthongs of the [ɛɪ, œʏ, ɔʊ] type, which may be mistaken for the phonemic diphthongs /ɛi, œy, ɔu/ by speakers of other accents. Using [ɛɪ, œʏ, ɔʊ] for /eː, øː, oː/ goes hand in hand with lowering the first elements of /ɛi, œy, ɔu/ to [aɪ, aʏ, aʊ], a phenomenon termed Polder Dutch. Therefore, the phonemic contrast between /eː, øː, oː/ and /ɛi, œy, ɔu/ is still strongly maintained, but its phonetic realization is very different from what one can typically hear in traditional Northern SD. In Rotterdam and The Hague, the starting point of [oʊ] can be fronted to [ə] instead of being lowered to [ɔ].
In Northern SD and in Randstad, /eː, øː, oː/ lose their closing glides and are raised and slightly centralized to [ɪː, ʏː, ʊː] (often with a schwa-like off-glide [ɪə, ʏə, ʊə]) before /r/ in the same word. The first two allophones strongly resemble the lax monophthongs /ɪ, ʏ/. Dutch children frequently misspell the word weer ('again') as wir. These sounds may also occur in regional varieties of SD and in Belgian SD, but they are more typically the same as the main allophones of /eː, øː, oː/ (that is, [eː, øː, oː]). An exception to the centralizing rule are syllable-final /eː, øː, oː/ in compounds such as zeereis [ˈzeɪˌrɛis] ('sea voyage'), milieuramp [mɪlˈjøʏˌrɑmp] ('environmental disaster') and bureauredactrice [byˈroʊredɑkˌtrisə] ('desk editor (f.)').
In Northern SD, /eː, øː, oː/ are mid-centralized before the pharyngealized allophone of /l/.
Several non-standard dialects have retained the distinction between the so-called "sharp-long" and "soft-long" e and o, a distinction that dates to early Middle Dutch. The sharp-long varieties originate from the Old Dutch long ē and ō (Proto-Germanic ai and au), while the soft-long varieties arose from short i/e and u/o that were lengthened in open syllables in early Middle Dutch. The distinction is not considered to be a part of Standard Dutch and is not recognised in educational materials, but it is still present in many local varieties, such as Antwerpian, Limburgish, West Flemish and Zeelandic. In these varieties, the sharp-long vowels are often opening diphthongs such as [ɪə, ʊə], while the soft-long vowels are either plain monophthongs [eː, oː] or slightly closing [eɪ, oʊ].
In Northern SD and some other accents, /ɑ, aː/ are realised so that the former is a back vowel [ɑ], whereas the latter is central [äː] or front [aː]. In Belgian SD /aː/ is also central or front, but /ɑ/ may be central [ä] instead of back [ɑ], so it may have the same backness as /aː/.
Other accents may have different realisations:
- Many accents (Amsterdam, Utrecht, Antwerp) realize this pair with 'inverted' backness, so that /ɑ/ is central [ä] (or, in the case of Utrecht, even front [a]), whereas /aː/ is closer to cardinal [ɑː].
- Outside the Randstad, fronting of /ɑ/ to central [ä] is very common. On the other hand, in Rotterdam and Leiden, the short /ɑ/ sounds even darker than the Standard Northern realization, being realized as a fully back and raised open vowel, unrounded [ɑ̝] or rounded [ɒ̝].
- In Groningen, /aː/ tends to be particularly front, similar to the quality of the cardinal vowel [aː], whereas in The Hague and in the affected Standard Northern accent, /aː/ may be raised and fronted to [æː], particularly before /r/.
Before /r/, /ɑ/ is typically a slight centering diphthong with a centralized first element ([ɐə̆]) in Northern SD and in Randstad.
Dutch also has several diphthongs, but only three of them are indisputably phonemic. All of them end in a non-syllabic close vowel [i̯, y̑, u̯] (henceforth written [i, y, u] for simplicity), but they may begin with a variety of other vowels.
- /ɔu/ has been variously transcribed with ⟨ɔu⟩, ⟨ɑu⟩, and ⟨ʌu⟩.
- The starting points of /ɛi, œy, ɔu/ tend to be closer ([ɛɪ, œ̈ʏ, ɔ̈ʊ]) in Belgian SD than in Northern SD ([ɛ̞ɪ, œ̞̈ʏ, ʌ̞̈ʊ]). In addition, the Belgian SD realization of /ɔu/ tends to be fully rounded, unlike the typical Northern SD realization of the vowel. However, Jo Verhoeven reports rather open starting points of the Belgian SD variants of /œy, ɔu/ ([œ̞̈ʏ, ɔ̞̈ʊ]), so the main difference between Belgian and Northern SD in that regard may be only in the rounding of the first element of /ɔu/, but the fully rounded variant of /ɔu/ is also used by some Netherlands speakers, particularly of the older generation. It is also used in most of Belgium, in agreement with the Belgian SD realization.
- In conservative Northern SD, the starting points of /ɛi, œy, ɔu/ are open-mid and rounded in the case of the last two vowels: [ɛɪ, œʏ, ɔʊ].
- The backness of the starting point of the Belgian SD realization of /ɛi/ has been variously described as front [ɛɪ] and centralized front [ɛ̈ɪ].
- In Polder Dutch spoken in some areas of the Netherlands (especially Randstad and its surroundings), the starting points of /ɛi, œy, ɔu/ are further lowered to [aɪ, aʏ, aʊ]. This typically goes hand in hand with lowering the starting points of /eː, øː, oː/ to [ɛɪ, œʏ, ɔʊ]. These realizations have existed in Hollandic dialects since the 16th century and now are becoming standard in the Netherlands. They are an example of a chain shift akin to the Great Vowel Shift. According to Jan Stroop, the fully lowered variant of /ɛi/ is the same as the phonetic diphthong [aːi], making bij 'at' and baai 'bay' perfect homophones.
- The rounding of the starting point of the Northern SD realization of /œy/ has been variously described as slight [œ̜ʏ] and nonexistent [ɐ̜ʏ]. The unrounded variant has also been reported to occur in many other accents, for example Leiden, Rotterdam and in some Belgian speakers.
- Phonetically, the ending points of the native diphthongs are lower and more central than cardinal [i, y, u], i.e. more like [ɪ, ʏ, ʊ] or even [e, ø, o] (however, Jo Verhoven reports a rather close ([ï]) ending point of the Belgian SD variant of /ɛi/, so this might be somewhat variable). In Belgian SD, the ending points are shorter than in Northern SD, but in both varieties the glide is an essential part of the articulation. Furthermore, in Northern SD there is no appreciable difference between the ending points of /ɛi, œy, ɔu/ and the phonetic diphthongs [eɪ, øʏ, oʊ], with both sets ending in vowels close to [ɪ, ʏ, ʊ].
- In some regional varieties of SD (Southern, regional Belgian), the ending points of /ɛi, œy, ɔu/ are even lower than in Standard Dutch: [ɛe̞, œø̞, ɔo̞ ~ ʌo̞], and in the traditional dialect of The Hague they are pure monophthongs [ɛː, œː, ɑː]. Broad Amsterdam speakers can also monophthongize /ɛi/, but to [aː]. It typically does not merge with /aː/ as that vowel has a rather back ([ɑː]) realization in Amsterdam.
Apart from [eɪ, øʏ, oʊ] which occur only in Northern SD and regional Netherlands SD, all varieties of SD have phonetic diphthongs [iu, yu, ui, eːu, ɔi, oːi, ɑi, aːi]. Phonemically, they are considered to be sequences of /iʋ, yʋ, uj, eːʋ, ɔj, oːj, ɑj, aːj/ by Geert Booij and as monosyllabic sequences /iu, yu, ui, eːu, oːi, aːi/ by Beverley Collins and Inger Mees (they do not comment on [ɔi] and [ɑi]). This article adopts the former analysis.
In Northern SD, the second elements of [iu, yu, eːu] can be labiodental [iʋ, yʋ, eːʋ]. This is especially common in intervocalic positions.
In Northern SD and regional Netherlands SD, the close-mid elements of [eːu, oːi] may be subject to the same kind of diphthongization as /eː, oː/, so they may be actually triphthongs with two closing elements [eɪu, oʊi] ([eːu] can instead be [eɪʋ], a closing diphthong followed by [ʋ]). In Rotterdam, [oːi] can be phonetically [əʊi], with a central starting point.
[aːi] is realized with more prominence on the first element according to Booij and with equal prominence on both elements according to Collins and Mees. Other diphthongs have more prominence on the first element.
The ending points of these diphthongs are typically somewhat more central ([ï, ü]) than cardinal [i, u]. They tend to be higher than the ending points of the phonemic diphthongs /ɛi, œy, ɔu/.
Example words for vowels and diphthongs
|Phoneme||Phonetic IPA||Orthography||English translation|
(All but 4 of the [r]s in these recordings are actually uvular, mostly similar to [ʁ]. The recording for "groei" actually sounds like [xɾui].)
Most native Germanic words (the bulk of the core vocabulary) are stressed on the root syllable, which is usually the first syllable of the word. Germanic words may also be stressed on the second or later syllable if certain unstressed prefixes are added (particularly in verbs). Non-root stress is common in loanwords, which are generally borrowed with the stress placement unchanged. In polysyllabic words, secondary stress may also be present. Certain prefixes and suffixes will receive secondary stress: /ˌvoːrˈkoːmən/, /ˈʋeːrˌloːs/. The stressed syllable of a word receive secondary stress within a compound word: /ˈbɔmˌmɛldɪŋ/, /ˈɑlkoːɦɔl pɛrsɛnˌtaːʒə/.
The vast majority of compound nouns are stressed on the first element: appeltaart /ˈɑpəlˌtaːrt/, luidspreker /ˈlœytˌspreːkər/.[Please elaborate on exceptions] The word boeren generally takes secondary stress in compounds: boerenkool /ˌbuːrəˈkoːl/, boerenland /ˌbuːrəˈlɑnt/. Some compounds formed from two words are stressed on the second element: stadhuis /ˌstɑtˈhœys/, rijksdaalder /ˌrɛi̯ksˈdaːldər/. In some cases the secondary stress in a compound shifts to preserve a trochaic pattern: eiland /ˈɛi̯ˌlɑnt/, but schateiland /ˈsxɑt.ɛi̯ˌlɑnt/. Compounds formed from two compound words tend to observe these same rules. But in compounds formed from more than two words the stress is irregular.
While stress is phonemic, minimal pairs are rare, and marking the stress in written Dutch is always optional, but it is sometimes recommended to distinguish homographs that differ only in stress. While it is common practice to distinguish een (indefinite article) from één (the cardinal number one), this distinction is not so much about stress as it is about the pronunciation of the vowel ([ən] versus [eːn]), and while the former is always unstressed, the latter may or may not be stressed. Stress also distinguishes some verbs, as stress placement on prefixes also carries a grammatical distinction, such as in vóórkomen ('to occur') and voorkómen ('to prevent'). In vóórkomen and other verbs with a stressed prefix, the prefix is separable and separates as kom voor in the first-person singular present, with the past participle vóórgekomen. On the other hand, verbs with an unstressed prefix are not separable: voorkómen becomes voorkóm in the first-person singular present, and voorkómen in the past participle, without the past participle prefix ge-.
Dutch has a strong stress accent like other Germanic languages, and it uses stress timing because of its relatively complex syllable structure. It has a preference for trochaic rhythm, with relatively stronger and weaker stress alternating between syllables in such a way that syllables with stronger stress are produced at a more or less constant pace. Generally, every alternate syllable before and after the primary stress will receive relative stress, as far secondary stress placements allow: Wá.gə.nì.ngən. Relative stress preferably does not fall on /ə/ so syllables containing /ə/ may disrupt the trochaic rhythm. To restore the pattern, vowels are often syncopated in speech: kín.də.rən > /ˈkɪn.drən/, há.ri.ngən > /ˈɦaːr.ŋən/, vər.gə.líj.king > /vər.ˈɣlɛi.kɪŋ/. In words for which the secondary stress is imposed lexically onto the syllable immediately following the stressed syllable, a short pause is often inserted after the stressed syllable to maintain the rhythm to ensure that the stressed syllable has more or less equal length to the trochaic unit following it: bóm..mèl.ding, wéér..lò.zə.
Historically, the stress accent has reduced most vowels in unstressed syllables to [ə], as in most other Germanic languages. This process is still somewhat productive, and it is common to reduce vowels to [ə] in syllables carrying neither primary nor secondary stress, particularly in syllables that are relatively weakly stressed due to the trochaic rhythm. Weakly stressed long vowels may also be shortened without any significant reduction in vowel quality. For example, politie (phonemically /poːˈlitsi/) may be pronounced [poˈli(t)si], [pəˈli(t)si] or even [ˈpli(t)si].
The syllable structure of Dutch is (C)(C)(C)V(C)(C)(C)(C). Many words, as in English, begin with three consonants such as straat (street). Words that end in four consonants are mostly superlative adjectives.
Notes on individual consonants:
- /s/ is the only phoneme that can occur at the beginning of a sequence of three consonants: /spr/ spreeuw, /spl/ splinter, /str/ struik, /skr/ scriptie, /skl/ sclerose, /sxr/ schram. It is the only consonant that can occur before /m/: /sm/ smart. It cannot occur immediately before /r/, though it does phonetically for speakers who drop /x/ in the /sxr/ sequence (very common in schrijven).
- The only possible consonant cluster with /z/ is /zʋ/: zwabber.
- /x/ is infrequent as the first element, mostly occurring in roots coming from Greek: chiropracticus, chronologisch, chlamydia. It is very common in the sequence /sx/.
- /ɦ/, /ʒ/ and /ʔ/ only occur outside clusters.
- /ŋ/ cannot appear in onsets except as an ambisyllabic word-internal consonant.
A sequence of CCC always begins with /s/. The CC-structure can be realised by almost all stops and non-sibilant, non-glottal fricatives followed by the sonorants /r/ or /l/, exceptions are that /dl/ and /tl/ are impossible: /br/ brutaal, /bl/ bling, /pr/ /pl/ printplaat, /kr/ krimp, /kl/ kloot, /ɡr/ grapefruit, /ɡl/ glossy, /tr/ truck, /dr/ droevig, /vr/ vrij, wreken, /vl/ vlaag, /fr/ fris, /fl/ flodder, /ɣr/ groen, /ɣl/ glunderen, /xr/ chrisma, /xl/ chloroform. Voiced obstruents cannot appear in other clusters except for /ɣ/. Voiceless obstruents can occur in stop-fricative and fricative-stop clusters. Sequences of a voiceless obstruent or /ɣ/ and /n/ are also possible, for /m/ only /sm/ occurs:
- Stop-fricative clusters primarily occur in loan words: /ts/ tsaar, tsunami, /tʃ/ Tsjechisch, /pf/ pfeiffer.
- /ps/ psoriasis, psalm, /ks/ xylofoon and the rare /pt/ pterodactylus are typical of words derived from Greek.
- An obstruent followed by /n/ appears in many native words: /kn/ knecht, /sn/ snikken, more rarely /ɣn/ gniffelen (also in Greek words, gnostiek), /fn/ fnuiken.
- /pn/ pneumatisch only appears in Greek words.
Nasals rarely begin clusters.
- Voiced consonants only appear in loan words: /z/ jazz.
- /x/ appears alone, preceded by /r/ or /l/, or followed by /s/, /t/, /ts/ or a combination of these.
- /n/ does not occur before labials and dorsals, /ŋ/ does not occur before labials and /m/ does not occur before dorsals. /ŋ/ cannot follow long vowels or diphthongs.
- /r/ cannot occur after diphthongs.
- /ɦ/, /ʒ/ and /ʔ/ do not occur.
Historic sound changes
Dutch (with the exception of the Limburg dialects) did not participate in the second Germanic consonant shift:
- /-k-/ > /-x-/: German machen vs. Dutch maken (help·info), English make
- /-p-/ > /-f-/: German Schaf vs. Dutch schaap (help·info), English sheep
- /-t-/ > /-s-/: German Wasser vs. Dutch water (help·info), English water
Dutch has also preserved the fricative variety of Proto-Germanic */ɡ/ as [ɣ] or [ʝ], in contrast with some dialects of German, which generalised the stop [ɡ], and English, which lost the fricative variety through regular sound changes. Dutch has, however, had a fortition of /θ/ to /d/ like High (and Low) German:
Dutch also underwent a few changes on its own:
- Words with -old, -olt or -ald and -alt lost the /l/ in favor of a diphthong mostly in Middle Dutch, as a result of l-vocalisation. Compare English old, German alt, Dutch oud (help·info).
- /ft/ changed to /xt/ (phonetically [χt ~ xt ~ x̟t]), spelled ⟨cht⟩, but it was later reverted in many words by analogy with other forms. Compare English loft, German Luft, Dutch lucht (pronounced [lʏxt] (help·info) or [lʏx̟t] (help·info)).
- Proto-Germanic */uː/ turned into /yː/ through palatalisation, which, in turn, became the diphthong /œy/ (help·info), spelled ⟨ui⟩. Long */iː/ also diphthongised to /ɛi/ (help·info), spelled ⟨ij⟩.
The sample text is a reading of the first sentence of The North Wind and the Sun.
The phonetic transcription illustrates a Western Netherlandic, educated, middle-generation speech and a careful colloquial style.
De noordenwind en de zon hadden een discussie over de vraag wie van hun tweeën de sterkste was, toen er juist iemand voorbijkwam die een dikke, warme jas aanhad.
/də ˈnoːrdənʋɪnt ɛn də ˈzɔn | ɦɑdən ən dɪsˈkʏsi oːvər də ˈvraːx | ˈʋi vɑn ɦʏn ˈtʋeːən də ˈstɛrkstə ʋɑs | tun ɛr ˈjœyst imɑnt voːrˈbɛi kʋɑm | di ən ˈdɪkə ˈʋɑrmə ˈjɑs aːnɦɑt/
[də ˈnʊːɾdəʋɪnt ɛn də ˈzɔn | ɦɑdə ən dɪsˈkʏsi oʊvəɾ də ˈfɾaːχ | ˈʋi fɑn ɦʏn ˈtʋeɪə də ˈstɛɾəkstə ʋɑs | tun əɾ ˈjœyst imɑnt fʊːɾˈbɛi kʋɑm | di ən ˈdɪkə ˈʋɑɾmə ˈjɑs aːnɦɑt]
The phonetic transcription illustrates the speech of "a highly educated 45-year-old male who speaks Belgian Dutch with a very slight regional Limburg accent." Sentence stress is not transcribed.
De noordenwind en de zon waren ruzie aan het maken over wie het sterkste was toen er een reiziger voorbij kwam met een warme jas aan.
/də noːrdənʋɪnt ɛn də zɔn | ʋaːrən ryzi aːn ət maːkən | oːvər ʋi ɦɛt stɛrkstə ʋɑs | tun ɛr ən rɛizɪɣər voːrbɛi kʋɑm mɛt ən ʋɑrmə jɑs aːn/
[də noːʀdəwɪntˢ ʔɛn də zɔn | waːʀə ʀyzi aːn ət maːkə | ʔoːvər wi ɦət stɛʀkstə wɑs | tun əʀ ən ʀɛizɪɣəʀ voːʀbɛi kwɑm mɛt ən wɑʀmə jɑz‿aːn]
- Collins & Mees (2003).
- Booij (1999).
- Gussenhoven (1999).
- Verhoeven (2005).
- Heemskerk & Zonneveld (2000).
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 4–5.
- "VRT-Nederlands". ANW (Algemeen Nederlands Woordenboek) (in Dutch). Retrieved 25 March 2017.
- Gussenhoven (1999), p. 75.
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 189–202.
- Collins & Mees (2003:191–192). The source says that the main allophone of this sound is a fricative with a "very energetic articulation with considerable scrapiness", i.e. a fricative trill.
- Gussenhoven (1999), p. 74.
- Verhoeven (2005), pp. 243, 245.
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 191–192.
- Collins & Mees (2003), p. 48.
- Collins & Mees (2003), p. 190.
- Collins & Mees (2003), p. 193.
- Collins & Mees (2003), p. 197.
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 58, 197, 222.
- Collins & Mees (2003), p. 209.
- Sebregts (2014), pp. 196–198.
- Booij (1999), p. 8.
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 197–198, 201.
- Booij (1999), p. 5.
- Gussenhoven (1999), pp. 75–76.
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 127–128, 132–133.
- Booij (1999), p. 6.
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 137–138.
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 92, 130, 132, 234.
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 98, 130, 132, 234.
- For example by Gussenhoven (1999:75).
- For example by Collins & Mees (2003:127–128, 132–133).
- For example by Booij (1999:4–5) and Verhoeven (2005:245).
- Booij (1999), pp. 4–6.
- Collins & Mees (2003), p. 132.
- Gussenhoven (2007), pp. 337, 339.
- van Heuven & Genet (2002).
- Sources that use ⟨ʏ⟩ include Booij (1999:4–5), Gussenhoven (1999:75–76) and Verhoeven (2005:245). The online dictionary woorden.org also uses that symbol. Sources that use ⟨ɵ⟩ include van Reenen & Elias (1998) and Rietveld & van Heuven (2009). The traditional transcription of ⟨œ⟩ is also used in certain modern sources, for example by Kooij & van Oostendorp (2003:27).
- Collins & Mees (2003), p. 128.
- Described as close-mid [ʊ̞] by Geert Booij and as mid [ɔ̽] by Beverley Collins and Inger Mees.
- Booij (1999), pp. 7, 17.
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 97–98.
- Collins & Mees (2003), p. 129.
- Gussenhoven (2007), pp. 342, 344.
- For example by Booij (1999) and Heemskerk & Zonneveld (2000) as well as the online dictionary woorden.org.
- Gussenhoven (1999), p. 76.
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 104, 128, 132–133.
- Verhoeven (2005), p. 245.
- Booij (1999), pp. 6, 16.
- Collins & Mees (2003), p. 138.
- It is listed by only some sources, namely Booij (1999) and Gussenhoven (2007).
- Such as Booij (1999) and Gussenhoven (2007).
- Gussenhoven (2007), p. 342.
- Collins & Mees (2003), p. 131.
- Verhoeven (2005), p. 246.
- van Heuven & Genet (2002), cited in Gussenhoven (2007:337–338).
- Rietveld & van Heuven (2009).
- Gussenhoven (2007), p. 338.
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 132–133.
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 132, 134, 200.
- Gussenhoven (2007), pp. 344, 347.
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 128, 137.
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 92, 128–129, 131.
- Collins & Mees (2003), p. 137.
- Schouten (1981).
- Booij (1999), p. 7.
- Collins & Mees (2003), p. 130.
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 108, 110, 133–134.
- Collins & Mees (2003), p. 135.
- Jacobi (2009).
- Stroop (1999).
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 109–110.
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 131, 134, 200–201.
- Gussenhoven (2007), pp. 339, 347.
- Collins & Mees (2003), p. 134.
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 131, 133.
- Collins & Mees (2003), p. 133.
- Booij (1999), pp. 4, 6.
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 127, 135.
- For example by Booij (1999:4, 6), Verhoeven (2005:245) and Gussenhoven (2007:340).
- For example by Collins & Mees (2003:135) and Kooij & van Oostendorp (2003:28).
- For example by Gussenhoven (1999:76).
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 135–136.
- Collins & Mees (2003), p. 136.
- Gussenhoven (2007), p. 340.
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 133, 136.
- Booij (1999), pp. 5, 44.
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 134–137.
- Booij (1999), p. 44.
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 112, 136–137.
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 136–137.
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 135–137.
- Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 237–238.
- The current collection at nl.wiktionary
- Booij (1999), pp. 27, 28.
- Booij (1999), pp. 36.
- Booij (1999), pp. 35.
- Source: Gussenhoven (1999:76). Close-mid vowels are transcribed as diphthongs according to the same page.
- Verhoeven (2005), p. 247.
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