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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 ("Pronunciation Dictionary") by Josée Heemskerk and Wim Zonneveld.
Standard Dutch has two main de facto pronunciation standards: Northern and Belgian. Northern Standard Dutch 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 in the provinces of North Holland, South Holland and Utrecht (especially in the Randstad), it cannot be considered a regional dialect. It is often impossible to tell where its speakers were born or brought up. Belgian Standard Dutch 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:
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]
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].
|Phoneme||Phonetic IPA||Orthography||English translation|
Geert Bourgeois (Belgium)
Dutch has an extensive vowel inventory consisting of at least twelve plain vowels and at least three diphthongs. Vowels can be grouped as back rounded, front unrounded and front rounded. They are also traditionally distinguished by length or tenseness. The vowels /eː, øː, oː/ are included in the diphthong chart further below because many dialects realize them as diphthongs, but they behave phonologically like the other long monophthongs.
Vowel length is not always considered a distinctive feature in Dutch phonology, because it normally co-occurs with changes in vowel quality. One feature or the other may be considered redundant, and some phonemic analyses prefer to treat it as an opposition of tenseness. However, even if not considered part of the phonemic opposition, the long/tense vowels are still realised as phonetically longer than their short counterparts. The changes in vowel quality are also not always the same in all dialects, and in some dialects, there may be little difference at all, with length remaining the primary distinguishing feature. Although older words always pair vowel length with a change in vowel quality, new loanwords have reintroduced phonemic oppositions of length. Compare zonne(n) /ˈzɔnə(n)/ ('suns') versus zone /ˈzɔːnə/ ('zone') versus zonen /ˈzoːnə(n)/ ('sons'), or kroes /krus/ ('mug') versus cruise /kruːs/ ('cruise').
The distinction between short /i, y, u/ and long /iː, yː, uː/ is very slight, and it may be considered allophonic for most purposes. In most environments except before /r/, most dialects realise them as short vowels. However, some recent loanwords have introduced distinctively long /iː, yː, uː/, making the length distinction marginally phonemic.
Before /r/, /i, y, u/ become [iə̯, yə̯, uə̯] or are allophonically lengthened to [iː, yː, uː].
/eː, øː, oː/ are often realized as narrow diphthongs [eɪ̯, øʏ̯, oʊ̯]. Dialects which use monophthongal pronunciations [eː, øː, oː] in all or most positions include most eastern and southern Netherlandic ones, Standard Belgian and also many other Belgian accents.
Several 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 preserved in most modern Standard Dutch pronunciations[so which accents preserve it?] and is not recognised in educational materials, but it is still present in many non-standard local dialects, such as Antwerpian, West Flemish and Zealandic. In these dialects, the sharp-long vowels are often opening diphthongs such as [ɪə̯, ʊə̯], while the soft-long vowels are either plain monophthongs [eː, oː] or slightly closing [eɪ̯, oʊ̯].
The long open-mid vowels /ɛː, œː, ɔː/ occur only in a handful of loanwords, mostly from French. /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).
In Northern Standard Dutch 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]. Other accents may have different realisations:
Dutch also has several diphthongs. All of them end in a non-syllabic close vowel [i̯, y̑, u̯], but they may begin with a variety of other vowels. They are grouped here by their former element.
|Phoneme||Phonetic IPA||Orthography||English translation|
|fout (South Holland - coastal)
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: /ˌvoːrˈkoːmə(n)/, /ˈʋeːrˌloːs/. The stressed syllable of a word receive secondary stress within a compound word: /ˈbɔmˌmɛldɪŋ/, /ˈɑlkoːɦɔl pɛrsɛnˌtaːʒə/.
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. The most common practice is to distinguish een (indefinite article, which, as a clitic, bears no stress) from één (the cardinal number one). It 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.drə(n)/, há.ri.ngən > /ˈɦaːr.ŋə(n)/, 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].
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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.
Dutch (with the exception of the Limburg dialects) did not participate in the second Germanic consonant shift except for the last stage:
Dutch generalised the fricative variety of Proto-Germanic */ɡ/ as [ɣ] or [ʝ], in contrast with German, which generalised the stop [ɡ], and English, which lost the fricative variety through regular sound changes.
Dutch also underwent a few changes on its own:
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 | ɦɑdə(n) ən dɪsˈkʏsi oːvər də ˈvraːx | ˈʋi vɑn ɦʏn ˈtʋeːən də ˈstɛrkstə ʋɑs | tun ɛr ˈjœy̑st imɑnt voːrˈbɛi̯ kʋɑm | di ən ˈdɪkə ˈʋɑrmə ˈjɑs aːnɦɑt/
[də ˈnoə̯ɾdəʋɪnt ɛn də ˈzɔn | ɦɑdə ən dɪsˈkʏsi oʊ̯vəɾ də ˈfɾaːχ | ˈʋi fɑn ɦʏn ˈtʋeɪ̯ə də ˈstɛɾəkstə ʋɑs | tun əɾ ˈjœy̑st imɑnt foə̯ɾˈbɛi̯ 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 rɛi̯zɪɣər voːrbɛi̯ kʋɑm mɛt ən ʋɑrmə jɑs aːn/
[də noːʀdəwɪntˢ ʔɛn də zɔn | waːʀə ʀyzi aːn ət maːkə | ʔoːvər wi ɦət stɛʀkstə wɑs | tun əʀ ən ʀɛi̯zɪɣəʀ voːʀbɛi̯ kwɑm mɛt ən wɑʀmə jɑzaːn]
Media related to Dutch pronunciation at Wikimedia Commons