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|Dutch grammar series|
Dutch has an extensive vowel inventory consisting of 13 plain vowels and four diphthongs. The vowels /eː øː oː/ are included in the diphthong chart below because many northern dialects realize them as diphthongs, though they behave phonologically like the other simple vowels. When they precede /r/, these vowels are pronounced either as monophthongs [ɪː ʏː ʊː], or as centering diphthongs [eə øə oə] (or [ɪə ʏə ʊə]), depending on the dialect. Some, particularly Netherlandic speakers have similar allophones before dark l. Some speakers may not have such allophones at all, and pronounce [eː øː oː] in every position. [ɐ] (a near-open central vowel) is an allophone of unstressed /a/ and /ɑ/.
Vowel length is not always considered a distinctive feature in Dutch phonology, because it is usually paired with changes in vowel quality. However, there are some minimal pairs distinguished by length alone, such as zonne(n) [ˈzɔnə] ("suns") versus zone [ˈzɔːnə] ("zone") versus zonen [ˈzoːnə(n)] ("sons"), or kroes [krus] ("mug") versus cruise [kruːs] ("cruise"). One other notable example occurs in dialects where the opposition between voiced and voiceless fricatives has been neutralised (by devoicing the voiced fricatives); in these dialects, roze [ˈrɔːsə] ("pink") and rosse [ˈrɔsə] ("red-haired") are not only a minimal pair, but could even conceivably lead to misunderstanding if misheard (is someone's hair red or pink?).
|eɪ4||eː|| beɪt (help·info)
|øʏ4||øː|| nøʏs (help·info)
|oʊ4||oː|| boʊt (help·info)
|æi5||ɛi|| ɑrχənˈtæin (help·info)
|ʌy6||œy|| ʌyt (help·info)
|uit, ui||'out', 'onion'|
|ɑu7||ɔu|| fɑut (help·info)
- ^1 /ɪ ʏ y/ are lowered and backed, and sound more like [ɘ̟ ɵ̟ ʉ̞] respectively.
- ^2 The difference between /i y u/ and /iː yː uː/ is marginal and almost allophonic. The long vowels occur only in loanwords, except before /r/ where they are allophones of the short vowels.
- ^3 Mostly in onomatopoeias and loanwords.
- ^4 Pronounced as long vowels in Belgium (but dialect of Antwerp realizes /eː/ as [ɛi~ɛə~eə]), southern Netherlands (Zeeland, southern North Brabant and most of Limburg) and some Dutch Low Saxon parts of the Netherlands, but as narrow closing diphthongs in the rest of the Netherlands. The transcription /eɪ øʏ oʊ/ for this diphthongal pronunciation is non-standard and used here for the sake of clarity. /øʏ/ is rather central than front, so it would be more accurate to transcribe it as /ɵʉ/.
- ^5 The first element of /ɛi/ is pronounced more open than the vowel in bed - [ɛ̞i]. For some Netherlandic speakers it may be as open as [æi], or even [ai]. The transcription /æi/ is non-standard and used here for the sake of clarity. On the other hand, the dialect of Antwerp realizes /ɛi/ as [aə]. Many Belgians tend to monophthongize it [ɛ̞ː].
- ^6 In most of the Netherlands /œy/ is pronounced more in the back, like [ʌ̈y]. Such a transcription is non-standard and used here (though without the diactric for simplicity) for the sake of clarity. This doesn't apply to southern Netherlandic Dutch and Flemish Dutch, as dialects from these regions either preserve the traditional pronunciation [œy], or pronounce a monophthong [œː] instead.
- ^7 Pronounced /ʌu/ in Northern Standard Dutch and /ɔu/ in Standard Belgian Dutch according to Verhoeven. A better approximation for at least the Northern Dutch pronunciation is /ɑu/. Some Dutchmen may pronounce this diphthong more open - [au]. The onset of Standard Belgian /ɔu/ is more open than cardinal /ɔ/ - [ɔ̞u], and many Belgians tend to monophthongize it to [ɔ̞ː].
|Nasal||m (ɱ)1||n 9||(ɲ) 1||ŋ||(ɴ) 1|
|voiced||b||d 9||(ɡ) 2|
|Fricative||voiceless||f||s 3||ʃ ~ sʲ 2||ç ~ x ~ χ 4||ɦ ~ h 5 6|
|voiced||v 5||z 3 5||ʒ ~ zʲ 2||ʝ ~ ɣ 4||ʁ 7|
|Trill||r 7||ʀ 7|
|Approximant||β̞ ~ ʋ 8||l ~ ɫ 10, ɹ 7||j||w 8|
- ^1 [ɱ], [ɴ], [ʔ], and [ɲ] are not separate phonemes in Dutch. [ɱ] is an allophone of /m/ and /n/ before /f/ and /v/. [ɴ] is an allophone of /n/ and /ŋ/ before /ɣ/ and /x/ in dialects that realize them (or one of them) as [χ]. The glottal stop [ʔ] is inserted before vowel-initial syllables within words after /a/ and /ə/ and often also at the beginning of a word, although unlike standard German there is not a requirement to use it. [ɲ] occurs as an allophone of /nj/ in words like oranje.
- ^2 /ɡ/, /ʃ/ and /ʒ/ are not native phonemes of Dutch. /ɡ/ only occurs in borrowed words like goal or allophonically when /k/ is voiced due to assimilation, like in zakdoek [ˈzɑɡduk]. /ʃ/ and /ʒ/ only occur in loanwords such as show ('show') and bagage ('baggage'). However, they both occur in native words as allophones of /sj/ and /zj/ respectively.
- ^3 /s/ and /z/ may be somewhat palatalized [sʲ zʲ], or in some northern dialects even retracted [s̠ z̠], making them sound close to English /ʃ ʒ/. Palatalization is more common than retraction, and is also found in some southern dialects (but usually not in the south-west).
- ^4 The sound spelled <ch> is a voiceless velar fricative [x] in Northern Dutch and is claimed to be a voiceless palatal fricative [ç] in Southern Dutch, including all of Dutch-speaking Belgium. (However, in many or perhaps most of these regions, the actual sound used gives the impression of being front-velar, not palatal.) In the North /ɣ/ is usually realized as [x] or [χ] and thus has merged with /x/ (which may be realized as either [χ] or [x]), whereas in the South the distinction between /ʝ/ and /ç/ has been preserved (neither of which may actually be palatal sounds; see above). This doesn't apply to many dialects of West Flanders, East Flanders and Zeeland, which realize both /ʝ/ and /ç/ as [x].
- ^5 In some northern dialects, the voiced fricatives have almost completely merged with the voiceless ones; /ɦ/ is usually realized as [h] (this is also found in Limburg) and /v/ is usually realized as [f]. /z/ can be realized as [s], but this is not very common. All of these realizations are also found in dialect of Nijmegen, which also merges /ɣ/ and /x/ to [x].
- ^6 [h] is not a separate phoneme in Dutch, but an allophone of /ɦ/ occurring after a voiceless consonant. Some dialects, particularly those from the southwest, exhibit a phenomenon identical to Northern English h-dropping, called in Dutch 'h-deletie'. A number of dialects realize all instances of /ɦ/ as [h] (see above for details).
- ^7 The realization of /r/ varies considerably from dialect to dialect. It can be realized as the alveolar trill [r], the alveolar tap [ɾ], the voiced uvular fricative [ʁ], the uvular trill [ʀ], or as the alveolar approximant [ɹ], though the last realization is restricted to the Netherlands, and in most dialects it can be found exclusively in the syllable coda. A notable exception here is the dialect of Leiden, which realizes every instance of /r/ as [ɹ]. Some dialects may simply delete the /r/ after schwa, or (although it is rather rare) vocalize it to [ɐ] like German. See the map at right for more information. In dialects that have a uvular pronunciation for both /ɣ/ and /r/, the two phonemes may merge under some circumstances. This is especially noticeable in the city dialect of The Hague, where schijven and schrijven may be homophones [ˈsχɛːvə].
- ^8 The realization of /ʋ/ varies considerably from the Northern to the Southern and Belgium dialects of the Dutch language. In the north of the Netherlands, it is a labiodental approximant: [ʋ]. In the south of the Netherlands and in Belgium it is pronounced as a bilabial approximant [β̞]. In Surinamese Dutch it is pronounced [w]. In stem-initial position before /r/ it is always pronounced as a voiced labiodental fricative [v], regardless of the dialect.
- ^9 The lateral /l/ is velarized postvocalically ([ɫ]), and may even be vocalized by certain speakers. In some northern dialects, for example the West Frisian speaking area, it may always be dark, and in some southern dialects it is never velarized.
- ^10 The alveolar consonants (especially the stops) are generally pronounced as denti-alveolars in Belgian Dutch.
|ɡ||ɡoːɫ (help·info)||goal||'goal' (sports)|
|m||mɛns (help·info)||mens||'human being'|
|ʃ||ʃɛf (help·info)||chef||'boss, chief'|
|x, ç|| ɑxt (help·info)
|ɣ, χ, ʝ|| ˌsɛrtoːɣənˈbɔs (help·info)
|r, ʀ, ɾ, ɹ, ʁ|| rɑt (help·info)
ˈʝɪːʁt ˈbuʁʒwa (help·info)
|ʋ. w, β̞|| ʋɑŋ (help·info)
|l||lɑnt (help·info)||land||'land / country'|
|ɫ||ɡoːɫ (help·info)||goal||'goal' (sports)|
|ʔ||bəˈʔaːmə (help·info)||beamen||'to confirm'|
The final 'n' of the ending -en (originally [ən], with a variety of meanings) is not pronounced in many areas, making those words homophonous with forms without the -n. It is dropped both word-finally and word-internally in compound words. This pronunciation can be morphologically sensitive and can distinguish words, as the -n is dropped only when it is part of the distinct ending -en, but not when the word has a single stem that happens to end in -en. Thus, the word teken "(I) draw" always retains its -n because it is part of an indivisible stem, whereas in teken "ticks (plural)" it is dropped because it is a plural ending. These words are therefore not homophones in dialects which drop -n, despite being spelled identically.
Final -n is retained in the North East (Low Saxon) and the South West (East and West Flemish) where the ending becomes a syllabic [n] or (after velars) syllabic [ŋ] sound. Examples: laten [ˈlaːtn̩]; maken [ˈmaːkŋ̍]. Some Low Saxon dialects that have uvular pronunciation 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 language devoices all obstruents at the ends of words (a final /d/ becomes /t/). This is partly reflected in the spelling, the voiced "z" in plural huizen ( [ˈɦœy̆zə] (help·info)) becomes huis ( [ɦœy̆s] (help·info)) ('house') in singular. Also, duiven ( [ˈdœy̆və] (help·info)) becomes duif ( [dœy̆f] (help·info)) ('dove'). The other cases are always written with the voiced consonant, but a devoiced one is actually pronounced: the voiced "d" in plural baarden ( [ˈbaːrdə] (help·info) ) is retained in singular spelling baard ('beard') but is pronounced as [baːrt] (help·info), and plural ribben ( [ˈrɪbə] (help·info)) has singular rib ('rib'), pronounced as [rɪp] (help·info).
Because of assimilation, often the initial consonant of the next word is usually also devoiced: het vee ('the cattle') is /(ɦ)ətfeː/.
Some regions (Amsterdam, Friesland) have devoiced the voiced fricatives /v/, /z/, and /ɣ/, merging them with the voiceless ones and making certain words homophones. Compare logen and loochen /ˈloːɣə(n)/ vs. /ˈloːxə(n)/, both pronounced [ˈloːxə(n)] in areas with the devoicing.
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, as such words 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: vòòr.kó.mən, wéér.lòòs. The stressed syllable of a word will receive secondary stress within a compound word: bóm.mèl.ding, ál.co.hol.per.cen.tà.gə.
While stress is phonemic, minimal pairs are rare, and marking the stress in written Dutch is optional, never obligatory, but 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 is also written to distinguish some verbs, as stress placement on prefixes also carries a grammatical distinction, such as in vóórkomen (to occur — listen (help·info)) and voorkómen (to prevent — listen (help·info)). 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 possesses a strong stress accent, like other Germanic languages, and uses stress timing due to 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 will preferably 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 where 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, like in English, begin with three consonants - e.g. straat (help·info) (street). There are words that end in four consonants - e.g. herfst (help·info) (autumn), ergst (help·info) (worst), interessantst (help·info) (most interesting), sterkst (help·info) (strongest) - most of them being adjectives in the superlative form.
Historical sound changes 
Dutch (with the exception of the Limburg dialects) did not participate in the second Germanic consonant shift except for the last stage - compare
- /-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
- /-θ-/ > /-d-/: German das, Dutch dat (help·info) vs. English that
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 underwent a few changes of its own. For example:
- Words with -old or -olt lost the /l/ in favor of a diphthong as a result of l-vocalization. Compare English old, German alt, Dutch oud (help·info).
- /ft/ changed to /xt/ (North) or /çt/ (South), spelled ⟨cht⟩, but this was later reverted in many words by analogy with other forms. Compare English loft, German Luft, Dutch lucht (pronounced [lʏxt] (help·info) or [lʏçt] (help·info)).
- Proto-Germanic */uː/ turned into /yː/ through palatalization, which, in turn, became the diphthong /œy/ (help·info), spelled ⟨ui⟩. Long */iː/ also diphthongized to /ɛi/ (help·info), spelled ⟨ij⟩.
See also 
- Wikipedia:IPA for Dutch and Afrikaans
- Dutch orthography
- Hard and soft G in Dutch
- Afrikaans phonology
- Article in Onze Taal
- Gussenhoven (1992:47)
- Rietveld & Van Heuven 2009, p.68
- Camerman (2007:19)
- Stroop, Jan (October 1999). "Young Women's Farewell to Standard Dutch". Poldernederlands. Retrieved 31 August 2012.
- Camerman (2007:24)
- Rietveld & Van Heuven 2009, p.70
- Verhoeven (2005:245)
- Map based on Trudgill (1974:221)
- Gussenhoven, Carlos (1992), "Dutch", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 22 (2): 45–47, doi:10.1017/S002510030000459X
- Pieter van Reenen; Nanette Huijs (2000). "De harde en de zachte g, de spelling gh versus g voor voorklinker in het veertiende-eeuwse Middelnederlands.". Taal en Tongval, 52(Thema nr.), 159-181 (in Dutch). Retrieved 2009-05-04.
- Booij (1999:8)
- Peters (2006:117)
- Gussenhoven & Aarts (1999:155)
- The current collection at nl.wiktionary
- Booij, Geert (1999), The phonology of Dutch, Oxford University Press
- Camerman, F. (2007), Antwerps schrijven, pp. 19–24
- Gussenhoven, Carlos (1992), "Dutch", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 22 (2): 45–47, doi:10.1017/S002510030000459X
- Gussenhoven, Carlos; Aarts, Flor (1999), "The dialect of Maastricht", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 29 (02): 155–166, doi:10.1017/S0025100300006526
- Peters, Jörg (2006), "The dialect of Hasselt", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 36 (1): 117–124, doi:10.1017/S0025100306002428
- Rietveld, A.C.M.; Van Heuven, V.J. (2009), Algemene Fonetiek, Uitgeverij Coutinho
- Trudgill, Peter (1974), "Linguistic change and diffusion: Description and explanation in sociolinguistic dialect", Language in Society 3 (2): 215–246
- Verhoeven, Jo (2005), "Belgian Standard Dutch", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 35 (2): 243–247, doi:10.1017/S0025100305002173
- Verhoeven, Jo (2007), "The Belgian Limburg dialect of Hamont", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 37 (2): 219–225, doi:10.1017/S0025100307002940