Hard and soft G in Dutch

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Hard and soft G in Dutch (Dutch: harde en zachte G) refers to a phonetic phenomenon of the pronunciation of the letters ⟨g⟩ and ⟨ch⟩ and also a major isogloss within that language.

In southern dialects of Dutch (that is, those spoken roughly below the rivers Rhine, Meuse and Waal),[1] the distinction between the phonemes /x/ and /ɣ/ is usual, with both realized as cardinal velars [x, ɣ] or post-palatal [ç˗, ʝ˗], hereafter represented without the diacritics. The allophony between those two types of fricatives is termed soft G in Dutch dialectology.[2][3] It is almost the same as the distinction between the Ach-Laut and the Ich-Laut in German, with an additional contrast of voicing.

In northern dialects of Dutch, the distinction (if present at all) is not consistent and is best described as a fortis–lenis contrast, rather than a contrast of voicing. In those varieties, /x/ and /ɣ/ are no more front than cardinal velars, with /x/ usually being uvular: [χ]. /ɣ/, if distinct from /x/, is typically a voiceless velar fricative [x]. This is termed hard G in Dutch dialectology.[2][3] It is also used in Afrikaans, so that the Afrikaans word goed 'good' has the same pronunciation as in Northern Dutch ([χut]), in addition to having the same meaning in both languages.[4]

Speakers normally use those pronunciations in both standard language and the local dialect. The only exception to that are speakers from the southern Netherlands that have undergone accent reduction training, in which case they will use a trill fricative when speaking standard Dutch. It is very rare for speakers to use the hard G when speaking Brabantian or Limburgish.



In Southern Dutch, the phonemes /x/ and /ɣ/ are either cardinal velars [x, ɣ] or post-palatal [ç, ʝ].[2][3] More specifically, post-palatals occur in contact with phonemic front vowels and /ə/, whereas the cardinal velars occur in contact with phonemic back vowels (including /aː/ and /ɑ/).[5][6] The phonemes usually contrast by voicing, but /ɣ/ can be devoiced to a lenis [ɣ̊ ~ ʝ̊] that differs from /x/ in a less energetic articulation. Verhoeven and Hageman[7] have found that 70% of word-initial and 56% of intervocalic lenis fricatives (which includes /v/ and /z/) are realized as fully voiceless in Belgium. In Maastrichtian Limburgish, initial /ɣ/ is often partially devoiced as well.[8]

In Ripuarian (spoken in the southeastern part of Limburg), [ʝ] has been so fronted and weakened as to merge with the palatal approximant [j]; compare Standard Dutch goed /ɣut/ with jód /jot/ in the Kerkrade dialect, with both words meaning 'good'. Those dialects are also an exception to the rule, as they switch over to the respective standard pronunciation when speaking Standard Dutch (in which case [ʝ] is used) or, on the other side of the border (e.g. in Herzogenrath, where the Kerkrade dialect is also spoken), Standard German (in which case [ɡ] is used). The pronunciation with [j] is marked on both sides of the border. On the Dutch side of the border, the standard pronunciation of /ɣ/ is only approximated after phonological back vowels /u, ɔ, oː, aː/, being uvular [ʁ] as in Ripuarian. On the German side, the standard German pronunciation [ɡ] is usual.

In many cases, [j] still patterns as an obstruent, an allophone of /ɣ/ in Ripuarian. The plural form zeëje [ˈzeəjə][tone?] 'saws' has an underlying /ɣ/: /ˈzeəɣə/[tone?] because it alternates with a voiceless fricative in the root zeëg [ˈzeəç][tone?] 'saw', phonemically /ˈzeəɣ/.[tone?] Compare this with the alternation in vroag [ˈvʁoəχ][tone?] 'question' - vroage [ˈvʁoəʁə][tone?] 'questions' (phonemically /ˈvroəɣ/,[tone?] /ˈvroəɣə/)[tone?] or with the plural-singular pair löcher [ˈlœçəʁ] - laoch [ˈlɔːχ],[tone?] which has underlying voiceless fricatives: /ˈlœxər/, /ˈlɔːx/.[tone?] The /j/ phoneme is a sonorant and thus cannot participate in alternations like the first two. Furthermore, Ripuarian features a different pronunciation of /x/ and /ɣ/ after back vowels, as uvular [χ, ʁ], not dissimilar from the Northern Dutch pronunciation in the first case. The realization of /ɣ/ as [ʁ] results in a phonetic merger with /r/ and is thus an example of rhotacism. The consonants surrounding the diphthong in vroage /ˈvroəɣə/[tone?] are indistinguishable from each other: [ˈvʁoəʁə]).[tone?] This is a typical feature of Ripuarian. This merger is also not phonemic as /r/ too is a sonorant and thus cannot participate in alternations such as [ˈvʁoəχ][tone?] - [ˈvʁoəʁə][tone?] mentioned above.[9][10]


In Northern Dutch, /ɣ/ appears immediately before voiced consonants and sometimes also between vowels, but not in the word-initial position. In the latter case, the sound is not voiced and differs from /x/ in length (/ɣ/ is longer) and in that it is produced a little bit further front (mediovelar, rather than postvelar) and lacks any trilling, so that vlaggen /ˈvlɑɣən/ 'flags' has a somewhat lengthened, plain voiceless velar [] (hereafter represented with ɣ̊): [ˈvlɑɣ̊ə(n)], whereas lachen /ˈlɑxən/ 'to laugh' features a shorter, post-velar fricative with a simultaneous voiceless uvular trill, transcribed with x̠͡ʀ̥ or ʀ̝̊˖ in narrow IPA but normally written with χ or x. In this article, χ is used ([ˈlɑχə(n)]), even though the fricative portion is usually more front than cardinal uvulars.[2][3][11] In Northern Dutch, the contrast between /x/ and /ɣ/ is unstable, and vlaggen is more likely to feature [χ]: [ˈvlɑχə(n)].[2][3] Apart from Ripuarian, the voiceless trill fricative [ʀ̝̊] appears in very different contexts in Southern Dutch, being an allophone of /r/.[12]

Further examples[edit]

The phrase zachte G 'soft G' is pronounced [ˈzɑxtə ˈʝeː] in Southern Dutch, whereas the Northern pronunciation is [ˈzɑχtə ˈχei]. The Ripuarian-influenced Standard Dutch pronunciation is [ˈzɑχtə ˈʝeː], that of vlaggen is [ˈvlɑʁə(n)] (as if spelled vlarren), whereas that of lachen is [ˈlɑχə(n)].

Geographical distribution[edit]

The hard ⟨g⟩ is used in most of the Netherlands, except the provinces of Limburg and most parts of North Brabant, and some dialects of Gelderland and Utrecht. It is also used in Afrikaans, a daughter language of Dutch. It is spoken in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The soft ⟨g⟩ is used primarily in the southern part of the Dutch language area in Europe:

Ripuarian dialects spoken in the extreme southeast part of Limburg in the Netherlands have a special allophony that does not match the soft G used in the rest of Limburg but the German dialects of Aachen and Cologne; see above.

Dialects of West Flanders and western East Flanders also do not align with any other dialect group in this aspect, as they feature h-dropping and use weak glottal fricatives [ɦ, h] for standard /ɣ, x/. This pronunciation is also used in Zeelandic dialects spoken in the Netherlands.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gussenhoven (1999), p. 74.
  2. ^ a b c d e Collins & Mees (1982).
  3. ^ a b c d e Collins & Mees (2003).
  4. ^ Bowerman (2004:939): "White South African English is one of very few varieties to have a velar fricative phoneme /x/ (...), but this is only in words borrowed from Afrikaans (...) and Khoisan (...). Many speakers use the Afrikaans uvular fricative [χ] rather than the velar."
  5. ^ Heijmans & Gussenhoven (1998).
  6. ^ Peters (2010), p. 240.
  7. ^ Cited in Verhoeven (2005:244).
  8. ^ Gussenhoven & Aarts (1999), p. 156.
  9. ^ Stichting Kirchröadsjer Dieksiejoneer (1997), pp. 17, 19, 21, 126.
  10. ^ Russ (1989), pp. 228–229.
  11. ^ Goeman & Van de Velde (2001).
  12. ^ Tops (2009).


  • Bowerman, Sean (2004). "White South African English: phonology". In Schneider, Edgar W.; Burridge, Kate; Kortmann, Bernd; Mesthrie, Rajend; Upton, Clive (eds.). A handbook of varieties of English. Vol. 1: Phonology. Mouton de Gruyter. pp. 931–942. ISBN 978-3-11-017532-5.
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  • Goeman, Ton; Van de Velde, Hans (2001). "Co-occurrence constraints on /r/ and /ɣ/ in Dutch dialects". In van de Velde, Hans; van Hout, Roeland (eds.). 'r-atics. Brussels: Etudes & Travaux. pp. 91–112. ISSN 0777-3692. {{cite book}}: |journal= ignored (help)
  • Gussenhoven, Carlos (1999). "Dutch". Handbook of the International Phonetic Association: A guide to the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 74–77. ISBN 0-521-65236-7. Retrieved 16 February 2020.
  • Gussenhoven, Carlos; Aarts, Flor (1999). "The dialect of Maastricht" (PDF). Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 29 (2). University of Nijmegen, Centre for Language Studies: 155–166. doi:10.1017/S0025100300006526. S2CID 145782045.
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  • Peters, Jörg (2010). "The Flemish–Brabant dialect of Orsmaal–Gussenhoven". Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 40 (2): 239–246. doi:10.1017/S0025100310000083.
  • Russ, Charles V.J. (1989). The dialects of Modern German: A Linguistic survey. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-00308-7.
  • Stichting Kirchröadsjer Dieksiejoneer (1997) [1987]. Kirchröadsjer Dieksiejoneer (in Dutch) (2nd ed.). Kerkrade: Stichting Kirchröadsjer Dieksiejoneer. ISBN 90-70246-34-1.
  • Tops, Evie (2009). Variatie en verandering van de /r/ in Vlaanderen. Brussels: VUBPress. ISBN 9789054874713.
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