Hard and soft G in Dutch

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

In northern dialects of Dutch, the letters represent velar ([ɣ] and [x], respectively) or uvular fricatives [χ], the so-called hard G.

However, in most northern dialects, the distinction is no longer made, with both sounds pronounced as [x] or [χ]. In those dialects that merge ⟨g⟩ and ⟨ch⟩, it is still possible for some speakers to pronounce ⟨g⟩ as [ɣ] intervocallically.

In many southern dialects of Dutch, ⟨g⟩ and ⟨ch⟩ represent front-velar fricatives ([ɣ̟] and [x̟]), the so-called soft G.

Pronunciation[edit]

Place of the tongue for a soft G (between 6 and 7) and a hard G (at or farther back than 7).

Overview[edit]

Examples[edit]

Symbol Example
IPA orthography Gloss
[x] / [χ] (Hard G) [ɑxt] / [ɑχt] acht 'eight'
[x̟] (Soft G) [ɑx̟t]
[ɣ] / [x] / [χ] (Hard G) [ɣaːn] / [xaːn] / [χaːn] gaan 'to go'
[ɣ̟] (Soft G) [ɣ̟aːn]

Geographical distribution[edit]

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

  • All of the Netherlands, except the provinces of Limburg and North Brabant, and some dialects of Gelderland and Utrecht
  • Most dialects of West Flanders and East Flanders. Those dialects, both in Belgium, as well as the ones of Zeeland, realise ⟨g⟩ as [ɣ ~ ɦ], and ⟨ch⟩ as [x ~ h]. Since those dialects usually feature H-dropping as well, ⟨g⟩ does not merge with ⟨h⟩.

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

  • The Netherlands
  • Dutch-speaking Belgium except for most of West Flanders and East Flanders.

See also[edit]