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 (that is, those spoken above the rivers Rhine, Meuse and Waal), 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.

Voicing is truly contrastive only between vowels. In dialects that make the distinction, the voiceless variant occurs only between vowels, before voiceless consonants and in the word-final position (and also at the beginning of words, in some loanwords). The voiced variant is the only sound of the two that can occur word-initially in native words and before voiced consonants, but it cannot occur at the end of the word due to final-obstruent devoicing.

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 the voiceless uvular fricative when speaking standard Dutch. It is very rare for speakers to use the hard G when speaking Brabantian or Limburgish (including Ripuarian, in the extreme south of the province); in those dialects, [χ] is heard as a rhotic consonant, an allophone of /r/ in some positions.

In Ripuarian, the voiced /ɣ/ has been so fronted as to merge with the palatal approximant /j/ (except after back vowels); cf. Standard Dutch goed 'good' with jód in the Kerkrade dialect. Those dialects are also an exception to the rule, as they switch over to the southern pronunciation /ɣ/ when they speak Standard Dutch. In the case of Herzogenrath (where the Kerkrade dialect is also spoken) and other Ripuarian-speaking places in Germany, they switch to standard /ɡ/ when speaking Standard German, as the pronunciation with /j/ is marked on both sides of the border.

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 most parts of 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]