Hard and soft G in Dutch

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

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. In addition, /x/ is usually a post-velar fricative with a simultaneous voiceless uvular trill: [x̠͡ʀ̥]. /ɣ/, if distinct from /x/, is pronounced as a somewhat lengthened voiceless cardinal velar [], but it usually falls together with /x/ as [x̠͡ʀ̥], especially word-initially. 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, 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 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 respective standard pronunciation when speaking Standard Dutch (in which case [ɣ ~ 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 in both the Netherlands and Germany.


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 Northern Dutch, /ɣ/ appears immediately before voiced consonants and sometimes also between vowels. 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][9] In Northern Dutch, the contrast between /x/ and /ɣ/ is unstable, and vlaggen is more likely to feature [χ]: [ˈvlɑχə(n)].[2][3] A trill fricative [ʀ̝̊] appears in very different contexts in Southern Dutch, being an allophone of /r/.[10]

Thus, the phrase zachte G 'soft G' is pronounced [ˈzɑxtə ˈʝeː] in Southern Dutch, whereas the Northern pronunciation is [ˈzɑχtə ˈχei].

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. In those dialects, both in Belgium, as well as the ones of Zeeland, both /x/ and /ɣ/ are considerably weaker than in Standard Dutch, and especially /ɣ/ may sound close to or the same as standard /ɦ/. Since those dialects normally feature h-dropping, no confusion arises.

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.


  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. ^ Goeman & Van de Velde (2001).
  10. ^ 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.
  • Collins, Beverley; Mees, Inger M. (1982). "A phonetic description of the consonant system of Standard Dutch (ABN)". Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 12 (1): 2–12. doi:10.1017/S0025100300002358. JSTOR 44526677.
  • — — (2003) [First published 1981]. The Phonetics of English and Dutch (5th ed.). Leiden: Brill Publishers. ISBN 9004103406.
  • 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. Rapport d'Activités de l'Institut des Langues Vivantes et de Phonétique. Brussels: Etudes & Travaux. pp. 91–112. ISSN 0777-3692.
  • 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.
  • —; Aarts, Flor (1999). "The dialect of Maastricht" (PDF). Journal of the International Phonetic Association. University of Nijmegen, Centre for Language Studies. 29 (2): 155–166. doi:10.1017/S0025100300006526.
  • Heijmans, Linda; Gussenhoven, Carlos (1998). "The Dutch dialect of Weert" (PDF). Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 28 (1–2): 107–112. doi:10.1017/S0025100300006307.
  • Peters, Jörg (2010). "The Flemish–Brabant dialect of Orsmaal–Gussenhoven". Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 40 (2): 239–246. doi:10.1017/S0025100310000083.
  • Tops, Evie (2009). Variatie en verandering van de /r/ in Vlaanderen. Brussels: VUBPress. ISBN 9789054874713.
  • Verhoeven, Jo (2005). "Belgian Standard Dutch" (PDF). Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 35 (2): 243–247. doi:10.1017/S0025100305002173. S2CID 146567016.

See also[edit]