DUTCH PRONUNCIATION
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1. INTRODUCTION

2. INDIVIDUAL SOUNDS
2.1. Consonants
2.1.1. Plosives
2.1.2. Affricates
2.1.3. Nasals
2.1.4. Trill and Tap
2.1.5. Fricatives
2.1.6. Approximants
2.2. Vowels
2.2.1. 'Checked' monophthongs
2.2.2. 'Free' monophthongs
2.2.3. Unstressed monophthongs
2.2.4. Diphthongs
2.2.5. Vowel sequences

3. SOUNDS IN FLUENT SPEECH
3.1. Mouth position
3.2. Rhythm
3.3. Stress

4. SOUND-CHANGES IN CONNECTED SPEECH ("SANDHI")
4.1. r sounds
4.2. Voiceless and voiced consonants
4.3. Double consonants
4.4. l and n
4.5. Glottal plosive
4.6. Vowels before r
4.7. Unstressed free vowels

5. TEXTS

6. GLOSSARY

7. SOURCES



1. INTRODUCTION

This Pronunciation module consists of this Description and a set of computerised listening exercises: it teaches you all the speech-sounds of Dutch. The variety taught is Standard Dutch as spoken by the urban middle classes in Holland.

2. INDIVIDUAL SOUNDS

2.1. Consonants

2.1.1. Plosives

p Voiceless bilabial plosive, unaspirated.
Like English p, but without the following puff of breath. pɑk package.
b Voiced bilabial plosive.
Like English b, but with more buzz. bɑk tray.
t Voiceless alveolar plosive, unaspirated.
Like English t, but without the following puff of breath. tɑk branch.
d Voiced alveolar plosive.
Like English d, but with more buzz. dɑk roof.
k Voiceless velar plosive, unaspirated.
Like English k, but without the following puff of breath. kɑp cap.
g Voiced velar plosive.
Like English g, but with more buzz. ɪg ˈbɛn I am.
ʔ Glottal plosive.
The sound in Cockney bu'er (for butter). bəˈʔaːmɵ to agree.

2.1.2. Affricates

Voiceless alveolo-palatal affricate.
Halfway between ts in English tsetse and ch in English church. ˈbeɪtɕɵ a little.
Voiceless palatal affricate.
Like the ky sound in English cue, when said with a lot of breath. ˈkukɕɵ biscuit.

2.1.3. Nasals

m Voiced bilabial nasal.
Like English m. mɛt with.
n Voiced alveolar nasal.
Like English n. nɛt tidy.
ɲ Voiced palatal nasal.
Like the ny sound in English onion. ˈkɑɲɵ can you?.
ŋ Voiced velar nasal.
Like ng in English long. lɑŋ long.

2.1.4. Trill and Tap

ʀ Voiced uvular trill.
A sort of gargle, made by bouncing the uvula up and down between the tongue and the roof of the mouth. ˈleɪʀɵ learn.
ɾ Voiced alveolar tap.
Like a very old-fashioned pronunciation of English r in very, made by tapping the tongue against the ridge behind the teeth. ɾɛxt justice.

2.1.5. Fricatives

f Voiceless labio-dental fricative, endolabial.
Like English f, but with the upper teeth brushing the inside of the lower lip. fɛɪf five.
s Voiceless alveolar fricative.
Like ss in English hiss. sɛɪn signal.
z Voiced alveolar fricative.
Like z in English lazy. ˈzeɪkɵɻ certainly.
ɕ Voiceless alveolo-palatal fricative.
Like the h sound in English Hugh, when said with a lot of breath. ˈdoʊɕɵ little box.
x Voiceless velar fricative.
Like the ch sound in Scottish loch. xaːn go.
ɦ Breathy glottal fricative.
Like English h, but said in a warm, breathy, unctuous way. ɦɑnt hand.

Traditionalists claim that there is a voiced labio-dental fricative v that contrasts with the voiceless f, and a voiced velar fricative ɣ that contrasts with the voiceless x. But since very few speakers of Standard Dutch use either of these sounds, they do not feature in this course.

2.1.6. Approximants

ʋ Voiced labio-dental approximant, endolabial.
Like English v, but with the upper teeth approaching the inside of the lower lip without touching it. Like a non-resonant w. ˈʋaːtɵɻ water.
l Voiced alveolar lateral-approximant.
Like English l. lɑnt land.
j Voiced palatal approximant.
Like y in English yoyo. jʌʊ your (informal).
ɻ Voiced retroflex central-approximant.
Like an American 'hard r', with the tongue squeezed into the back of the mouth. The r sound used by pantomime pirates and people pretending to come from the West of England. ɦɑɻt hard.
ɤ̯ Voiced pharyngeal approximant.
Pull the tongue towards the back wall of the mouth as in Ugh!, but don't pronounce the g. ˈʋɔɤ̯k cloud.

2.2. Vowels

'Checked' monophthongs (below) are so called because they must be followed by a consonant in the same syllable: in this they resemble their English counterparts in kit, dress, etc. 'Free' monophthongs, by contrast, can come at the end of their syllable. Unstressed monophthongs are found only in unstressed syllables.

2.2.1. 'Checked' monophthongs

ɪ Close front unrounded vowel, lowered.
Like i in English kit. dɪŋ thing.
ɛ Open-mid front unrounded vowel.
Like e in English dress. bɛt bed.
ɑ Open back unrounded vowel.
Like the vowel-sound in English path, but shorter. dɑx day.
ɔ Open-mid back rounded vowel.
Like the vowel-sound in English thought, but shorter. tɔp top.
ʏ Close front rounded vowel, lowered.
Like i in English kit, but said with rounded lips. dʏs so, then.

2.2.2. 'Free' monophthongs

i Close front unrounded vowel.
Like ee in English flee, but shorter. bxif letter (to post).
y Close front rounded vowel.
Like ee in English flee, but said with rounded lips, and shorter. y you (formal).
u Close back rounded vowel.
Like oo in English moon, but using an old-fashioned pronunciation with strongly rounded lips and the middle of the tongue pushed down, and shorter. buk book.
Open front unrounded vowel, prolonged.
Like a in English trap, but with a more open jaw, and longer. (The symbol ː means that the preceding sound is prolonged). jaː yes.

2.2.3. Unstressed monophthongs

ə Mid central unrounded vowel.
Like a in English about. ˈsmaːkələk tasty.
ɵ Close-mid central rounded vowel.
Like a in English about, but said with rounded lips. ˈzɛxɵ to say.

2.2.4. Diphthongs

Starts with close-mid front unrounded vowel;
ends with close front unrounded vowel, lowered.
Halfway between English pay and pea. neɪ no.
øʏ Starts with close-mid front rounded vowel;
ends with close front rounded vowel, lowered.
Like ur in English fur followed by the oo in English moon, but with the lips rounded throughout and the tongue pushed to the front of the mouth. nøʏs nose.
Starts with close-mid back rounded vowel;
ends with close back rounded vowel, lowered.
Like o in an American pronunciation of home. ɾoʊt red.

The three vowels shown above are traditionally described as monophthongs pronounced , øː and (i.e. long, and with no change of sound in the middle). However, virtually all speakers pronounce them as diphthongs.

ɛɪ Starts with open-mid front unrounded vowel, lowered;
ends with close front unrounded vowel, lowered.
Halfway between English pie and pay. tɛɪt time.
ɐʏ Starts with open-mid central unrounded vowel, lowered;
ends with close front rounded vowel, lowered.
Like the vowel-sound in English goat, but with the tongue pushed to the front of the mouth throughout. ɦɐʏs house.
ʌʊ Starts with open-mid back unrounded vowel;
ends with close back rounded vowel, lowered.
Like the vowel-sound in English mouth, in an old-fashioned, upper-class pronunciation. ɦʌʊt wood.

2.2.5. Vowel sequences

Dutch has six sequences of vowels ending in i and u, which occur frequently:
aːidxaːi turn
oʊinoʊit never
uibui buoy
iuniu new
yuyu your (formal)
eɪusneɪu snow

3. SOUNDS IN FLUENT SPEECH

3.1. Mouth position

All languages have a characteristic position of the mouth, a way of holding the vocal organs that colours the overall sound. For Dutch, the back of the mouth is stretched and hollow, as though you were trying to swallow a whole potato, and the corners of the lips are drawn in in a slight pout. This gives more prominence to the velar consonants and rounded vowels.

3.2. Rhythm

Dutch, like English, makes a strong contrast between stressed and unstressed syllables. It has a 'stress-timed' rhythm, which means that the intervals of time between stresses are approximately equal, irrespective of the number of syllables spoken during each interval. Some syllables are therefore considerably drawn out, while others are very short, barely articulated. This rhythm is very different from, for example, that of Cantonese or Punjabi, where the syllables are uttered at a steady rate.

3.3. Stress

Getting the stress on the right syllable is important if you are to understand and be understood. In Dutch it usually falls on the root of the word, rather than on prefixes or suffixes, but this is not always true, and in any case you need to have some familiarity with word-formation to distinguish roots from prefixes and suffixes. So to start with, you have to learn the stress with each word. In this course, stress is shown by the symbol ˈ, which means that the immediately following syllable is stressed.

Speakers will change the stress within the sentence (as opposed to the stress within the word) to produce a particular effect, just as they do in English:

ɪk kɑn ˈnit ˈxaːnI can't go
ɪk ˈkɑn nit xaːnI CAN'T go!

4. SOUND-CHANGES IN CONNECTED SPEECH ("SANDHI")

In all languages, sounds get changed when words are joined together: in English, for example, the final t of west is pronounced when the word stands alone, but not in such phrases as West Country. The linguistic term for such changes is "sandhi". Sandhi changes can make the language unintelligible if you are not prepared for them.

The list below includes most of the changes made in Standard Dutch. Not all speakers consistently make all the changes described here - people make fewer changes on more formal occasions, for example. In this course, these changes are made in some examples but not in others, as seems appropriate in the immediate context. This mimics what you will hear from native speakers.

4.1. r sounds

The r sound takes various forms in Dutch. The scheme used in this course is as follows:
- at the beginning of a word, the voiced alveolar tap ɾ is used. ɾɛɪst rice.
- between vowels, the voiced uvular trill ʀ is used. ɛˈʀɔp up there.
- before a consonant, or at the end of the word, the voiced retroflex central-approximant ɻ is used. xɛɻt Gert (name).
- after a consonant, the voiceless velar fricative x is used. txɛɪn train.

There is however a great deal of individual variation - r can be omitted in some positions; some speakers use an English r; some use a voiced uvular fricative ɣ; a voiced alveolar trill r is typical of Amsterdam (these sounds are not further discussed in this course). A further problem is that x is an independent sound as well as a sort of r, so that xxaːn grain (where the first x is a sound in its own right, but the second is a variety of r) sounds the same as xaːn to go. This is a difficulty for native Dutch speakers as well as for learners.

4.2. Voiceless and voiced consonants

When a voiceless and a voiced consonant occur together, one of them will change to match the quality of the other. English shows a similar phenomenon when for example newz-paper (with z) is pronounced as newce-paper (with s). The Dutch consonants that are affected by this change are p ~ b, t ~ d, k ~ g, s ~ z and ɕ ~ j, since they form pairs in which one member is voiceless and the other voiced. The rules that determine which consonant is modified are as follows:

a. If both consonants are plosives, then both become voiced:
ˈɔp dɑt becomes ˈɔbdɑt so that
b. If both consonants are fricatives, then both become voiceless:
ˈʋɑs jɵ becomes ˈʋɑsɕɵ were you (informal)?
c. If one consonant is plosive and the other fricative, the fricative takes on the plosive's voicing type:
ˈɾɛɪs ˈbyʀoʊ becomes ˈɾɛɪzbyʀoʊ travel agent
A resultant may further change to ɕ:
xɛɻt jɑn becomes ˈxɛɻtɕɑn, ˈxɛɻɕɑn Gert-Jan (name)

4.3. Double consonants

When two identical consonants come together, one of them is removed. A similar change occurs in English, as when some mothers is pronounced some others (one of the m sounds is removed):
ɪk kɑn nitbecomesɪˈkɑnit I can't
ɐʏt tə ˈkoʊməbecomesɐʏtə ˈkoʊmə to come out
Note that two different consonants can become identical by the change of voicing noted above, with the result that one of them can be removed:
ˈʋɑs zɵbecomesˈʋɑssɵ, ˈʋɑsɵ was she?

4.4. l and n

When l occurs before a consonant or at the end of the phrase, it changes to the voiced pharyngeal approximant ɤ̯. This is similar to the English change in pronunciation of e.g. milk to miook:
fɔlbecomesfɔɤ̯ full

An alternative strategy is to interpolate ɵ between the l and a following consonant. English does this too, in such cases as fillum for film:
ˈtʋaːlfbecomesˈtʋaːlɵf twelve

When n occurs before a consonant, it can be deleted and the preceding vowel made nasal. (The symbol ̃  means that the sound is produced partly through the nose.):
ɦɛɪ ˈkʏntbecomesɦɛɪ ˈkʏ̃t.

A number of words ending in ɵ are pronounced with final ɵn in very careful speech. You can tell which words they are because they end in en in the spelling. All the infinitives of regular verbs fall into this class: ˈkoʊmɵ, ˈɦɛbɵ (in very careful speech ˈkoʊmɵn, ˈɦɛbɵn).

4.5. Glottal plosive

The glottal plosive ʔ is inserted when ɑ, ə or ɵ is preceded by another vowel. This can happen when two words come together in one phrase:
dɵ ˈɑndəʀɵbecomesdɵ ˈʔɑndəʀɵ the other

4.6. Vowels before r

When Dutch vowels are followed by an r in the same syllable they get twisted about, in just the same way as English vowels do. Three of the diphthongs become long monophthongs followed by ɵ:
becomeseːɵɻmeːɵɻ more
øʏbecomesøːɵɻdøːɵɻ door
becomesoːɵɻkɑnˈtoːɵɻ office
Likewise the three monophthongs become long, and add ɵ:
ibecomesiːɵɻɦiːɵɻ here
ybecomesyːɵɻyːɵɻ hour
ubecomesuːɵɻbuːɵɻ farmer

4.7. Unstressed free vowels

'Free' vowels become shorter in unstressed syllables. Though short, however, they do not change to their 'checked' equivalent:
madəˈliːf Madeleine, not *maːdəˈliːf or *mɑdəˈliːf
foɻˈbɛɪ finished, not *foːɵɻˈbɛɪ or *fɔɻˈbɛɪ

5. TEXTS

ɔp ˈsoʊɕalistɵ, ˈslɐʏt dɵ ʀɛɪjɵ

Up, Socialists, close ranks!
ɦət ˈʀoʊdɵ ˈfaːndəl ˈfɔɤ̯xɵ ʋɛɪ

We follow the red flag!

ˈspɾeɪkt y ˈxeɪn ˈneɪdəɻlɑnts?

Don't you speak any Dutch?

ˈxeɪf mɛɪ maːʀ ɑmstəɾˈdɑm, dɑt əs ˈmoʊiɵɾ dɑn paːʀɛɪs

Just give me Amsterdam, that's lovelier than Paris.

ˈny mut ək ˈɦɐʏlɵ. bɛɪˈnaː

I have to cry now. Almost.

I've got a weekend.

(ək ɦɛb) ʋeɪkˈɛnt.

And tomorrow a birthday.

ən ˈmɔɻxɵ ɵn vəɻˈjaːɻdɑx.

ən ˈdɑn is ət ˈzɔndɑx.

And then it's Sunday.

ˈdɑn ˈxaː ək maːɾ ɵn ˈfiləmpɕɵ kɛɪkɵ.

Then I'll just go and see some film.

ən ˈdɑn is ət ʋeɪkˈɛnt ˈʋeːɵɻ foɻˈbɛɪ...

And then the weekend's over once more...

6. GLOSSARY

Affricate: a plosive followed immediately by a fricative at the same point of articulation, the two sounds coming so close together that they sound like one sound.
Alveolar: the tip of the tongue articulates with the alveolum. See 'Alveolum'.
Alveolo-palatal: the blade of the tongue (the part immediately behind the tip) is flattened, and articulates with the back of the alveolum. See 'Alveolum'.
Alveolum: the bony ridge behind the upper front teeth.
Approximant: the articulators, by shaping the air-stream through the mouth, create a resonance, but not a hiss.
Aspirated: followed by a strong puff of breath, as though blowing out a candle. See 'Unaspirated'.
Back: a vowel where the back part of the tongue is tense.
Bilabial: the upper and lower lips articulate together.
Breathy: a breathy sound is one accompanied by a sigh, so that a lot of breath passes.
Central: a vowel where the centre of the tongue is tense.
Central-approximant: the sides of the tongue touch the molars.
Close: a vowel where the tense part of the tongue is near to the roof of the mouth.
Close-mid: a vowel where the tense part of the tongue is higher than halfway between the floor and the roof of the mouth.
Diphthong: a sound consisting of two vowel-sounds that glide imperceptibly one into the other. Some writers use the term to mean 'two vowel letters', which is not the same thing. See 'Monophthong'.
Endolabial: the upper teeth articulate with the inside of the lower lip. See 'Exolabial'.
Exolabial: the upper teeth articulate with the outside of the lower lip. See 'Endolabial'.
Fricative: the air-stream through the mouth is made sufficiently narrow to cause hiss, but not completely blocked.
Front: a vowel where the front part of the tongue is tense.
Glottal: the vocal chords come together to impede or block the airstream.
Labio-dental: the upper front teeth articulate with the lower lip.
Lateral-approximant: the centre of the tongue touches the roof of the mouth at the specified point; the sides of the tongue are retracted.
Lowered: a vowel where the tense part of the tongue is slightly lower than the specified position.
Mid: a vowel where the tense part of the tongue is halfway between the floor and the roof of the mouth.
Monophthong: a vowel that stays the same, and does not glide into another vowel. See 'Diphthong'.
Nasal: of a consonant, one in which the breath passes through the nose (the articulators block the passage through the mouth). Of a vowel, one in which the breath passes partly through the nose and partly through the mouth. See 'Oral'.
Open: a vowel where the tense part of the tongue is near the floor of the mouth.
Open-mid: a vowel where the tense part of the tongue is lower than halfway between the roof and the floor of the mouth.
Oral: a vowel that is pronounced wholly through the mouth (i.e. no breath passes through the nose). See 'Nasal'.
Palatal: the tongue articulates with the palate, the hard middle part of the roof of the mouth.
Pharyngeal: the tongue articulates with the back wall of the mouth.
Plosive: the air-stream through the mouth is blocked: pressure is built up and released suddenly.
Retroflex: a consonant where the tongue-tip is curled back, so that its underside strikes the roof of the mouth.
Rounded: a vowel where the lips are rounded (by pulling in the corners of the mouth).
Tap: a consonant where one articulator touches the other briefly while in movement.
Trill: a consonant where one articulator vibrates against the other.
Unaspirated: an unaspirated plosive does not have the puff of breath that accompanies most plosives in English. See 'Aspirated'.
Unrounded: a vowel where the lips are spread, not rounded.
Uvular: the tongue articulates with the uvula, the waggly appendage hanging down in the middle of the back of the mouth.
Velar: the tongue articulates with the velum. See 'Velum'.
Velum: the soft back part of the roof of the mouth.
Voiced: with a voiced sound, the vocal chords vibrate: the sound can be sung; if you put your hands over your ears, you can hear a buzz; if you touch your larynx lightly, you can feel vibrations. See 'Voiceless'.
Voiceless: with a voiceless sound, the vocal chords do not vibrate: the sound cannot be sung; if you put your hands over your ears, you do not hear a buzz; and if you touch your larynx lightly, you feel no vibrations. See 'Voiced'.

7. SOURCES

Mees, I., and Collins, B. (1982). 'A phonetic description of the consonant system of Standard Dutch (ABN)'. Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 12.1: 2-12.

Mees, I., and Collins, B. (1983). 'A phonetic description of the vowel system of Standard Dutch (ABN)'. Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 13.2: 64-75.