Dutch Pronunciation


Contents
1. Individual sounds
   1.1. Consonants
        1.1.1. Plosives
        1.1.2. Affricates
        1.1.3. Nasals
        1.1.4. Trill and tap
        1.1.5. Fricatives
        1.1.6. Approximants
   1.2. Vowels
        1.2.1. "Checked" monophthongs
        1.2.2. "Free" monophthongs
        1.2.3. Unstressed monophthongs
        1.2.4. Diphthongs
        1.2.5. Vowel sequences
2. Sounds in fluent speech
   2.1. Mouth position
   2.2. Rhythm
   2.3. Stress
3. Sound-changes in connected speech ("sandhi")
   3.1. r sounds
   3.2. Voiceless and voiced consonants
   3.3. Double consonants
   3.4. l and n sounds
   3.5. Glottal plosive
   3.6. Vowels before r
   3.7. Unstressed free vowels
4. Texts
5. Sources


This page presents the 43 speech-sounds of Standard Dutch, as spoken by the urban middle classes in Holland.
1. Individual sounds

1.1. Consonants

1.1.1. Plosives

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

1.1.2. Affricates

ʨ Voiceless alveolo-palatal affricate.
Halfway between ts in Southern British English tsetse and ch in Southern British English church. ˈbeɪʨɵ a little.
c͜ɕ Voiceless palatal affricate.
Like the ky sound in Southern British English cue, when said with a lot of breath. ˈkuc͜ɕɵ biscuit.

1.1.3. Nasals

m Voiced bilabial nasal.
Like Southern British English m. mɛt with.
n Voiced alveolar nasal.
Like Southern British English n. nɛt tidy.
ɲ Voiced palatal nasal.
Like the ny sound in Southern British English onion, but pronounced as one sound (the n is mixed up with the y and the y is mixed up with the n). ˈkɑɲɵ can you?
ŋ Voiced velar nasal.
Like ng in Southern British English long. lɑŋ long.

1.1.4. 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 Southern British English r in very, made by tapping the tongue against the ridge behind the teeth. ɾɛxt justice.

1.1.5. Fricatives

f Voiceless labio-dental fricative, endolabial.
Like Southern British English f, but with the upper teeth brushing the inside of the lower lip. fɛɪf five.
s Voiceless alveolar fricative.
Like ss in Southern British English hiss. sɛɪn signal.
z Voiced alveolar fricative.
Like z in Southern British English lazy. ˈzeɪkɵɻ certainly.
ɕ Voiceless alveolo-palatal fricative.
Like the h sound in Southern British English Hugh, but with the tongue pushed forward and scraping against the roof of the mouth. ˈdoʊɕɵ little box.
x Voiceless velar fricative.
Like the ch sound in Scottish loch. xaːn go.
ɦ Breathy glottal fricative.
Like Southern British 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 material.
1.1.6. Approximants

ʋ Voiced labio-dental approximant, endolabial.
Like Southern British 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 Southern British English l. lɑnt land.
j Voiced palatal approximant.
Like y in Southern British 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.

1.2. Vowels

"Checked" monophthongs (below) are so called because they must be followed by a consonant in the same syllable: in this they resemble their Southern British 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.

1.2.1. "Checked" monophthongs

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

1.2.2. "Free" monophthongs

i Close front unrounded vowel.
Like ee in Southern British English flee, but shorter. bxif letter (to post).
y Close front rounded vowel.
Like ee in Southern British English flee, but said with rounded lips, and shorter. y you (formal).
u Close back rounded vowel.
Like oo in Southern British 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 Southern British English trap, but with a more open jaw, and longer. (The symbol ː means that the preceding sound is prolonged). jaː yes.

1.2.3. Unstressed monophthongs

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

1.2.4. Diphthongs

Starts with close-mid front unrounded vowel; ends with close front unrounded vowel, lowered.
Halfway between Southern British English pay and pea. neɪ no.
øʏ Starts with close-mid front rounded vowel; ends with close front rounded vowel, lowered.
Like ur in Southern British English fur followed by the oo in Southern British 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 Southern British 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 Southern British 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 Southern British English mouth, in an old-fashioned, upper-class pronunciation. ɦʌʊt wood.
1.2.5. Vowel sequences

Dutch has six sequences of vowels ending in i and u, which occur frequently:
 aːias indxaːi turn
 oʊi noʊit never
 ui bui buoy
 iu niu new
 yu yu your (formal)
 eɪu sneɪu snow

2. Sounds in fluent speech

2.1. 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.

2.2. 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.

2.3. 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 material, 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 ˈxaːn I CAN'T GO
 ɪk ˈkɑn nit xaːn I CAN'T go!

3. Sound-changes in connected speech ("sandhi")

In all languages, sounds get changed when words are joined together: in Southern British 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 material, 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.

3.1. r sounds

The r sound takes various forms in Dutch. The scheme used in this material is as described below.
• 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 a Southern British 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 material).

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.

3.2. 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 procedure for determining which consonant is modified is as follows:
• If both consonants are plosives, then both become voiced:
 ˈɔp dɑtbecomesˈɔbdɑt so that
• If both consonants are fricatives, then both become voiceless:
 ˈʋɑs jɵ ˈʋɑsɕɵ were you (informal)?
• If one consonant is plosive and the other fricative, the fricative takes on the plosive's voicing type:
 ˈɾɛɪs ˈbyʀoʊ ˈɾɛɪzbyʀoʊ travel agent
• A resultant ʨ may further change to ɕ:
 xɛɻt jɑn ˈxɛɻʨɑn, ˈxɛɻɕɑn Gert-Jan (name)

3.3. 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 ˈkoʊmə ɐʏtə 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 zɵ ˈʋɑssɵ , ˈʋɑsɵ was she?

3.4. l and n sounds

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 Southern British 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:
 ˈtʋaːlf ˈtʋaːlɵf 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 ˈkʏnt ɦɛɪ ˈkʏ̃t he can.

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).

3.5. 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

3.6. 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:
 becomeseːɵɻas inmeːɵɻ more
 øʏ øːɵɻ døːɵɻ door
  oːɵɻ kɑnˈtoːɵɻ office
Likewise the three monophthongs become long, and add ɵ:
 i iːɵɻ ɦiːɵɻ here
 y yːɵɻ yːɵɻ hour
 u uːɵɻ buːɵɻ farmer

3.7. Unstressed free vowels

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

4. 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.

(ək) ɦɛb ʋeɪkˈɛnt.
I've got a weekend.

ən ˈmɔɻxɵ ɵn vəɻˈjaːɻdɑx.
And tomorrow a birthday.

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...

5. 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.