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Dutch dialects and their relationship to standard Dutch

09 September 2011

Researchers at the University of Groningen and the University of Alberta have investigated which factors are involved in the differences in pronunciation between standard Dutch and hundreds of Dutch dialects.

The most important factors appear to be geographical location, the number of inhabitants and the average age of a certain community, but lexical factors such as frequency and the type of word (noun or verb) play a role as well. In relation to geography, pronunciation in the peripheral areas (Friesland, Groningen, Twente, Limburg and Zeeland) differs more from standard Dutch than that spoken in the western Randstad region and the middle of the country.

Places with a larger population and a lower average age tend on average to have a pronunciation that is closer to standard Dutch. With regard to lexical factors, nouns and the more frequently used words differ more from standard Dutch.

Reverse pattern

The exact effect of the factors ‘average age’ and ‘number of inhabitants’, however, varied significantly for individual words.  Although the dialect pronunciation of most words in a larger town or city with a low average age is closer to standard Dutch, some words show a reverse pattern. The words bier (beer) and vrij (free), for instance, differ more greatly from standard Dutch in towns and cities with more and younger inhabitants.

Political influence
The results clearly show that the changes in pronunciation (towards standard Dutch) began in the western, economic and political centre of the Netherlands and, in particular for less frequently used words, then spread to the peripheral areas of the country. These changes were adopted to a lesser extent in areas where the western region had less political influence for historical reasons.

The article has been published in the academic open source journal PLoS ONE and can be accessed at no cost via:

Note for the press

For more information: Martijn Wieling, Computational Linguistics, tel. 050-3635977, e-mail: m.b.wieling

Last modified:13 March 2020 01.55 a.m.
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