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The Dutch vowel inventory
quickinfo

Dutch distinguishes the following vowels:

  • A-class vowels: /i, y, e, ø, a, o, u/.
  • B-class vowels: /ɪ, ʏ, ɛ, ɑ, ɔ/.
  • Diphthongs: /ɛi, œy, ɑu/.
  • Schwa/ə/ (not in the charts below, but the phonetic properties are described here).
  • Marginal vowels (not in the charts below); These vowels occur only in a restricted set of relatively recent loanwords from French and English (see Gussenhoven 2007).
    • [iː, yː, uː] – long versions of the A-class vowels/i, y, u/. Found in words such as:
      Example 1

      a. expertise [ɛks.pɛr.ˈtiː.zə] expertise, assessment
      b. centrifuge [sɛn.tri.ˈfyː.ʒə] centrifuge
      c. rouge [ruːʒ] rouge, blusher
      d. cruise [kruːs] cruise vacation  .
    • [ɛː, œː, ɔː, ɑː] – long versions of the B-class vowels/ɛ, ɔ, ɑ/, plus [œː]. Found in words such as:
      Example 2

      a. beige [ˈbɛː.ʒə] beige
      b. militair [mi.li.ˈtɛːr] military, army
      c. freule [ˈfrœː.lə] unmarried gentlewoman
      d. oeuvre [ˈœː.vrə] oeuvre, body of work
      e. zone [ˈzɔ.nə] zone
      f. rose [ˈrɔ.zə] rose, pink
      g. cast [kɑːst] cast  .
    • [ɛ᷉ː, ɑ᷉ː, ɔ᷉ː] – nasalised long versions of the B-class vowels/ɛ, ɔ, ɑ/. Found in words such as:
      Example 3

      a. bulletin [bʏ.lə.ˈtɛ᷉] bulletin, announcement
      b. genre [ˈʒɑ᷉.rə] genre, style
      c. plafond [plaˈfɔ᷉] /plaˈfɔn(t)/ ceiling  .

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[+] Rounded / unrounded vowels

Rounded vowels are produced with rounded lips throughout most of their articulation; unrounded vowels have neutral or spread lips throughout most of their articulation. Rounded vowels of Dutch are /y, u, ø, o, ʏ, ɔ, œy/. Unrounded vowels are /i, e, a, ɪ, ɛ, ɑ, ɛi, ə/. For the diphthong /ɑu/ the lips move from unrounded to rounded throughout its articulation. There is some variation: some speakers may have (almost) fully rounded /ɑu/; some speakers have unrounding of the first element of /œy/; speakers may vary between rounded and unrounded /ə/(Collins and Mees 2003).

[+] High, high-mid, low-mid, low vowels

Vowels are often subdivided according to how close the tongue is to the roof of the mouth (either the hard palate or the velum). Most phoneticians and phonologists identify four levels of tongue height. High vowels of Dutch are /i, y, u/. High-mid vowels of Dutch are /e, ø, o, ɪ, ʏ/. Low-mid vowels of Dutch are /ɛ, ɔ/ as well as the initial elements of the diphthongs /ɛi, œy, ɑu/. Low vowels of Dutch are /a, ɑ/(Mees and Collins 1982;Collins and Mees 2003;Gussenhoven 1992;Booij 1995;Verhoeven 2005).

[+] Front, front-central, back-central, back vowels

Vowels are often subdivided according to whether the tongue is relatively advanced, neutral or retracted in the mouth. Phoneticians and phonologists identify either three or four levels of front-/backness, depending on whether the central category is further subdivided into front-central and back-central, as is done here. Front vowels of Dutch are /i, e, ɛ/ and the initial element of the diphthong /ɛi/. Front-central vowels of Dutch are /y, ø, a, ɪ, ʏ/ and the initial element of the diphthong /œy/. Back-central vowels of Dutch are the diphthong /ɑu/ and for many speakers, especially of Belgian Standard Dutch, /u/. Back vowels of Dutch are /o, ɔ, ɑ/ and, for some speakers, especially of Northern Standard Dutch, /u/(Mees and Collins 1982;Collins and Mees 2003;Gussenhoven 1992;Verhoeven 2005).

[+] Vowel diagrams


Figure 1: Vowel charts for the Northern Standard Dutch steady-state (left) and diphthongal (right) vowels, from Gussenhoven (1992: 47)

[click image to enlarge]


Figure 2: Vowel charts for the Belgian Standard Dutch steady-state (left) and diphthongal (right) vowels, from Verhoeven (2005: 245)

[click image to enlarge]

References:
  • Booij, Geert1995The phonology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Collins, B. & Mees, I2003The Phonetics of English and DutchLeidenE.J. Brill
  • Collins, B. & Mees, I2003The Phonetics of English and DutchLeidenE.J. Brill
  • Collins, B. & Mees, I2003The Phonetics of English and DutchLeidenE.J. Brill
  • Gussenhoven, Carlos1992DutchJournal of the International Phonetic Association2245-47
  • Gussenhoven, Carlos1992DutchJournal of the International Phonetic Association2245-47
  • Gussenhoven, Carlos2007Wat is de beste transcriptie voor het Nederlands?Nederlandse Taalkunde12331-350
  • Mees, Inge & Collins, Beverley1982A phonetic description of the consonant system of Standard Dutch (ABN)Journal of the International Phonetic Association122-12
  • Mees, Inge & Collins, Beverley1982A phonetic description of the consonant system of Standard Dutch (ABN)Journal of the International Phonetic Association122-12
  • Verhoeven, Jo2005Belgian Standard DutchJournal of the International Phonetic Association35243-247
  • Verhoeven, Jo2005Belgian Standard DutchJournal of the International Phonetic Association35243-247
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