-Long and short 'a'. -Devoicing of 'z' and 'v'.

Dear native speakers of Dutch, I have a couple of phonetic queries I'm hoping you will be able to clarify to me. Here they are.

Besides Dutch, I also have been studying Afrikaans, which, as you may or may not know, is a language which developed from 18th century Dutch and is spoken, primarily, in the country of South Africa.

There are many similarities between the two languages, of course, and that includes phonetic similarities.

Short and long vowels in both languages differ in both length and tenseness. Like in English (and in many other languages), tense vowels are long while lax vowels are short.

But a particular dissimilarity between Dutch and Afrikaans, I find, is that the long 'a' in Afrikaans corresponds to the short 'a' in Dutch (that is, an open back unrounded vowel), while the short 'a' in Afrikaans corresponds to the long 'a' in Dutch (that is, an open front unrounded vowel)—in short, long and short 'a's' in these two languages are precisely inverse.

The realisation of long 'a' (-aa- in the orthography of both languages) as a back vowel, for some reason, makes much more sense to me. What I mean by that is that it is easier for me to internalise the notion that I should pronounce -aa- as a back vowel and -a- as a front vowel, as opposed to the other way round. (And besides, I started learning Afrikaans first, then Dutch, which means I have to make an additional effort to remember that I should pronounce -aa- as a front vowel while saying Dutch words.)

However, I have read that long -aa- is in fact pronounced as a back vowel in some dialects of Dutch (Amsterdam and Utrecht, for example, if the source I read it from is to be trusted).

So my question here is: would it be okay if I pronounced my long -aa- as a back vowel while speaking Dutch, or would I end up sounding too quaint and weird if I did that? I wouldn't want my pronunciation to sound extremely specific or idiosyncratic, see. To illustrate a parallel in the English language: I wouldn't want it to sound like I'm speaking English with an accent from Southern England while also having a twang from Southern United States. For that, of course, would sound a bit too ridiculous.

The other query I have is regarding the pronunciation of 'z' and of 'v'. With the exception of loan words, there is no 'z' in Afrikaans (Dutch 'z' became 's'), and the orthographic 'v' in Afrikaans is always pronounced as [f]. (The [v] sound in Afrikaans only occurs in words spelt with a 'w', which in Dutch is a labiodental approximant).

I have read that some varieties of Dutch do something similar to Afrikaans: they devoice their 'z' to [s] and their 'v' to [f]. I've read that that is specially true at the beginning of words. (That is, 'zijn' would be pronounced 'sijn', and 'vrouw' would be pronounced 'frouw'.)

So my question is: would it be safe for me to pronounce Dutch words beginning with 'z' and 'v' as though there started with 's' and 'f'? And is that valid only for initial sounds, or would it also be okay for me to replace all my 'z's' and 'v's' with 's's' and 'f's'? And again, would I sound too weird if I made these replacements?

See, I'm only trying to reduce the dissimilarities between Dutch and Afrikaans a little so that reading these languages, and pronouncing the many similar words they share, will be less confusing an ordeal.

Thank you all ever so much. -Luiz

1 year ago

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Maybe it is more convenient for you to search for the pronuntiaton of Dutch words in

There you can hear a lot of sound samples of words spoken by different Dutch native speakers.

1 year ago

There are people who pronounce v and z as f and s. It's part of the (old) dialect in Amsterdam. You don't want to have such an accent. It's safe to never say s/f where you should say z/v.

I don't understand your other question. There is a long a and a short one, and there are two ways of pronouncing a: like in vaker or in vak. In South African, the a in "vak" is longer than ours. But it doesn't sound like the a in our vaker, or paard. Listen to the examples Pentaan gave, I hope those will make it clear.

On accents, it's better to have an accent from a region in the Netherlands than to have an English accent. If your "Dutch accent" borrows from various regions, don't bother. I used to speak with an Amsterdam accent, with a few words from the Veluwe.

1 year ago

Thanks a lot for your reply, Christine. Please allow me to clarify the long 'a'/short 'a' issue.

The long 'a' in Dutch is a front vowel, as in the words you suggested yourself ('vaker' and 'paard'). That vowel corresponds (perhaps with slight differences of relative articulation) to the short 'a' in Afrikaans (as in the words 'hart' and 'land').

The short 'a' in Dutch is supposed to be a back vowel (conf. 'hart' and 'land'), which corresponds (again, certainly not without some differences of relative articulation) with the long 'a' in Afrikaans (such as in the word 'gaan').

When I say the short 'a' in one language corresponds to the long 'a' in the other, I only mean it, of course, in terms of vowel quality, not length. That is, 'gaan' in Afrikaans is pronounced with the vowel of Dutch 'hart', but it is pronounced as a long vowel, not a short one.

In short:

-The short 'a' in the Dutch word 'hart' is closer (in terms of vowel quality) to the long 'a' in the Afrikaans word 'gaan'.

-The long 'a' in the Dutch word 'gaan' is closer (in terms of vowel quality) to the short 'a' in the Afrikaans word 'hart'.

As I have read that some dialects of Dutch do make such an inversion, my question is: if I invert my pronunciation of long and short 'a's' in Dutch to match that of Afrikaans, would I end up sounding too idiosyncratic?, or is that a more or less 'invisible' variant of the language?

Thanks again.

1 year ago

What makes you think the long a is a front vowel and the short a is a back vowel? I think they're equally front or back. I'm trying it out right now, I see what you mean, but the difference is very very small. Much smaller than between Dutch a being front and SA a being back.

1 year ago

That dialects differ in frontness or backness of the a, I agree with. The only word that shows my Gelderland roots is "hard", that when I say it is more front than other a's.

1 year ago

From all accounts of Dutch phonetics and phonology that I have encountered, Dutch short 'a' is described as a back vowel, long 'a' as a front one. Besides, when I listen to recordings of individual Dutch words, I do perceive such qualities in each of these two types of vowels.

You are probably right, however, in saying that the Dutch short 'a' (that is, the back vowel) doesn't sound quite as back and rounded as the Afrikaans one—I, too, have that same acoustic impression. The Dutch long 'a', however, does sound very clearly front and unrounded. Which, again, corresponds, in terms of vowel quality, to the Afrikaans short 'a'.

I've just googled the place you mentioned in your comment, Gelderland. I went to its Wikipedia page, clicked on the sound-recording for the Dutch pronunciation of that word, and, lo and behold, the 'a' vowel sounds very much back and rounded!

If one were to write it in Afrikaans, one would surely come up with something like 'Gelderlaand' instead.

Here's the link:

1 year ago


1 year ago

You can pronounce the [v] as [f] and the [z] as [s]. But pronouncing the [a] as [aa] and the [aa] as [a] would be frowned upon. It can cause words to change meaning completely and it is just plain weird.

1 year ago

You cannot pronounce "v" as "f" or "z" as "s", unless you want people to think you're utterly uncivilized, or you're from Amsterdam.

1 year ago

It is close to impossible to speak Dutch without accent for a foreigner anyway. First focus should be on having the right words at the right place, subtleties come later.

Moreover the part where [s] and [z] and [v] and [f] are hardly different in pronunciation is much larger than just Amsterdam. Interesting column about this, in Dutch though.

1 year ago
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Wow! You just proclaimed Amsterdammers "utterly uncivilized" because of the way they speak.

1 year ago
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