Different accents and dialects across the Netherlands
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Different accents and dialects across the Netherlands

The Netherlands consists of 12 provinces, 2 official languages, 24 dialects and even more accents. You can understand why (or you might have experienced already) that Dutch is a complex language to acquire or understand sometimes.

By Yona Bleijenburg, Max Geoffroy Chateau and Elia Furtado, secondary Dutch teachers

Each region, each town (it used to be even each neighborhood) has their own accent. The differences are mainly in the pronunciation and specific words. In this article we give you some examples of the different accents of Utrecht and Noord-Brabant, so that understanding of and learning Dutch can become a little easier.

Dutch sounds

In Dutch there’s a difference between long and short vowel sounds. We have [a] and [aa], [o] and [oo], [e] and [ee], [u] and [uu]. Hereby a few Dutch examples (in brackets an English word with a similar vowel sound):

  • [pad] (English: all) versus [paard] (English: aardvark)
  • [bot] (English: old) versus [boot] (English: bloke)

Dutch also knows quite a few diphthongs, combined vowels: [ie], [oe], [au/ou], [ui], [eu].

  • [hier] (party)
  • [boek] (book)
  • [blauw] (now)
  • [buik] (no English sound)
  • [neus] (no English sound)

The typical Utrechts accent

Utrecht is a city with a lot of people who were born elsewhere. It can be quite difficult to find someone who speaks the real Utregs. It’s most likely to hear real Utregs in neighourhoods such as Wijk C, Zuilen, Ondiep and Sterrenwijk. Here at ISUtrecht we have our very own Utrechter: Mr Louis, who speaks fluent Utregs.

So, how does it sound?
Firsly, the Utrecht accent doesn’t really differ from ‘standard’ Dutch. If you move more out of the Randstad area (like Zeeland, Limburg and Drenthe), the accents become more diverse.

The grammar and word order are the same in Utregs and ‘standard’ Dutch. When you try to understand people who speak with an Utrechts accent, it is important that you know there’s a difference in the usage of the [a] / [aa] – sound.

Open and closed sounds

Utrechters are notorious for making the [a] a long [aa] sound and the other way around.

  • [man] – [maan] (a man, pronounced as the Dutch word ‘maan’, meaning the moon)
  • [aan] – [an] (on)

Adding an ‘i’

Typically Utregs is also the placing of the ‘i’ after sounds like [ee], [oe] or [ao].

  • [vla] – [vlaai] (custard pie)
  • [moe] – [moei] (tired)

Making things smaller

All the Dutch people love to make “little words”, with adding –je, –tje or -pje at the end of the word. Think of snoepje (small piece of candy) and kopje koffie (small cup of coffee). In Utregs, the diminutive is often made with variations on [ie], like [–echie] and [-sjie].

That is why Utrecht is called stadsie.

About the -t

In Utregs it’s normal to lose the ‘t’ at the end of a word:

  • Gracht – grach (canal)
  • Utrecht – Utreg

On the other hand, sometimes a ‘t’ is added where it does not belong:

  • Ik ga naar Utrecht – I gaot naor Utreg (I go to Utrecht)

Typical quotes from Utrecht                

When we talk about dialects and accents, specific words and vocabulary are essential.

Also, this part is the easiest to learn. Here are some typical words in Utregs.

  • Jongen – Jochie (boy)
  • Meisje – Wijffie (girl)
  • Halve zool – Haalve zoal (fool)
  • Achterlijke gladiool – Aachtelijke glaadioal (fool)

Unofficial Utregs ‘anthem’

These are two very famous songs about Utrecht:

Learn more Utregs?

As you probably know, Nijntje (Miffy) is the most famous Utrechter. Some of the Nijntje books are written in the Utrechtse accent.

Let’s learn something about another Dutch accent: the accent of the people who live in Noord-Brabant.


A typical Noord-Brabants accent

Let’s travel south: the province Noord-Brabant. Belgium has the other half of Brabant. Noord-Brabant has a strong identity, not least because of its history. Noord-Brabant was mainly Catholic in an overall protestant Holland, the powerful and rich area of the country. This goes back to the 16th century.

In Noord-Brabant the Dutch spoken by its residents is quite similar to ‘standard’ Dutch. There’s one major advantage of living in Noord-Brabant if you are acquiring the Dutch language: are you having trouble with the hard ‘g’ sound (in the back of your throat)? Brabanders have a softer one, which is easier to pronounce.

Another important characteristic of the accent of Noord-Brabant is the personal pronoun gij, which could be translated with thou in English, although it’s not as formal. ‘Gij’ is a form that is now only used in spoken language. In some parts of Belgium ‘gij’ is also a common personal pronoun.

Like ‘jij’ and ‘je’ the form of the subject is ‘gij’ (emphasized) or ‘ge’ (unemphasized).

  • Jij gaat – Gij gaat
  • Je hebt – Ge hebt

Besides this, you will hear a lot of [wa] and [da]. These are variations of: wat (what) and dat (that).

  • Wat zeg jij? – Wa zegde gij? (What are you saying?)
  • Dat gaat niet goed. – Da ga nie goe. (It’s not going well.)

Also typical is the formation of diminutives by means of the suffix [-(s)ke].

  • Rok – rokske (skirt- small skirt)
  • Fiets – fietske (bike – small bike)

Adding extra letters is another feature that is common when you hear a real Brabander.

  • Kerk – kerruk (church)
  • Balk – ballek (the bar)

Unofficial Noord-Brabants ‘anthem’

Kei?

When you want to emphasize ‘very’ or ‘really’ in ‘standard’ Dutch you would say ‘heel’ or ‘heel erg’, in Eindhoven you can say ‘kei’.

  • Die weg is heel glad – Die weg is keiglad. (That road is very slippery.)
  • Deze man is heel lang – Deze man is keilang. (This man is really tall.)

 Typical quotes from Noord-Brabant

  • Doei – Houdoe (Bye)
  • Snap je het? – Snapte? (Do you understand it?)
  • Dat weet je niet. – Da witte gij toch nie. (You don’t know that.)
  • Dat is heel mooi. – Das kei schon. (That is beautiful.)