Saturday, October 15, 2011

Pronunciation of /r/ in the Netherlands

The /r/ used in the Netherlands has many variants. It can be realized as an alveolar trill, alveolar tap, alveolar approximant, voiced uvular fricative or uvular trill. The pronunciation of this sound varies from region to region, and in certain cities such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam, from speaker to speaker.

To determine the distribution of the different /r/ sounds in the Netherlands, it is useful to identify the different provinces. The Netherlands has twelve provinces which are Zeeland, North Brabant, Limburg, South Holland, North Holland, Utrecht, Gelderland, Flevoland, Overijssel, Friesland, Drenthe and Groningen.

Though many Dutch speakers use only one /r/ sound, a few use an alveolar approximant in the syllable coda only. The city of Leiden is an exception, however. This city in South Holland uses an alveolar approximant in all positions.

The alveolar trill is common in Zeeland, Gelderland, Flevoland, Drenthe and Groningen. In Overijssel most areas use the alveolar trill but the uvular is used in the cities of Zwolle and Almelo. In Friesland the trill is common but in the capital of Leeuwarden the uvular is used. In North Holland the trill is common but in Amsterdam and Hilversum many speakers also use the uvular. Hilversum is well-known for the use of the alveolar approximant in the syllable coda. In Utrecht both the trill and the uvular are heard.

The uvular is common in North Brabant and Limburg. In South Holland, it is also common, but in Rotterdam, a number of speakers also use the trill. In fact, speakers of North Brabant and Limburg are known for using the uvular in all positions. This pronunciation of the /r/ is reminiscent of French and German.

Clearly the pronunciation of the /r/ in the Netherlands can vary considerably. In the southern provinces of Brabant and Limburg the uvular trill dominates. On the other hand, in the northern provinces of Groningen and Drenthe the alveolar trill dominates. It is also true that in cities such as Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Utrecht both the alveolar and uvular sounds are used, and in rural areas the alveolar trill dominates. Thus, the uvular /r/ is more common in the south than in the north, and more common in urban areas.

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