Some countries around the world are known for their varying accents – when thinking about different accents and dialects, you might think of countries like the United States or the United Kingdom, or maybe Switzerland with its French and German languages. You probably don’t think about the Netherlands.
The Netherlands might be a small country, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a range of accents and dialects to be found across this little nation. From the Fries dialect in the north, to Brabants and Limburgs in the south, here’s your guide to everything you need to know about Dutch accents and dialects.
Difference between language and dialectFor those of us who don’t consider ourselves linguists, you may be wondering where the line between dialect and language is. How much does a language need to change in order to be considered something completely new, and not just a different dialect?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines language as “a system of communication used by people living in a particular country”, while dialect is defined as “a form of language” spoken in “a particular part of a country” which contains “some different words and grammar”. Simply put, dialects are spoken by certain social or regional groups, meaning that where languages are broader and more encompassing, dialects can be more fluid and less strict.
An example of a language is Chinese. Chinese dialects include Mandarin, Cantonese, Fuzhounese, and Hokkien. Or French, for example, is a language with multiple dialects, including Swiss French, French Canadian, and Belgian French (or Walloon French).
Dutch language mapYou might be struggling to picture what the language topography of the Netherlands looks like; to get an idea of the different Dutch dialects, take a look at the map below, which was put together based on the research conducted by dialectologist Jo Daan:
How many Dutch dialects are there?According to Daan, there are a whopping 28 Dutch dialects, which can be roughly separated into six key groups:
The Southwestern group: West-Flemish and Zeeuws (light blue on the map) Northwestern group: Hollands (red) Northeastern group: Low Saxon / Gronings (purple) Northern-Central group: Eastern Hollands (green) Southern-Central group: Brabants, South-Gelders, North-Limburgs (orange) Southeastern group: Limburgs (pistachio green) While some of these dialects show striking similarities, interestingly even neighbouring dialects can differ so greatly that, for example, people speaking Gronings and Fries will struggle to understand one another.
Within the province of Friesland, there are even different dialects of Fries (shown in white on the map). Meanwhile, Flevoland (shown in grey) is so new a province that it hasn’t had the chance to develop its own Dutch dialect.
Dutch dialectsNow that we have an idea of how many different dialects can be found in the Netherlands, let’s explore the different attributes of some of these dialects, and what you can expect to hear when out and about in different parts of the country.
Hollandic dialectIt’s a recurring theme with Dutch dialects that the name gives a huge clue as to where the dialect is spoken. The Hollandic dialect, also known as Hollands, is largely spoken in the provinces of South Holland and North Holland, but can sometimes also be heard in parts of Utrecht and Friesland. Together with Brabants, it’s one of the most commonly spoken dialects in the Netherlands.
The Hollandic dialect is fairly close to traditional Dutch, and can be split into different dialects and accents that are spoken in different cities. Some key attributes of Holland are the hard “g” sounds and the generally clear pronunciation of words.
Amsterdam dialectWhile Hollands can be heard across much of the western regions of the Netherlands, the dialect can differ slightly depending on where you are. In Amsterdam, for example, you might hear some members of the older generations speaking the Amsterdam dialect – and could also come across it in Almere and Lelystad. The dialect can be recognised by the hard “s” sounds, which are used to replace the “z” sounds, and some unique words which originate from Yiddish or Hebrew.
The Amsterdam dialect has many names, including Amsterdams, plat Amsterdams, and Mokums.
Haags dialectThe Haags dialect, spoken in The Hague, can mainly be recognised by the distinct pronunciation of some words and sounds, meaning it can even be difficult for some Dutch speakers to fully understand. For example, the “âh” can replace sounds like “er” or “ou” that can come at the end of words (e.g. lekker becomes lekkâh for “tasty”). Similarly, the “en” at the end of words can be replaced by “uh” (e.g. lachen becomes lachuh for “to laugh”).
Rotterdam dialectFinally, the Rotterdam iteration of this dialect – known as Rotterdams – can sound a little rougher around the edges compared to Haags or Amsterdams. While the pronunciation in Rotterdam isn’t all too different, there are some words and phrases you’ll only hear here, which might make them difficult to understand. Furthermore, speakers of Rotterdams might replace the word “je” with an “ie” at the end of words (e.g. asking hebbie? instead of heb je? for “do you have?”), or add a “t” at the end of some verbs (e.g. ik doet instead of ik doe for “I do”).
Brabant dialectThe Brabant dialect, or Brabants, is a widely spoken Dutch dialect, making it one of the more famous and easily recognisable variations of the Dutch language. The dialect is largely spoken in the province of North Brabant, and is most known for its soft “g” sounds (meaning it differs significantly from Amsterdams), and it can sound more like Flemish than Dutch.
The dialect has a couple more key characteristics, namely that the letter “t” is regularly dropped from the end of words (e.g. wat becomes wa for “what”). There are also some words that are only really used in Brabants, such as kei (“very”) or houdoe (“bye”).
LimburgishLimburgish (or Limburgs) is similar to Brabants in the sense that it is generally softer than traditional Dutch, meaning it shares some similarities with Flemish. As the name suggests, it’s spoken in the southernmost province in the Netherlands: Limburg. While Dutch speakers typically have few issues understanding Brabants, Limburgs can present more of a challenge, and is even considered a completely different language by some experts.
The vocabulary is influenced not only by Dutch, but also by French and German, and the intonation can be completely different to traditional Dutch, as it’s typically more melodic. To make it even more difficult, there are different accents and sub-dialects to Limburgs, meaning the language can change between different towns and villages in the area.
ZeeuwsSpoken in the province of Zeeland, Zeeuws or Zeelandic isn’t a common language at all, and is probably the least notable of all the Dutch dialects (no offence to Zeeland, of course). Two key characteristics of this dialect are that speakers tend to swap out the “ij” or “ui” sounds for “ie” or “uu” (e.g. muus and ies instead of muis and ijs for “mouse” and “ice” / “ice cream”), and sometimes swap a “g” for an “h” (e.g. hefieleseteerd instead of gefeliciteerd for “congratulations”).
GroningsHeading further north, the dialect spoken in Groningen is more heavily influenced by German, and originates from the Low Saxon dialect. In addition to being spoken in the province of Groningen, Gronings can also be heard in parts of Drenthe and Overijssel.
To Dutch speakers, Gronings may sound a little rushed or mumbled – some sounds get passed over when speaking, meaning words like rennen (“to run”) can be transformed into just renn’n. The “ij” is also an uncommon sound in Gronings, and is generally replaced with “ie” (e.g. kieken instead of kijken for “to look”). There are also some words and phrases that you’ll only hear used up in this part of the country, such as smok (“kiss”) and moi (“hi”).
Drenthe and Overijssel dialectGronings is the general umbrella term for dialects spoken in the northeast of the Netherlands, but the dialects can vary from place to place. In the provinces of Overijssel and Drenthe, for example, you might come across Twents or Drents.
FrisianLast but not least we have Frisian, which may be a bit of a controversial addition to the list; spoken widely in the province of Friesland, Frisian (or just Fries) differs so greatly from Dutch that it can generally be considered a completely different language. Luckily, many in Friesland also speak Dutch, so if you’re visiting or decide to move there then you shouldn’t have too much trouble communicating with the locals.
Dutch accentsIn addition to having a variety of different dialects, there are also a couple of key differences in accents across the Netherlands – some, of course, are more common or better known than others.
Amsterdam accentAmsterdam doesn’t just have its own version of the Hollandic dialect; the city is also known for its own specific accent – or should we say accents? The Dutch capital might be small, but depending on where in the city you are and who you’re talking to, the accent can differ greatly.
A key Amsterdam accent is Jordanees, which is spoken in the Jordaan neighbourhood of the city, located to the west of the canal belt. This is typically labelled as a bit of a country accent, where speakers replace the “ui” sound with “oi”. Some might even argue that Jordanees is a sub-dialect of Amsterdam, and not merely an accent.
Another accent is one that might more typically be heard in the Oud-Zuid neighbourhood of the city, where locals speak with what might be regarded as a more elegant accent, and generally involves a rolling “r”.
Speak Dutch like a local!Now that you know everything there is to know about the different kinds of Dutch spoken in the Netherlands, you’re more than ready to explore the Lowlands, armed with all your knowledge of the Dutch language. Now, you’re sure to be prepared for anything you might encounter when embarking on your next trip to Maastricht or Groningen.
Thumb: INTREEGUE Photography via Shutterstock.com.