Sound change in Dutch dialects: 1874 versus 1996

Wilbert Heeringa, Frans Hinskens

Meertens Instituut, Netherlands, The


In 1874 Johan Winkler published his Algemeen Nederduitsch en Friesch dialecticon, a book in two parts which contains 186 translations of the parable of 'the prodigal son' into Dutch dialects of the Netherlands, northern Belgium and western Germany. In 1996 Harrie Scholtmeijer repeated the work by Winkler. He collected 81 translations of the parable of 'the prodigal son' of dialects in the Netherlands. 74 varieties also occur in the Winkler source. In 2000 Heeringa & Nerbonne used the material of Winkler and Scholtmeijer in order to measure dialect change, and to establish convergence and divergence among dialects (Auer et alii 2005). From the 74 varieties which occur in both the Winkler and the Scholtmeijer source they choose 42 – including Standard Dutch and Standard Frisian – and converted the orthographic transcriptions to – relatively broad – phonetic transcriptions. They measured pronunciation distances among dialects and with respect to the standard language. Pronunciation distances were measured using Levenshtein distance, a string edit distance measure.

The way in which dialect change can affect the verbal repertoires is extensively discussed by Hoppenbrouwers (1990): being influenced by standard Dutch and by each other, dialects often become less differentiated and fuse to larger wholes: ‘regiolects’. This may give rise to at least four questions. First, which dialects converge to standard Dutch? This question has already been answered by Heeringa & Nerbonne (2000). Second, which dialects converged to other neighbouring dialects, thus leading to the development of regiolects? We will answer this question and try to explain why particular dialects strongly converge to other dialects, while others do not. Third, does the 1996 data suggest larger dialect areas than the 1874 data? Dialects are classified into different groups so that similar dialects are in the same group. For both the 1874 and the 1996 measurements we will determine the natural number of groups (clusters) by using the ‘elbow criterion’. With this statistical technique the number of clusters is chosen so that adding another cluster does not add significant information. Fourth, what are the most frequent sound changes leading to convergence in either direction? We will make an inventory of the most frequent sound changes; inasfar as they are vowel changes, we will examine whether they agree with the principles suggested by Labov (1994).


P. Auer, F. Hinskens & P. Kerswill, eds. (2005). Dialect change. The convergence and divergence of dialects in contemporary societies. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK.

Heeringa, W. & J. Nerbonne (2000). Change, Convergence and Divergence among Dutch and Frisian. In: P. Boersma, Ph. H. Breuker, L. G. Jansma, J. van der Vaart (eds.), Philologia Frisica Anno 1999. Lęzingen fan it fyftjinde Frysk filologekongres, Fryske Akademy, Ljouwert, 2000, pp. 88-109.

Labov, W. (1994). Principles of Linguistic Change, Internal Factors, Language in Society. Blackwell, Oxford etc.

Hoppenbrouwers, C. (1990). Het regiolect; van dialect tot Algemeen Nederlands. Coutinho, Muiderberg.

Winkler, J. (1874). Algemeen Nederduitsch en Friesch dialecticon. Martinus Nijhoff, ’s-Gravenhage.

Session: Paper session
Change (Phonological)
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 09:00-10:30
room: 12