Regional variation in the pronunciation of /s/ in the Dutch language area

TitleRegional variation in the pronunciation of /s/ in the Dutch language area
Publication TypePresentation
Year of Publication2017
Conference NameDag van de Fonetiek 2017
AuthorsPinget, Anne-France, Sanne Ditewig, and Willemijn Heeren
PublisherNederlandse Vereniging voor Fonetische Wetenschappen
Conference LocationAmsterdam, The Netherlands

In this socio-phonetic study we investigated regional variation in the realization of /s/ in the Dutch language area, and tested the observation that /s/ is sometimes pronounced more like [ʃ] (so-called s-retraction), especially in the Randstad (Collins & Mees, 2003, p. 190).

One hundred native speakers born and raised in one of five regions of the Dutch language area (West Flanders, Flemish Brabant, Netherlands Limburg, South Holland, Groningen) produced nineteen monosyllabic words containing /s/ in different syllabic contexts. Spectral centre of gravity (CoG) was measured to assess the degree of s-retraction: CoG of /s/ is higher than that of /ʃ/. CoG values were significantly lower (consistent with more retraction) in the Dutch regions than in the Flemish regions. Male speakers displayed a more retracted pronunciation than females. From our data it is unclear whether these differences are solely caused by anatomical differences or constitute evidence for a sociolinguistic gender effect in an incipient sound change.

In conclusion, /s/ shows regional variation in Standard Dutch. The pattern is not fully consistent with the observation forwarded by Collins & Mees (2003): s-retraction is found in an area larger than the Randstad, possibly pointing towards a North-South variation pattern (Belgian vs. Netherlandic Dutch).


• Collins, B. & I. Mees (2003). The phonetics of English and Dutch, fifth revised edition. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV.