Open and Closed Short O in Dutch / Open en gesloten o in het Nederlands

This item is of special interest to people with a more than usual interest in the Dutch language.

Until about 1850 Dutch had two different short o sounds, one pronounced  roughly like in the English word `loud’ and one like in `load’, but shorter. By 1900 the difference was largely lost and forgotten, but unbeknownst to almost all Dutchmen the difference is still alive and kicking to this day in a small part in the East of the Netherlands, which is indeed from where I hail.

To prevent this bit of linguistic curiosa from getting lost, I have made a list of all 1100 or so Dutch words with a short o, and have indicated how I pronounce them, plus all information I could find about this. The result you can find in this paper. It is in Dutch, since I reckon anybody interested in this level of detail of the Dutch language is at least able to read it.

My Web page on the subject contains two more items: the full list of 1100 words with their info, and a paper from 1849 by one D. Bomhoff Hz. detailing the pronunciation of the two o-s  in the town of Zutphen.

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6 responses to “Open and Closed Short O in Dutch / Open en gesloten o in het Nederlands

  1. Could ‘sóldaat’ have anything to do with the word in English ‘soldier’ (pronounced ‘sóóldjer’) making it a foraward facing o?
    Or does it have nothing to do with other anglosaxan languages? (Assuming the soldier word doesn’t come from French in English, which I don’t know.)

    • Soldaat and soldier both come from the Latin for salt; that being the roman soldiers’ metaphoric earnings (the metaphoric salt was immediately turned into wheat for bread and all the other things a soldier might need). (At least that’s what I’ve been told.)
      All that has of course very little to do with how it’s pronounced, since the root word was introduced in either language some 1000+ years before the latest sound shifts, which would have a lot more influence on how stuff is pronounced.

      • The payment part is confirmed by French and English etymological dictionaries, the salt part is not. They have the payment being done in `solidi’, solid gold coins.
        The salt payment leads to the word `salary’. Apparently officials were paid in salt, soldiers in solid…

    • Both words come from Latin through French, but by different routes. Dutch `soldaat’ comes from French `soldat’, which comes from Latin `soldatus’, which is the participle of `soldare’, `to pay military wages’. So it means someone who is paid military wages.
      English `soldier’ comes from French `soldié’, participle of `soldier’, the medieval French form of the same Latin `soldare’. Again a guy who’s paid military wages.

      • So ‘soldaat’ and ‘soldier’ do come from the same route, namely French, in both Dutch and English. I assume we can thank Napoleon for that here in the Netherlands.

        So they still have the same route, which comes back to my first question, could that be why there is an ó in sóldaat, where it is an ò in sòldij. I would always have assumed that the ‘sold-‘ in both words were the same base, implying they would have the same pronunciation.

        I find it funny that soldiers were paid in gold, where officials were paid in salt. 😉

  2. After finishing reading your paper last night, I came to ponder that in English there is a medium-length ae, in ‘man’, and a short è in ‘men’. I find this comparable with how to some it is a great difference, the ó vs the ò – as in, it is a different word. Such as ‘kas’ (cash register) vs ‘kaas’ (cheese) in Dutch. Not interchangeable in sound at all.

    I point this out to my husband who is learning Dutch from his native language English. When we are in company and I hear a Dutch person say in English to him “one men was doing so-and-so”, I point out to him that Dutch people don’t hear the ae of ‘man’ any differently from the è in ‘men’ in English. Thus not being able to signify singular or plural of man. As if it’s a homonym.

    English vowels are all over the place, but they are particular on the right pronunciation of ae and è. Also the length of the medium-sized ae is not done by Dutch when they speak English. The concept of a long small vowel is alien. It creates no problems in understanding the English spoken by natives, but most Dutch can’t reproduce it, or realise they are indeed missing a trick here.

    It takes a bit of training, however, for the native English to start recognising that that is going on. Hearing so much garbled English and having so many accepted foreign accents sort of dulls the natives’ sensibilities to picking out what’s strange about this particular one.

    Listing for vowels in Australian English is intersting, and I’ve come to the (very much non-accedemic) conclusion that they have gone through a second sound-shift for some of their vowels. ‘Man’ becomes ‘mihn’, ‘men’ becomes ‘min’.

    What will we be speaking in 200 years? Especially in the Netherlands?

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