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Phonetic correlates of stress in Dutch

The phonetic correlates of Dutch stress are duration, lack of vowel reduction, and pitch.


Both primary and secondary stress affect vowel duration in such a way that stressed vowels are phonetically longer than unstressed vowels; a detailed study on this matter has been published by Rietveld et al. (2004). Below, the main results are summarized (Rietveld et al. 2004:370): Vowels in stressed positions are longer than vowels in unstressed positions. This is true for primary as well as for secondary stress. Furthermore, vowels in syllables carrying main stress are longer than vowels in syllables with secondary stress. This leads to the following durational hierarchy:

Durational hierarchy
Vowel length (primary stress) >> Vowel length (secondary stress) >> Vowel length (unstressed)

There appear to be differential lengthening effects for the A-class vowels [i] and [a]: whereas they are equally long in unstressed positions, [a] is significantly longer than [i] in stressed positions. In stressed positions, the high A-class vowels /ɪ, y, u/ pattern durationally with the B-class vowels, whereas the mid and low A-class vowels/tense vowels [e:, ø:, o:, a:] are phonetically longer than their lax counterparts and the tense high vowels.

[+]Vowel reduction

The location of stress also has an effect on the possibility of vowel reduction: only unstressed vowels can reduce to schwa, whereas stressed vowels never reduce (this is true for primary as well as secondary stress). Vowel reduction is optional and interacts with different factors such as speech style and the quality of the target vowel (see Vowel reduction in unstressed syllables for a detailed description of the patterns).


If a word carries the sentence accent in Dutch, then the syllable carrying primary stress will be marked with an intonational pitch accent. The pitch movement will differ with respect to pragmatic meaning (as for instance declaration vs. interrogation), and sentence position (initial, medial, final); a comprehensive description of the Dutch intonation system can be found in Gussenhoven (2005); see Cohen and ’t Hart (1967), 't Hart and Cohen (1973), 't Hart and Collier (1975), Collier and 't Hart (1981) for earlier descriptions.

  • Cohen, Antonie & Hart, Johan 't1967On the anatomy of intonationLingua19177-192
  • Collier, René & Hart, Johan 't1981Cursus Nederlandse intonatieLeuvenAcco
  • Gussenhoven, Carlos2005Transcription of Dutch IntonationProsodic typology: The phonology of intonation and phrasingOxfordOxford University Press118-145
  • Hart, Johan 't & Collier, Rene1975Integrating Different Levels of Intonation AnalysisJournal of Phonetics3235-255
  • Hart, Johan, 't & Cohen, Antonie1973Intonation by rule: a perceptual questJournal of Phonetics1309-327
  • Rietveld, Toni, Kerkhoff, Joop & Gussenhoven, Carlos2004Word prosodic structure and vowel duration in DutchJournal of Phonetics32349-371
  • Rietveld, Toni, Kerkhoff, Joop & Gussenhoven, Carlos2004Word prosodic structure and vowel duration in DutchJournal of Phonetics32349-371