During the last decades a new type of spoken 'general' Dutch has
developed, which is of sociolinguistic interest for several reasons.
First of all, it is spoken mostly by younger women (up to the age
of 40) from the higher middle classes (scientists, writers, artists,
politicians, of high middle class birth too). Secondly, the new
variety has attained a certain amount of prestige, although it differs
in many ways from standard Dutch. It is spreading rapidly among
other social groups, such as younger women from the lower classes,
and among younger men (in their thirties) from the higher and middle
The most characteristic phenomenon in the new variety is the lowering
of the nucleus of the diphthongs /ei/, /uy/ en /au/, which results
in /a.i/, /au/ and /a.u/: waain (wine), aut (out)
and haaus (house). These lowering is the same type of 'natural'
change as the lowering which took place in many other languages
(see Labov 1994).
The internal reason why this development is taking place, is the
fact that lower diphthongs are easier for the speaker and better
for the listener: they are louder than higher diphthongs and they
don't need the accurate articulation high diphthongs require.
The external reason is the general absence of interest in the Netherlands
nowadays to teach and speak the traditional standard Dutch. So this
'natural' change can take place and continue to expand without any
The lowering itself has started in the Netherlands in the 15th
and 16th centuries, but linguists and writers in those days had
banned especially the /a.i/, because it sounded 'bad'; and so the/ei/
still remained the palatal diphthong of standard Dutch until now.
In the sixties and seventies of this century our society changed
in many ways. It became a society of equality which brought the
prosperity of the economic system that is called 'poldermodel'.
But in the meantime a strong movement of emancipation was going
on. Old traditions and rules were ignored, including the rules of
speaking standard Dutch.
Data of an apparent time character make clear that especially women
of the higher middle class took advantage of the new social climat,
by introducing, among others things, that 'lowered' type of Dutch.
It can be seen as a kind of over-reacting considering the fact that
up till that time women normally tended to use a variety that was
nearer the standard language than the variety used by most men.
Now the roles seem to have been reversed.
Article published on the WWW: October 1999