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The Dutch stress sytem

Dutch is described as being a quantity-sensitive trochaic system, operating from left to right with extrametricality. In the following essay I will gice the arguments and data that point towards this system. I will also analyse in which way exceptions are being taken care of within this system. The metrical analysis will be based on work by Trommelen & Zonneveld. These authors adopt an onset-rhyme organisation of syllable structure.

We can make three major generalisations about stress when analysing Dutch:

Firstly, main stress always falls within a three-syllable-window at the right word edge: this indicates that the main stress always falls on one of the last three syllables. This can also be called the three-syllable restriction. This produces three different stress patterns: final, penultimate and antepenultimate. Primary stress is prohibited further to the left.

The three-syllable-window restriction:



VV# Am rika macar ni individ*

VC# Jer*zalem catam ran kamele n

Furthermore, stress is restricted to a two-syllable windowin words containing a prefinal (or diphtongal) syllable. This means that antepenultimate stress (third syllable from right side of the word) only occurs in words with an open syllable next to it (an open penultimate syllable). Therefore, the Dutch stress system depends on the character of the second to last (penultimate) syllable.


-VV-VV P nama pyj ma chocol

-VV-VC b riton c lebes pelot n

-VC-VV ag nda frikand au

-VC-VC Gibr ltar bombard n

-ViVj-VV and jvie

Thirdly, schwa syllables ae never stressed:

Data: a) CVX-C@(C) b) -CVV-@(C )

m de, sal de, mir kel, Azi , B lgi , t rri r,

l nte, sept mber -ndi

This is called the schwa-syllable restriction. Primary stress falls directly for a schwa syllable if schwa is immediately preceded by a consonant.

We can, however also make minor generalisations within the bounds of major generalisations. These minor generalisations reflect the predominant stress patterns, and allow for exceptions. These exceptions stand for the recessive stress patterns within the system. The position of main stress is conditioned both by the length of the word and by the internal structure of the syllables involved.

The dominant patterns in Dutch are the following:

 In disyllabic words ending in open (VV) and closed (VC) syllables, penultimate stress is dominant

 In trisyllabics, the dominant patterns are penultimate stress in VV-final words and antepenultimate stress in VC-final words (if the penultimate syllable is open)

 In VXC-final words, final stress is the dominant pattern.

Now that we know about these generalisations we can provide arguments and data which point towards the system of Dutch stress.


Extrametricality in the Dutch language is normally operating on words having a final VX syllable (which is heavy). However, it does not work on final open VV-syllables (which are light). The following examples prove this:


* * * * *

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Ba. ri. tOn ba. ri. tOn ba. ri. ba. ri.

This makes the word: B riton

This is valid for Am rika, Jer*zalem and l xicon, etc. as well. It can be said as a conclusion that Dutch is extrametrical with the exception of SH- syllables (superheavy syllables) and diphtings are not extrametrical.

Quantity sensitivity:

In languages where the parameter Quantity sensitivity is active, stress rules take into account the internal strucure of a rhyme. Quantity sensitive languages usually contrast syllables with long and short vowels and, optionally open and closed vowels. Because Dutch vowels are obligatorily long in open syllables, vowel length does not correspond to weight.

Dutch rhymes consist, in their most minimal form of either

a) a long vowel (VV), which forms an open (light) syllable

b) a short (lax) vowel followed by a coda consonant (VC) which forms a closed, heavy syllable.

c) a rhyme consisting of a diphtong, which makes the syllable heavy.

d) a syllable ending with VXC, which makes the syllable superheavy.

e) a schwa syllable (@) which makes the syllable weightless

Considering only quantity sensitivity, all the heavy syllables are then stressed:


Observations providing evidence that Dutch is quantity-sensitive can then be made:

a) Schwa syllables are never stressed

b) Antepenultimate stress occurs across an open penultimate syllable but is excluded across a closed (or diphthongal) penult.

c) Main stress tends to be non final in VX-final words, versus final in VXC-final words (such as a.g n.da vs. pe.lo.t n)

The result of this is that most of the time any closed syllable has stress:


LHL: a.g n.da

LHH: Gi.br l.tar

LLSH: le.di.k nt

ViVj: a.z jn

The fact that the Dutch weight system does not group long vowels (VV) together with closed syllables (VC) in the clas of heavy syllables is very uncommon cross-linguistically.

Quantity sensitivity also accounts for the closed syllable constraint and for the schwa-syllable restriction (page 1, under generalisations )


Dutch is a system working from right to left in assigning feet, because the extrametricality is operating at the end of the words (and this occurs only if the direction is from right to left). Another indicator which can help linguists find the direction is the left-over syllable in odd-syllabled words. (for instance in the word Ne.bu.kad.n .zar; in this case the first syllable is left over and it therefore has secondary stress)

Left-headed (trochaic):

If the direction and the major and minor generalisations are taken into account, the Dutch stress system must be trochaic, since the dominance parameter generates a left-headed rhythm.

The following derivations show how the word pyjama receives its stress:


* *

* * * * * * * * *

LLL py.ja.ma py.ja.ma py.ja.ma

Another argument for the Dutch stress system to be trochaic would be that in two-syllabic words ending in open (VV) or closed (VC) syllables, the penultimate stress is dominant. We should also note that the combination of dominance (left headed) and syllable extrametricality captivates the three-window-generalisation. These facts taken together is enough information to say that Dutch is a trochaic-working system.


Dutch may be viewed as a mixed system with both metrical rules and lexical markings. Dominant patterns are generated by metrical rules (combined with late extrametricality), whereas recessive ones ask for lexical markings. Recessive patterns are:

(I) stress

a) LLL lexical stress on final L-syllable P nama antepenultimate

b) LLH no extrametricality pelot n final

c) LLSH idiosyncratic extrametricality N colaas antepenultimate


d) LLL lexical stress on final L, no

extrametricality chocol final

e) LLH lexical stress on penultimate L Cel bes penultimate

In group I there is prespecified stress on final or prefinal light syllables, in group II there are lexical markings with respect to extrametricality. In a) , additional extrametricality can be found. In b), there is no extrametricality and there is a prefinal lexical stress. In c) and d), again a lack of extrametricality. In e), finally, there is additional extrametricality again.

The following table gives a list of the lexical markings in Dutch. It also visualises the possible exceptions. FLS stands for Final prespecified Lexical Stress, and PLS stands for Prefinal prespecified Lexical Stress.


-VV# FLS FLS (-extrametricality)

-VC# PLS -extrametricality

-VXC# + extrametricality + extrametricality, PLS


When observating the data given above, one can conclude that Dutch has five different types of syllables: open syllables (CVV), closed syllables (CVC), diphthongal syllables (CViVj), superheavy syllables (CVXC) and schwa sylables. The last two types are always confined to the right edge of a word. Secondkly we can conclude that the Dutch stress system is based upon syllable weight (it is quantity sensitive). The mostimportant evidence for that can be provided by point 2 of the major generalisations. It can also be found under point b) in the paragraph quantity sensitivity.

The Dutch language is trochaic. The proof for that can be found in the paragraphs above.

Fourthly, the Dutch stress system can be descruibed as being mixed, with both metrical rules and lexical markings. This is never done, however, at the cost of the three-syllable- and the heavy penult- window, or at the cost of the schwa-restriction rule which are described in the beginning of this essay.

Therefor Dutch includes a predictable part and a lexically determined part by which accumulation idiosyncracies reflect degrees of markedness (in other words, here the exceptions are described). In this last part two types can be analysed: lexical markings with respect to extrametricality and prespecified lexical stress on final or prefinal light syllables.

Dutch: English

Pre- si- d nt Pr – si- dent


(* .) (*) (* .)

* *

H – ri- zon Ho- r – zon


(* .) (. *)

* *

Fa- m – lie F – mi- ly


(.) (* .) (* .)

* *

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