After years living in The Netherlands I am capable of recognizing some Dutch regional native accents. Dutchies from the south part of the country pronounce the letter -g very soft unlike their fellow countrymen from the north. My husband’s cousins have a thick Rotterdam accent because they live in that area. Just after 2 years in the elementary school my daughter G had began to pronounce words according to the local accent of the town where we reside.
Accent forms one of the elements of Sociolinguistics. Sociolinguistics is the study of how language serves and is shaped by the social nature of human beings. Accent shows the origin and ethnicity of its speaker. In some cases it gives away the socio-economic status, the social class and the influence of the mother tongue (read as first language). It is interesting how people attach these identifications with accent easily.
Famous Dutch model Doutzen Kroes speaks Dutch with Fries accent. Fries (read as Frees not Fries as in French Fries) is besides Dutch, the official language in Friesland province where Doutzen originally comes from. This language is totally different from Dutch although they are both Indo German languages. Fries is Doutzen’s native language. She speaks it proudly and is ambassador of the language. However some Dutchies from other regions find Doutzen less attractive when they hear her speaking Dutch with Fries accent. They attach this perception with the fact that Fries comes from Friesland/Frisia, a region in North Netherlands. It is the countryside which is parallel to farmers, small towns even little villages where the cows stand in the grass fields. To them this country life doesn’t correspondent with Doutzen the modern, glamour International model.
Today in England you still can see/hear the social class difference by listening to the accent, blue-collar vs white-collar, working class vs upper class. For certain professions it is clearly required to get rid off the accent and change it with standard one. The standard Dutch accent is called ABN (Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands), freely translated as General Civilised Dutch. For English in England this is called BBC English accent, referring to the nation’s biggest media channel.
My own experience
I was born and raised in Jakarta with its standard accent for bahasa Indonesia. When vacationing in my father’s hometown Yogyakarta in Central – Java my father would effortlessly change his accent to Javanese when we visited his family. Although I barely speak Javanese, when I meet my Javanese family I automatically switch to Javanese accent using bahasa Indonesia. I don’t know why I do this, it goes as it goes. Apparently using Javanese accent gives me the feeling that I belong to my Javanese family.
In my early career in The Netherlands (somewhere in 1997) I felt disturbed by my thick Indonesian accent when I spoke Dutch. I got remarks from my clients about it. Worrying about miscommunication I asked my manager at that time for some support. She sent me to an accent coach. My accent coach succeeded convincing me that it was not bad to speak with an accent as long as I articulated properly. During my training I learnt how to speak again (see image below). I trained how to widely open my mouth. I trained how to pronounce the letters sch, f, g, v, z as they were supposed to sound in Dutch. For example many Dutch speaking people pronounce f instead of v or s instead of z. After 4 sessions I was finished. I was happy with the result. I mean that from that time when I spoke Dutch, my clients understood me better.
Nowadays if I want to, I am able to speak ABN Dutch. I only need to pay good attention to every single vowel and consonant in words I use. It is however really tiring for me at the end of the day. No matter how good my Dutch proficiency is, this stays a second language for me. During the public speaking class in 2007 my professor told me the same message: it is not a problem having an accent as long as the articulation and intonation is good. He also added that adopting a foreign accent is possible but very hard to reach and maintain. According to my colleagues I still have a light accent. They understand me completely, so do my clients, my family and friends. I have accepted and embraced my accent as it is part of my ethnicity. It identifies me as an Indonesian living in The Netherlands. Funnily my Indonesian friends who live here find that when I speak in English I have a thick Dutch accent. And you know what? this doesn’t bother me at all.
Articulation image is taken from John Well’s phonetic.