Double Dutch: The Dutch Spelling System and Learning to Spell in Dutch

Authored by: Anna M. T Bosman , Saskia de Graaff , Martine A. R Gijsel

Handbook of Orthography and Literacy

Print publication date:  September  2005
Online publication date:  May  2013

Print ISBN: 9780805846522
eBook ISBN: 9780203824719
Adobe ISBN: 9781136781353


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In this chapter, a concise description of Dutch orthography and its relation to reading and spelling is presented. Dutch, a member of the West-Germanic language group, reached its modern status in the 16th century. In the beginning of the 19th century, Dutch spelling started to show uniformity. The first set of spelling rules, presented by Siegenbeek in 1804 and extended by te Winkel in 1863, still constitutes the basic principles on which Dutch orthography is based. Dutch is best characterised as a language that contains two types of words, native-Dutch words and non-native-Dutch words. The most recent, comprehensive description of Dutch orthography is presented by the Dutch linguist Nunn (1998). Here, we present her hybrid model because it appears to account for most of the spelling variations in Dutch. It is a combination of two distinct sets of phoneme-grapheme conversion rules, one for native-Dutch words and one for non-native-Dutch words, with a set of autonomous spelling rules, that apply to both native- and non-native-Dutch words. Although written Dutch is morphophonemic, this feature has different consequences for reading and spelling. That is, grapheme-to-phoneme relations appear to be more consistent than phoneme-to-grapheme relations, which renders written Dutch relatively transparent for reading but somewhat opaque for spelling. Finally, we describe how the relationship between phonemes and graphemes, as well as autonomous spelling rules, affects reading for beginning readers and spelling for both beginning and advanced spellers.

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