Middle Dutch

Middle Dutch
Middle Dutch
Spoken in the Low Countries
Era developed into modern Dutch by the middle of the 16th century
Language family
Writing system Latin
Language codes
ISO 639-2 dum
ISO 639-3 dum

Middle Dutch is a collective name for a number of closely related West Germanic dialects (whose ancestor was Old Dutch) which were spoken and written between 1150 and 1500. There was at that time as yet no overarching standard language, but they were all mutually intelligible.

In historic literature Diets and Middle Dutch (Middelnederlands) are used interchangeably to describe this whole of dialects from which later standard Dutch would be derived. Although already at the beginning several Middle-Dutch variations were present, the similarities between the different regional languages were much stronger than their differences, especially for written languages and various literary works of that time today are often very readable for modern Dutch speakers, Dutch being a rather conservative language. By many non-linguists Middle Dutch is often referred to as Diets.


Unity within Middle Dutch

The five Middle Dutch dialectal groups in their present-day distribution

Within Middle Dutch, five large groups can be distinguished, all believed to be mutually intelligible:[citation needed]

  1. West, East Flemish and Zealandic, was spoken in the modern region of West and East Flanders and Zeeland and also in the Département du Nord of what is now France but was then part of the County of Flanders ;
  2. Brabantian was the language of the area covered by the modern Dutch province of North Brabant and the south of Gelderland; and the Belgian provinces of Flemish Brabant and Antwerp as well as the Brussels capital region;
  3. Hollandic was mainly used in the present provinces of North and South Holland and parts of Utrecht;
  4. Limburgish, spoken by the people in the provinces of modern Dutch and Belgian Limburg;
  5. Low Saxon, spoken in the area of the modern provinces of Gelderland, Overijssel, Drenthe and parts of Groningen.

Limburgish and Low Saxon gradated into Middle High German and Middle Low German, respectively. These two areas border directly the German language area in the narrow sense (i.e., today's Germany). The dialect continuum in this border region was even more fluid in the past than it is today.

Hollandic experienced a slow but steady transition from an Ingvaeonic variant to true Low Franconian, through the influence of the more prestigious Brabantic and Utrecht dialects. Flemish and Brabantic started to diverge in the late Middle Ages.


Differences with Old Dutch

Several phonological changes occurred leading up to the Middle Dutch period.

  • /uː/ > /yː/.
    • This change did not occur in all dialects; in some, /uː/ remained syllable-finally or before /w/.
  • /iu/ > /yː/, merging with the phoneme originating from Old Dutch /uː/.
    • This change did not occur in all dialects; some instead show /iu/ merging with /io/. This results in later pairs such as dietsc /diətsk/ versus duitsc /dyːtsk/.
    • Various dialects also show /iw/ > /yw/, while others retain /iw/. Compare southeastern Middle Dutch hiwen /hiwən/ with modern Dutch huwen /hywən/.
    • In word-initial position, some northern dialects also show a change from a falling to a rising diphthong (/iu/ > /ju/) like Old Frisian. Cf. the accusative second-person plural pronoun iu /iu/ > northern jou /jɔu/ versus southern u /yː/.
  • Old Dutch /ie/, /ia/, /io/ merge into a centralising diphthong /iə/, spelled <ie>.
  • Likewise, Old Dutch /uo/ (from Proto-Germanic /oː/) becomes a centralising diphthong /uə/, spelled <oe> or <ou>.
  • Phonemisation of umlaut for back vowels, resulting in a new phoneme /ʏ/ (from earlier Old Dutch /u/ before /i/ or /j/). Unlike most other Germanic languages, umlaut was only phonemicised for short vowels in all but the easternmost areas; long vowels and diphthongs are unaffected.
  • Voiceless fricatives become voiced syllable-initially: /s/ > /z/, /f/ > /v/ (merging with /v/ from Proto-Germanic /b/), /θ/ > /ð/. (10th or 11th century)
  • Vocal reduction: Vowels in unstressed syllables are weakened and merge into /ə/, spelled <e>. (11th or 12th century) Long vowels seem to have remained as such, at least /iː/ is known to have remained in certain suffixes (such as -kijn /kiːn/).
  • /ft/ > /xt/
  • Dental fricatives become stops: /ð/ > /d/, /θ/ > /t/, merging with existing /t/ and /d/. (around 12th century)
  • All remaining /u/ > /o/, except in the southeast.
  • Along with the previous change, /uː/, /uw/ > /ɔu/.
    • This occurred only in those words where /uː/ and /iu/ had not developed into /yː/ earlier. E.g. būan /buːan/ > bouwen /bɔu(w)ən/.
    • The discrepancy in occurrences of /uː/ resulted in pairs such as modern Dutch duwen /dywən/ versus douwen /dɔu(w)ən/, or nu /ny/ versus nou /nɔu/.
  • L-vocalisation: /ol/ and /al/ > /ɔu/ before dentals.
  • Before dentals /ar/ and /er/ > /aːr/, /or/ > /oːr/. E.g. farth /farθ/ > vaert /vaːrt/, ertha /erθa/ > aerde /aːrdə/, wort /wort/ > woort /woːrt/.
  • Open syllable lengthening: Short vowels in stressed open syllables become long.
    • /ɪ/ lengthens to /eː/, /ʏ/ to /øː/ (spelled <eu> or <ue>).
    • As a result, all stressed syllables in polysyllabic words become heavy. This also introduces many length alternations in grammatical paradigms, e.g. singular dag /dax/, plural dag(h)e /daːɣə/.


The consonants of Middle Dutch differed little from those of Old Dutch. The most prominent change is the loss of dental fricatives. The sound [z] was also phonemicised during this period, judging from loanwords that retain [s] to this day.

If two phonemes appear in the same box, the first of each pair is voiceless, the second is voiced. Phonemes written in parentheses represent allophones and are not independent phonemes. For descriptions of the sounds and definitions of the terms, follow the links on the headings.

Middle Dutch consonants
  Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive p  b t  d k  (ɡ)
Fricative f  v s  z x  ɣ h
Nasal m n (ŋ)
Trill r
Approximant j w
Lateral l


  • All obstruents underwent final obstruent devoicing as in Old and Modern Dutch.
  • During the first part of the Middle Dutch period, geminated varieties of most consonants still occurred.
  • [ɡ] is an allophone of /ɣ/ occurring after /n/.
  • [ŋ] is an allophone of /n/ occurring before velars (/k/ and /ɡ/).


Most notable in the Middle Dutch vowel system, when compared to Old Dutch, is the appearance of phomenic rounded front vowels, and the merger of all unstressed short vowels.

Middle Dutch vowels
Short Long
Front Central Back Front Back
Close ɪ  ʏ (ʊ)    ()
Mid ɛ ə ɔ   øː
Open a


  • /ə/ was the only short vowel to occur in unstressed syllables, except in loanwords borrowed within Middle Dutch. Long vowels were rare in unstressed syllables and mostly occurred due to suffixation or compounding.
  • The rounded back vowels /ʊ/ and /uː/ only occurred in the southeastern dialects.
Middle Dutch diphthongs
Front Back
Closing ɛi  (ʏi) ɔu


  • /ʏi/ is uncertain as a distinct diphthong, and may have only occurred in a small number of loanwords from French, such as fruyt/froyt /frʏit/ (Old French pronunciation [frɥit]). It is known that it eventually merged with /yː/ when the latter began to diphthongise.

Changes during the Middle Dutch period

Phonological changes that occurred during Middle Dutch:

  • /mb/ > /mː/, /ŋɡ/ > /ŋː/. This eliminated the sound /ɡ/ from the language altogether.
    • /p/ and /k/ originating from /b/ and /ɡ/ through final devoicing were not affected. This therefore resulted in alternations such as singular coninc /koːniŋk/ versus plural coninghe /koːniŋːə/, singular lamp /lamp/ versus plural lammere /lamː(ə)rə/.
  • /sk/ > /sx/ (spelled <sc> or later <sch>).
  • /ɛ/ > /ɛi/ before /n/ plus another consonant, merging with original Old Dutch /ɛi/ (< Proto-Germanic /ɑi/). E.g. ende > einde, pensen > peinsen (from Old French penser).
  • Epenthesis of /d/ in various clusters of sonorants. E.g. donre > donder, solre > solder, bunre > bunder. In modern Dutch, this change has become grammaticalised for the -er (comparative, agent noun) suffix when attached to a word ending in -r.
  • Shortening of geminate consonants, e.g. for bidden /bɪdːən/ > /bɪdən/, which reintroduces stressed light syllables in polysyllabic words.
  • Early diphthonisation of long high vowels: /iː/ > /ɪi/ and /yː/ > /ʏy/ except before /r/, probably beginning around the 14th century.
    • The diphthongal quality of these vowels became stronger over time, and eventually the former merged with /ɛi/ ei. But the diphthongal pronunciation was still perceived as unrefined and 'southern' by educated speakers in the sixteenth century, showing that the change had not yet spread to all areas and layers of Dutch society by that time.
  • Following the previous change, monophthongisation of opening diphthongs: /iə/ > /iː/, /uə/ > /uː/. The result might have also been a short vowel (as in most Dutch dialects today), but they are known to have remained long at least before /r/.
  • Beginning in late Middle Dutch and continuing into the early Modern Dutch period, schwa /ə/ was slowly lost word-finally and in some other unstressed syllables: vrouwe > vrouw, hevet > heeft. This did not apply consistently however, and sometimes both forms continued to exist side by side, such as mate and maat.
    • Word-final schwa was not lost in the past singular of weak verbs, to avoid homophony with the present third-person singular because of word-final devoicing. However, it was lost in all irregular weak verbs, in which this homophony was not an issue: irregular dachte > dacht (present tense denkt), but regular opende did not become *opend /oːpənt/ because it would become indistinguishable from opent.
  • During the 15th century at the earliest, /d/ begins to disappear between vowels.
    • The actual outcome of this change differed between dialects. In the more northern varieties and in Holland, the /d/ was simply lost, along with any schwa that followed it: luyden > lui, lade > la, mede > mee. In the southeast, intervocalic /d/ instead often became /j/: mede > meej.
    • The change was not applied consistently, and even in modern Dutch today many words have been retained in both forms. In some cases the forms with lost /d/ were perceived as uneducated and disappeared again, such as in Nederland and neer, both from neder (the form Neerland does exist, but is rather uncommon in modern Dutch).


Contemporary Dutch has a standard form. Middle Dutch had no such thing as it was not until the middle of the 16th century that efforts were made to standardize the language. As a result, the Dutch speakers of the Middle Ages had a very free way of writing. In fact in some old books, the same word appears in different spellings on the same page. Then there was the problem with the letters themselves. The Dutch language used the Latin alphabet which was perfect for writing Latin, but wasn't for the Dutch language. Dutch for instance has far more vowels and consonant sounds which meant people literally ran out of letters. Several adjustments were therefore needed and it took quite a while before the spelling became more standardised. Then there was the matter of personal taste, and many writers thought it was more aesthetic to follow French or Latin practice, leading to sometimes rather unusual spellings.

In general, every writer wrote in his own dialect, and often in a very phonetical way and different pronunciation led to different ways of writing. The modern Dutch word maagd ("maiden") for example was sometimes written as maghet or maegt, but also meget, magt, maget, magd, and mecht. Some spellings such as magd reflect an early tendency to write the underlying phonemic value. However, by and large, spelling was phonetic, which is logical as people in those days read texts out loud.

The letter z in was not used regularly at all in Middle Dutch, with s being used to represent both /z/ and /s/. As a general rule, k and gh were written before e or i, as in kiesen (kiezen, "to choose"), ghedaen (gedaan, "done"). They were written c or g elsewhere, as in ic (ik, "I"), copen (kopen, "to buy") and coninc (koning, "king"). The combination /kw/ was normally written qu, such as in quam (kwam, "came").

And finally, there was no difference between short and long vowels, so that people had to find a solution for that as well. Sometimes they just duplicated the vowels, as in oo, ee, ij (originally a double i). But sometimes an i or e was added, as in ui for /yː/, and oi or oe for /oː/. The vowel /øː/ was variably written eu, ue, o or oe. Modern Dutch preserves the spellings eu, ui and ij, although the latter two are now diphthongs. Following a sound change in late Old Dutch, in which short vowels were naturally lengthened in open syllables, the practice of writing long vowels single in open syllables was established, although it was applied inconsistently through most of the Middle Dutch period.



Middle Dutch pronouns differ little from their modern counterparts. The main differences are in the second person with the development of a T-V distinction. The second-person plural pronoun ghi slowly gained use as a respectful second-person singular form. The original singular pronoun du gradually fell out of use during the Middle Dutch period. After the Middle Dutch period, a new second person plural pronoun was created by contracting gij/jij and lui ('people') forming gullie/jullie (which this literally means 'you people').

Singular Plural
1st 2nd 3rd 1st 2nd 3rd
Masc. Fem. Neut.
Nominative ic du hi si het wi ghi si
Accusative mi di hem/hen/'n haer/se het/'t ons u hem/hen/'n
Dative haer hem
Genitive mijns dijns sijns harer 'es onser uwer haer/'re

Middle Dutch case system

Middle Dutch had a case system. Since the Middle Ages Dutch has gradually lost an active case system, first in the spoken language, much later in the written language, so it is now mostly limited to fixed expressions. The spelling reform of 1947 removed most remaining parts of the case system, among them the accusative. However, Middle Dutch and Modern Dutch were very similar, apart from the case system; one of the most prominent differences of contemporary Dutch is that it uses great numbers of prepositions, far more than Middle Dutch, to compensate with the loss of the case system. It has to be noted, though, that even in Middle Dutch the use of prepositions, especially van, was very common. Furthermore, Middle Dutch would often use an accusative form instead of a nominative (e.g. Doe quam den edelen prince daer ("Then the noble prince arrived"), Dezen man sel op zijn hooft hebben een stalen helme ("This man will have a steel helmet on his head")).[1] This is still common in some southern dialects and in the Belgian Tussentaal. Similarly, the -n was sometimes omitted where it would be expected: in levende live (Modern Dutch in levenden lijve), des levende Gods instead of levenden ("of the living God"), van den lopende water instead of lopenden ("of the running water").[2]

Due to the weakening of unstressed syllables, the many different Old Dutch classes of nominal declension merged. The result was a general distinction between strong (original vocalic stem) and weak (n-stem) nouns. Eventually even these started to become confused, with the strong and weak endings slowly beginning to merge into a single declension class by the beginning of the modern Dutch period.

Definite Article
(die, dat = the)

Grammatical Case Male Female Neuter
Nominative die die dat
Accusative den
Dative der den
Genitive des des
Nominative die
Dative den
Genitive der

Strong inflection
(adjective clein = small, noun worm = worm, daet = deed/action, broot = bread)

Grammatical Case Male Female Neuter
Nominative die cleine worm die cleine daet dat cleine broot
Accusative den cleinen worm
Dative den cleinen worme der cleiner daet den cleinen brode
Genitive des cleins worms des cleins broots
Nominative die cleine worme die cleine dade die cleine brode
Dative den cleinen wormen den cleinen daden den cleinen broden
Genitive der cleiner worme der cleiner dade der cleiner brode

Weak inflection (Nouns ending in "-e")
(adjective clein = small, noun hane = rooster, wonde = wound, beelde = image)

Grammatical Case Male Female Neuter
Nominative die cleine hane die cleine wonde dat cleine beelde
Accusative den cleinen hane
Dative der cleiner wonden den cleinen beelde
Genitive des cleins hanen des cleins beelden
Nominative die cleine hanen die cleine wonden die cleine beelden
Dative den cleinen hanen den cleinen wonden den cleinen beelden
Genitive der cleiner hanen der cleiner wonden der cleiner beelden


Middle Dutch mostly retained the Old Dutch verb system. Like all Germanic languages, it distinguished strong, weak and preterite-present verbs as the three main inflectional classes. However, due to the weakening of unstressed syllables, the two classes of weak verbs that still existed in Old Dutch merged into one.

The seven classes of strong verb common to the Germanic languages were retained, but over time the older distinction between the singular and plural past was lost, with the singular forms generally adapting the stem of the plural (except in classes 4 and 5, where the distinction was by length rather than vowel timbre). Some weak verbs which had a vowel change in the past because of Rückumlaut eventually became strong, such as senden (with original past tense sande, but later also sand or sond). By analogy some strong verbs were also turned into weak verbs, sometimes only by adding the weak past ending -de. This might have occurred only for poetic reasons, however, such as in Karel ende Elegast where the form begonde (regularly began or begon) is found near the beginning of the text.

The weakening also affected the distinction between the indicative and subjunctive moods, which had largely been determined by the vowel of the inflectional suffix in Old Dutch. In Middle Dutch, with all unstressed vowels merging into one, the subjunctive became distinguished from the indicative only in the singular, but was identical to it in the plural, and also in the past tense of weak verbs. This led to a gradual decline in the use of the subjunctive, and it has been all but lost entirely in modern Dutch.

See also


  1. ^ Examples taken from F.A. Stoett, Middelnederlandsche spraakkunst. Syntaxis., The Hague, 1923.
  2. ^ E. Rijpma and F.G. Schuringa, Nederlandsche spraakkunst, fifth edition, The Hague 1930, p. 128

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Middle Dutch — noun Collective name for a number of closely related West Germanic dialects (whose ancestor was Old Dutch) which were spoken and written between 1150 and 1500 in the present day Dutch speaking area. There was at that time as yet no overarching… …   Wiktionary

  • Middle Dutch — Mid′dle Dutch′ n. peo the Dutch language of the period c1100–c1500 Abbr.: MD …   From formal English to slang

  • Middle Dutch — noun Date: 1870 the Dutch language in use from about 1100 to about 1500 see Indo European languages table …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Middle Dutch — the Dutch language of the period c1100 c1500. Abbr.: MD * * * …   Universalium

  • Middle Dutch — noun the Dutch language from c.1100 to 1500 …   English new terms dictionary

  • Middle Dutch — /mɪdl ˈdʌtʃ/ (say midl duch) noun the Dutch language from about 1100 to about 1500 …   Australian English dictionary

  • middle dutch — noun Usage: capitalized M&D : the Dutch in use from about 1100 to about 1500 see indo european languages table …   Useful english dictionary

  • Middle Dutch (ca. 1050-1350) — ISO 639 3 Code : dum ISO 639 2/B Code : dum ISO 639 2/T Code : dum ISO 639 1 Code : Scope : Individual Language Type : Historical …   Names of Languages ISO 639-3

  • Dutch language — Dutch Nederlands Pronunciation [ˈneːdərlɑnts] ( listen) …   Wikipedia

  • Dutch literature — comprises all writings of literary merit written through the ages in the Dutch language, a language which currently has around 23 million native speakers. Dutch literature is not restricted to the Netherlands, Flanders (Belgium), Suriname and the …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.