Double trouble? Two unusual spellings of the reduced vowel in 17th- and 18th-century letters

Please note that this meeting will start at 15.30!

More than half a century ago, W.J.H. Caron gave his inaugural lecture in Amsterdam. He talked about the history of the vowel that is now pronounced as a schwa in Dutch. He claimed that this vowel (as in the words de and te, and in the morphemes ge- and be-) was pronounced as a more palatal sound (described as a short [e]) in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth century. He based this theory mainly on information from contemporary grammars. In 2007 R. Gaspar claimed to have found evidence for this theory in the form of two remarkable ways of spelling which he noticed in a collection of 18th-century private letters. The first remarkable spelling is the so-called invisible spelling (eg. d where you would expect the word de), the second is the double spelling (eg. dee where you would expect de). In this talk I will put Gaspar’s hypotheses to the test, comparing his data with what we could find in a Letters-as-Loot corpus of 17th-century (private) letters. I will show that the invisible spelling should not be linked with a palatal pronunciation of the reduced vowel unconditionally. Furthermore I will critically review Gaspar’s theory on the origin and distribution of the double spelling. In this way I hope to adress the underlying problem of linking spelling to pronunciation and to shed some light on a very small, but intriguing part of the history of Dutch.


Caron, W.J.H. (1952) De reductievocaal in het verleden: een beschouwing over mededelingen van Lambert ten Kate en Petrus Montanus aangaande de uitspraak van den zwakbeklemtoonden klinker in het Nederlands. (Inaugural lecture) Groningen: Wolters.

Caron, W.J.H. (1973) “Al tee voor Willem Pée” in Album Willem Pée (de jubilaris aangeboden bij zijn zeventigste verjaardag). Tongeren: G. Michiels.

Gaspar, R.J.G.A.A. (2007) “De reductievocaal [ə]: enige opmerkelijke verschijningsvormen en realiseringen, voornamelijk in de achttiende eeuw” in Nederlandse Taalkunde 12/1, 25-49.