Social, Geographical, and Register Variation in Dutch: From Written MOGELIJK to Spoken MOK

  1. 1. Karen Keune

    University of Nijmegen

  2. 2. Mirjam Ernestus

    Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics - University of Nijmegen

  3. 3. Roeland van Hout

    University of Nijmegen

  4. 4. Harald Baayen

    University of Nijmegen

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In spontaneous speech words are often pronounced in
reduced form. Some words are reduced to such an extent
that an orthographic transcription would be very different from
the orthographic norm. An example from Dutch is the word
MOGE-LIJK ('poss-ible'), which can be pronounced not only
as MO.GE.LEK but also as MO.GEK, MO.LEK, or even as
Strongly reduced word forms are difficult to interpret without
syntactic or semantic context. When speakers of Dutch are
presented with the word mok in isolation, they tend not to be
able to assign a meaning to this string of phonemes. It is only
when the word is embedded in a sentence that its meaning
becomes available. Interestingly, listeners who understood the
meaning of MOK tend to think they heard the full, unreduced
form MOGELIJK. A central question in the research on the
comprehension of reduced words is what aspects of the
linguistic context allow the listener to access the associated
semantics (Kemps et al.).
An important predictor for the degree of reduction in speech
production is lexical frequency, as demonstrated by Jurafsky
et al.. for function words. The more often a function word is
used in speech, the more likely it is to undergo reduction, in
line with Zipf's law of abbreviation. Furthermore, the degree
of reduction is modulated by the extent to which a word is
predictable from its context. In addition, frequency of
occurrence has been shown to affect the realization of word
final dental plosives in monomorphemic words (Bybee), and
a negative correlation between frequency and acoustic length
has been observed for several kinds of derived words in Dutch,
including words with the suffix -LIJK (Pluymaekers et al.).
It is an open question to what extent the use of reduced forms
is co-determined by social, geographical, and stylistic factors.
Various corpus-based studies have shed light on variation in
the use of language. Biber identified different varieties of
English (and also other languages) by means of factor analyses
of the frequencies of a broad range of morphological and
syntactic variables (Biber). In the domain of literary studies,
Burrows demonstrated regional differences in English narrative,
diachronic change in literary texts, and even sex-specific
differences in the writing of English historians born before
1850 (see, e.g. Burrows). Studies in authorship attribution
revealed, furthermore, that differences in speech habits can
sometimes be traced down even to the level of individual
language users (Holmes; Baayen et al.). Finally, it has been
shown that derivational affixes are used to a different extent in
spoken and written registers (Baayen; Plag et al.).
The aim of the present study is to investigate the extent to which
the use of words in -LIJK varies systematically as a function
of speech register, the speaker's sex, level of education, and of
whether the speaker lives in Flanders or in the Netherlands. For
spoken Dutch, we address the more specific question to what
degree these factors (and contextual predictability) codetermine
the extent to which words in -LIJK are reduced.
We first studied the social and geographic variation in the
frequency of use of words in -LIJK in a corpus of Dutch
newspapers. We selected all occurences of 80 high-frequency
words in -LIJK from seven newpapers using a 2 by 3 factorial
design. We distinguished between Flemish and Dutch
newspapers (Country) and contrasted quality newspapers,
national newspapers, and regional newspapers (Register). In
parallel, we conducted a study using the same design based on
the 80 most frequent function words (pronouns, auxiliaries,
connectives, determiners, numerals, etc.), following Burrows.
In both analyses, we observed significant and remarkably
similar regional and stylistic differentiation. This suggests that
the syntactic habits of journalists (as revealed by their use of
function words) are consistent with their habits with respect to
the use of adverbs and adjectives in -LIJK.
Next, we explored the variation in frequency of use of words
in -LIJK in spoken Dutch. We selected 32 high-frequency words
in -LIJK from the subcorpora of spontaneous, unscripted speech
in the Corpus of Spoken Dutch (CGN), using a 2x2x2 factorial
design in which we contrasted speakers from Flanders with
speakers from the Netherlands (Country), men with women
(Sex), and highly eductated with less educated speakers
(Education). As before, we carried out a parallel study using
the most frequent function words. This time, we observed a
marked difference between the function words and the words
in -LIJK. Speakers with a higher education level tended to use words in -LIJK more often. For the Netherlands (but not for
Flanders), this mirrors the finding that the quality newspaper
made more intensive use of this suffix as well. The analysis of
the function words, by contrast, revealed that men made less
use of function words compared to women, suggesting a slightly
higher information density (carried by content words) for men.
In addition to these main effects, we observed marked (and
significant) differences in how individual function words as
well as individual words in -LIJK were used by men and women
in the two countries as a function of their education level.
Finally, we investigated the social and regional variation in the
degrees of reduction of words in -LIJK for 14 words that
occurred sufficiently often in the different subcorpora of the
CGN defined by our factorial design contrasting Country, Sex
and Education, and that revealed substantial degrees of
reduction. Two transcribers classified the degree of reduction
for a total of 946 tokens. We considered two kinds of reduction,
one primarily affecting the suffix, the other affecting the vowel
in the word initial syllable. Both analyses show that in Flanders
speakers reduce less than in the Netherlands. The reduction
involving the suffix is more prominent for men compared to
women. Moreover, highly educated Flemish speakers use fewer
reduced forms than do less highly educated Flemish speakers.
Finally, there were significant differences in the extent to which
the individual words underwent reduction that we could trace
back to the speaker's region.
In addition to these social and regional factors, the degree of
reduction was significantly co-determined by two linguistic
factors: the word's position in the sentence, and the extent to
which the word is predictable from its context. We used the
Mutual Information measure to gauge contextual predictivity.
Words in -LIJK with a high mutual information, i.e., words that
exhibited a high degree of predictability from the preceding
word, revealed more reduction: As the information load of a
word in -LIJK decreases, its formal distinctiveness in production
decreases as well. In this respect, highly-reduced and
semantically opaque forms in -LIJK such as TUUK (for
NATUURLIJK, 'of course') and EIK (for EIGENLIJK, 'in fact')
are becoming similar to function words. With respect to the
word's position in the sentence, we found that words in -LIJK
that occurred in sentence-final position revealed little reduction.
This is as expected given that words in sentence final position
are often lengthened.
For our analyses, we made extensive use of multilevel modeling
of covariance, a statistical technique that offers two advantages
compared to principal components analysis, factor analysis,
and correspondence analysis. First of all, multilevel modeling
allows the researcher to directly assess the significance of the
predictors in the model, as well as how the individual words
interact with these predictors. In other words, instead of using
both a clustering technique such as principal components
analysis and a technique for group separation such as
discriminant analysis, we were able to fit a single statistical
model to the data that allows us both to trace what predictors
are significant, and to visualize their effects. The second
advantage of multilevel modeling is that it offers the researcher
the possibility to include covariates such as mutual information
in the model.
Although derived words are generally classified as open-class
words, as opposed to the closed class function words, it is
noteworthy that the suffix -LIJK is hardly productive.
Furthermore, we have shown that if the information load of a
word in -LIJK decreases, its formal distinctiveness in production
decreases as well. Thus, high-frequency forms in -LIJK are
becoming more similar to function words with respect to their
lack of productivity and compositionality, with respect to their
being social and stylistic markers, and with respect to their
acoustic form.
Baayen, R.H, H. Van Halteren, and F. Tweedie. "Outside the
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Baayen, R.H. "Derivational productivity and text typology."
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Biber, D. Dimensions of register variation. Cambridge:
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Burrows, J.F. "Computers and the study of literature."
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Bybee, J.L. Phonology and language use. Cambridge:
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Holmes, D.I. "Authorship attribution." Computers and the
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Jurafsky, D., A. Bell, M. Gregory, and W.D. Raymond.
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Kemps, R, M. Ernestus, R. Schreuder, and R.H. Baayen.
"Processing reduced word forms: The suffix restoration effect."
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Plag, I., C. Dalton-Puffer, and R.H. Baayen. "Productivity and
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frequency and acoustic reduction in spoken Dutch. In

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Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Victoria

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

June 15, 2005 - June 18, 2005

139 works by 236 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double checked.

Conference website:

Series: ACH/ICCH (25), ALLC/EADH (32), ACH/ALLC (17)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None