Tweants dialect

Native to Netherlands[1]
Region Northeast, Overijssels province.[1]
Native speakers
340,000 (2003)
Official status
Official language in
The Netherlands (as part of Low Saxon)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 twd
Glottolog twen1241[2]

Tweants (Tweants pronunciation: [tʋɛːnts]; Dutch: Twents, pronounced [tʋɛnts]) is a Dutch Low Saxon group of dialects, descending from Old Saxon. It is spoken daily by approximately 62%[3] of the population of Twente, a region in the Dutch province of Overijssel bordering on Germany. Its speakers also refer to Twents as plat or use the name of their local variant. A widespread misconception is the assumption that it is a variety of Dutch. It is, however, a variety of Dutch Low Saxon, recognised by the Dutch government as a regional language according to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. As such, it enjoys some loose stimulation from the part of the government.

Due to heavy stigmatisation, the use of the language declined in the decades following the Second World War, as it was deemed an inappropriate way of speaking and thought to hinder children's language learning abilities. Due to a general rise in regional pride, however, which has also found its way to the Twente region, interests in preserving and promoting the language have risen, resulting in dialect writing competitions, teaching material, festivals, and other culturally engaging projects.

Pronunciation and characteristics

Tweants does not have a standardised pronunciation or spelling; all towns and villages in Twente have their own local variety, which, although they are mutually intelligible and similar, makes it hard to be tagged as a single dialect. Due to this fragmentation, and the lack of a standard variety, many speakers of Tweants mostly do not refer to their language as "Tweants" or "Dutch Low Saxon". They rather call it by the locality their variety is from (e.g. a person from Almelo would say they speak "Almeloos" rather than "Tweants"). Another possibility would be that speakers combine these two possibilities: a speaker from Rijssen could say they speak "Riesns Tweants". There are, however, a number of characteristics that are shared across all varieties.

Phonetic details

The following paragraphs contain IPA symbols.


Monophthong phonemes
Front Central Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
short long short long short long short long
Close i y u
Close-mid ɪ ʏ øː ə
Open-mid ɛ ɛː œ œː ɔ ɔː
Open a
Diphthong phonemes
Starting point Ending point
Front Back
Close ɪi
Mid ɛi ɔu
  • All of the diphthongs are falling [ɪi̯, ɛi̯, ɔu̯].
Example words for vowels
Short Long
Phoneme IPA Orthography Meaning Phoneme IPA Orthography Meaning
/i/ /i/ ie 'you' /iː/ /ˈriːʝə/ riege 'impale'
/y/ /yː/ /byːl/ buul 'bag'
/u/ /hus/ hoes 'house' /uː/ /uːl/ oel 'owl'
/ɪ/ /vɪs/ vis 'fish' /eː/ /keːnt/ keend 'child'
/ʏ/ /ˈbrʏməl/ brummel 'blackberries' /øː/ /løː/ leu 'people'
/oː/ /bloːm/ bloom 'flower'
/ɛ/ /bɛk/ bek 'mouth' /ɛː/ /kɛːrk/ keark 'church'
/œ/ /lœs/ lös 'loose' /œː/ /ˈeːnlœːstɪx/ éénlöastig
/ə/ /ˈbrʏməl/ brummel 'blackberries'
/ɔ/ /kɔp/ kop 'cup' /ɔː/ /skɔːp/ skoap 'sheep'
/a/ /tak/ tak 'branch' /aː/ /aːp/ aap 'monkey'
/ɪi/ /nɪi/ nij 'new'
/ɛi/ /vlɛis/ vleis 'meat'
/ɔu/ /slɔu/ slouw

Similarly to German and Danish, /r/ in syllable coda is vocalized to [ə], [ɒ] or [ɐ].

This survey of vowels includes only the most general vowels present in (nearly) all varieties, and does by no means give an all-encompassing overview of all varieties, as pronunciation differs per village and town, and may differ even within a town. A striking example of this may be found in the town of Rijssen, where two pronunciation forms of the past tense verb form of go are commonly accepted: gung /ɣʏŋ/ and gong /ɣɔŋ/. As there is no standard variety of Tweants, and there is little or no education in the language, speakers may select their pronunciation based on personal preferences.

A number of varieties feature an additional set of vowels that need a trained ear to be distinguished from each other, although they may sound totally different to the speakers of these varieties.


[ɣ] – as in the Dutch word gaan, e.g. goan [ɣɔːn] (go)
[ʝ] – as in the Dutch word ja but with more friction, Southern Dutch g, e.g. rieg [riːʝ] (impale)
[j] – as in the English word yes, e.g. rieg [riːj] (impale) (local pronunciations may vary).
[ŋ] – as in the English word ring, e.g. hangen [haŋː] (hang).
[x] – as in the Dutch word lachen, e.g. lachn [ˈlaxn̩] (laugh).
[r] – as an alveolar, tapped r, e.g. road [rɔːt] (council).
[j] – as in the English word yes, e.g. striedn [ˈstriːjn] (fight, battle)
[w] – as in the English word well, in intervocalic position, e.g. oaver [ˈɔːwə] (about, over)
[ʋ] - as in the Dutch word "wat", in word- or syllable-initial position, e.g. "wear" [ʋɛə] (weather). [m] – as in the English word man, e.g. moat [mɔːt] (mate).

Tweants shares many features with multiple varieties of British English.

  • Tweants, like upper class British English, has a linking -r, or intrusive -r. Unlike British English, this is a considered a sign of proficiency, and therefore desirable.
  • Another distinct feature of Tweants is the use of syllabic consonants (the "swallowing" of final -en syllables), especially in infinite verb forms and plural nouns. This may be compared to British RP pronunciation of mutton, which is pronounced somewhat like mut-n, although Tweants applies this to all verbs:
    • The infinite verb to eat, which in Dutch is eten (pronounced [ˈeːtə(n)]), is etn [ˈɛtn̩].
  • Tweants is to a great extent non-rhotic. Speakers do not pronounce final /r/ in words consisting of more than one syllable, if no clarity or emphasis is required. In monosyllabic words, the /r/ is not pronounced before dental consonants.
  • Tweants uses extensive lenition in its spoken form. All strong consonants may be pronounced as their weak counterparts in intervocalic position (e.g. "better" can be pronounced either as [ˈbɛtə] or [ˈbɛdə]).


Tweants follows a number of general Low Saxon rules in verb inflection, including the singular pluralis; plural verb forms receive the same inflection as the second person singular. In present tense, this means that a -t is attached to the verb stem, whereas in past tense, an -n is attached.

Tweants, like many other Germanic languages, distinguishes between strong and weak verbs. Strong verbs receive an umlaut in present tense third person singular and all persons in past tense. In weak verbs, the third person singular is formed like the second person singular in present tense, and in past tense is formed by adding a -te to the verb stem.

Present tense

Ik lopeI walk
Iej looptYou walk
Hee / zee löpHe / she walks
Wie looptWe walk
ieleu looptYou walk (plural)
Zee looptThey walk

Past tense

Ik leupeI walked
Iej leupnYou walked
Hee / Zee leupHe / She walked
Wieleu leupnWe walked
Ieleu leupnYou walked (plural)
Zee leupnThey walked


Plural nouns are formed depending on the gender of the word. Tweants has three word genders, namely masculine, feminine and neuter


Plurals for masculine are generally formed by adding umlaut and word-final -e to the noun

eenn hoondone dog
twee heundeTwo dogs


Plurals for feminine nouns are generally formed by adding word-final -n to the noun

ene kommeone bowl
twee komnTwo bowls


Plurals for neuter nouns are generally formed by adding word-final -er to the noun.

een keendone child
twee keenderTwo children

If the neuter noun has a back vowel, it also receives an umlaut and -er.

een bookone book
twee beukerTwo books

Diminutives and plurals

een kumkeone little bowl
twee kumkestwo little bowls


Native speakers have a distinct accent when speaking Dutch, and are hence easily recognised. Particularly the distinct pronunciation of the 'O' and 'E' is renowned, and is similar to the Hiberno-English pronunciation of the 'O' and the 'A'. Another striking feature of Tweants Dutch (and therefore a sign of L1-interference) is the use of a syllabic consonant, which in popular Dutch language is often referred to as "swallowing final -en".

On a syntactical level, people from Twente may at times literally translate phrases into Dutch, thus forming Twentisms. Due to the fact that Tweants and Standard Dutch are varieties of the West Germanic languages, they have many similarities, which may lead speakers of Tweants to believe that a "Dutchified" pronunciation of a Tweants expression is correct and valid:

In English: I have a flat tyre
In Tweants: Ik hebbe n baand plat
In Tweants-influenced Dutch (Twentism): *Ik heb de band plat (lit. I have the tyre flat)
In correct Standard Dutch: Ik heb een lekke band (lit. I have a leaky tire)

On an idiomatic level, Tweants is known for its wealth of proverbs, of which the following are only a fraction:

  • Loat mear kuuln, t löp wal lös Literally: Let it roll/fall, it will walk free Never mind, it will sort itself out.
  • As de tied koomp, koomp de ploag When the time comes, the trouble comes. Don't worry before the trouble starts.
  • Iej könt nich bloazn en t mel in n moond hoaldn Literally, you cannot blow and keep the flour in your mouth. 'Bloazn' also means 'to brag', so its real meaning is the same as "put your money where your mouth is"
  • Hengeler weend Wind from Hengelo, a haughty attitude.

Speakers of Tweants generally tend to be a little more indirect than speakers of Dutch. For instance, when speakers of Tweants say: "t Is hier redelik doo" (It's reasonably thaw in here), they usually mean that they find the temperature unpleasantly high in the room.

Tweants in present-day Twente

Tweants is neither used nor taught mandatorily in schools, a circumstance that may be ascribed to the traditionally prevalent belief that Tweants – like other dialects spoken in the Netherlands – is supposedly a boorish speech variety the use of which bespeaks little intelligence or sophistication. As currently, however, the status of Tweants is improving, school boards may opt for a lesson series Tweants Kwarteerken (loosely translated as 15 minutes of Tweants) designed for implication in nursery and primary schools.

Tweants was, and still is, also believed to impede the proper acquisition by children of Standard Dutch. Parents generally acquiesced in this attitude and tried to teach their children to speak Dutch. Those parents, however, were used to speaking Tweants, which influenced especially their pronunciation of Dutch, and to a lesser extent their syntax and choice of vocabulary.

Dutch is still the prevailing and most prestigious language in Twente. This is why a majority of parents up until recently neglected to teach their children about their heritage, although there has lately been a resurgence of interest in the local language.

Because Twente is an attractive place for investment, many companies establish themselves in Twente and attract people from other parts of the country who do not speak Tweants. This aggravates the decline of the Tweants language. In the countryside, however, many people still speak it or at least understand it.

Recently, Tweants has enjoyed a resurgence because of an increasing tolerance for and pride in local culture, including local language. The resurgence enjoys the opinion of linguists who believe that children who are brought up bilingually (In this case with Dutch and Tweants) are more receptive to other languages. The increasing interest in Tweants is expressed by writers, musicians and local television and radio, and people have been inspired to start speaking and teaching Tweants again. This renewed interest, mirrored by other local languages in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe, is referred to as the dialect renaissance. An important stimulant for trend was the start of the 2000s soap in Tweants, "Van Jonge Leu en Oale Groond" ("Of young people and old land"). The soap, focussing on a rural part of Twente, combined local traditions and culture with the life and aspirations of young people, emphasising how people can live modern lives while cherishing and being rooted in local traditions. Originally broadcast by local television, it was later broadcast on national television with subtitles.

From the 2000s onwards, Tweants is increasingly being employed in advertising. More and more companies choose for a Tweants slogan, and some choose for a more personal advertising approach, by translating their adverts into several dialects. Examples of such companies are Regiobank and Moneybird. Furthermore, the municipality of Rijssen-Holten employs a number of civil servants, who are allowed to wed couples in Tweants. Additionally, the municipality hall's personnel is officially bilingual, being able to help citizens in either Dutch, Tweants or Sallaands.

In 2012, a radio presenter for national broadcasting station 3FM, Michiel Veenstra from Almelo, promised to present in Twents for an hour if a Twents song received more than €10,000 in the annual fundraising campaign Het Glazen Huis (The Glass House). As the song received more than €17,000, Veenstra kept his promise.[4]

In 2014, a Facebook page called "Tukkers be like" gained more than 18,000 followers within a week. The page uses Twents cultural concepts, and expressions in the Twents language. The idea of the page was based on the US Internet meme "Bitches be like", which gained enormous popularity in 2013, and inspired many to create their own versions. The meme presents an image of a certain situation, to which a certain group would respond in a typical way.

Written form

There is no generally accepted spelling for writing Tweants, although discussions about spellings are held on a regular basis. Rather, there are two commonly accepted spellings, although few strictly adhere to them. The previously mentioned diversity in speech varieties makes designing an all-encompassing spelling a cumbersome project, as spelling rules that fit one variety, may not be useful for others.

The (educated) debate always evolves around two points of view.

  • The spelling should be easily accessible and recognisable for speakers of other varieties of Low Saxon as well as speakers of Dutch. This means a spelling based on writing traditions from different speech varieties, which does have a recognisable layout (most notably Standard Dutch), but sounds odd or unnatural when pronounced literally, and therefore might work disturbingly.
  • The spelling should be close to the pronunciation of the people using it. This means a spelling that is not easily accessible, if not confusing to speakers and readers of other varieties, due to many written consonant clusters, although to native speakers leaves no doubt about the pronunciation.

Cultural expressions in Tweants

The earliest form of written Tweants is a poem dating from the eighteenth century, although it is a rare example. Tweants, like the other Dutch Low Saxon dialects, has had a literary tradition since the nineteenth century when Romanticism sparked an interest in regional culture. Some of the better-known authors include:

  • Johanna van Buren (poet, wrote in a Sallaans-Tweants border dialect)
  • Theo Vossebeld (poet)
  • Willem Wilmink (poet, songwriter)
  • Herman Finkers (comedian)
  • Anne van der Meijden (minister)

Since the start of the dialect renaissance, Tweants has increasingly been used as a written language, although this is still almost entirely reserved to the province of literature. Works have been translated into Tweants to stress that Tweants is as sophisticated and expressive as any other language, and to put its own aesthetic properties to use.

A renowned Dutch comedian, Herman Finkers, even translated his last shows into Tweants, using the motto "accentless at last", to indicate that he can finally sound natural by using his mother tongue, without someone mocking him about it. A number of comic books and a children's television programme have been translated into Tweants to critical success.

Reverend Anne van der Meijden, a long-standing promoter of the use of Tweants, has translated the Bible into Tweants on the basis of the original languages. He also preaches sermons in Tweants.

Twentse Welle, formerly the Van Deinse Instituut, in Enschede is an organisation that maps, monitors, promotes and develops teaching material for Tweants, Tweants identity and the culture of Twente.


  1. 1 2 3 4 Ethnologue entry
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Twents". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Bloemhoff, H. et al. Taaltelling Nedersaksisch: Een enquête naar het gebruik en de beheersing van het Nedersaksisch in Nederland. Groningen: Sasland (2005). 39-40.
  4. Michiel Veenstra presenteert een uur lang in het twents.
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