The pronunciation of Vincent’s surname 'Van Gogh’ probably depends on where you are from. There are many languages and many accents in the world. As Van Gogh was born in The Netherlands his first language was Dutch. And therefore many people intend to pronounce his name the way the Dutch say it.

Does the Dutch pronunciation of ‘Van Gogh’ exist?

There are many accents in Dutch, but roughly you could say:
  • people in the South have a soft pronunciation of the letter g, whereas
  •  people in the North have a more guttural hard g (the Spanish j is close).
So within The Netherlands ‘Van Gogh’ is pronounced differently. (On mobile scroll down for a video to hear ‘Van Gogh' with a soft g.)

How did Van Gogh pronounce his own name?

Vincent van Gogh, born in Zundert, grew up in the South of The Netherlands (soft g). Also in 1853 people in Zundert probably spoke with a soft g. But what about his parents? Where were they from? Kids can copy their parents’ accent.

Both Vincent's mother, born in The Hague, and Vincent’s father, born in Benschop, are from regions where people speak with a hard g these days.

Another person who probably had a big influence on Vincent’s accent was his governess Anna Birnie. She was born in Kampen, nowadays a hard g region as well.

But.. did his parents and his governess actually speak with the hard g back then?

The history of the Dutch g

To find out how people used to pronounce the letter g in the past is very difficult. Even for Marc van Oostendorp, a linguist working at the Meertens Instituut of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and professor of Dutch and Academic Communication at the University of Nijmegen. Fortunately Mr. Oostendorp was willing to help.

Apparently centuries ago there was no such thing as a soft or a hard g. The letter g was pronounced like the English g as in ‘good'. Probably when French words started to appear in Dutch language pronunciations changed too. Thanks to changes in spelling there is strong evidence the soft g appeared first in The Netherlands and later the hard g started to spread from Amsterdam.

So did Van Gogh’s parents and his governess speak with a hard g in 1850 as they do in The Hague, Benschop and Kampen nowadays?

Probably.. not! Kampen was pretty much sure still a soft g region, Benschop too. And in The Hague the social class made a difference. High social class kept the soft g for a longer time. And since Vincent’s mother was definitely high class, hence a governess for Vincent, her accent was likely to be with a soft g.

Conclusion.

  • Where Vincent grew up people spoke with a soft g and they still do.
  • Where Vincent’s parents are from people spoke with a soft g, but not anymore.
  • There is no right or wrong. But if you want to pronounce ‘Van Gogh’ like Vincent did you can practice along with the video on this page and you're doing pretty good.
Note 1: Probably Van Gogh pronounced his name differently when he spoke English or French.
Note 2: Vincent in the video is me. I was born in Oirschot, a village in the South of The Netherlands, 50km from Zundert and 20km from Nuenen where Van Gogh lived. I am not native English and my English accent must have some influence from New Zealand where I lived in my twenties. I now live in Amsterdam and I have started speaking with a hard g.
Note 3: You are welcome to drop by Van Gogh Studio in Amsterdam, no matter how you pronounce ‘Van Gogh’.
Van Gogh pronounced with a soft g as they do in Zundert.

Van Gogh en Pére Tanguy portraitVan Gogh's place of birth Zundert in the South. Map source: vggallery.com

Van Gogh's mother was born in The Hague
Van Gogh's mother was born in The Hague

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      18-11-2020 13:26     Comments ( 0 )
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