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Pronunciation of the Name "Van Gogh"

By Paul Veltkamp


When President John F. Kennedy visited Berlin, in the days that the Berlin Wall was still in existence, he made himself extremely popular by crying out loud:
"Ich bin ein Berliner!"
In Germany the word "Ich", meaning "I", is also used to identify a sound:
the "ICH"-laut or "ICH"-sound.
In phonetic script it is written : .

The same sound is used in Belgium and in the Southern Provinces of the Netherlands, including the Province of Brabant, where Vincent was born and where he lived about half his life.

The "ICH"-laut is the softer variety of the similar, but harder "ACH"- laut or "ACH"-sound. Both "ICH-laut" and "ACH-laut" are rasping or scraping sounds.

The "ACH"-sound is used in Germany and in the Northern Provinces of the Netherlands. (Including the two Holland Provinces)
In phonetic script it is written: X .

Both the "ICH-laut" and the "ACH-laut" are produced by narrowing the space between the tongue and the roof of the mouth.
Narrow enough to allow the airflow to go through, and narrow enough to produce a harsh scraping sound, but not narrow enough to block the airflow. The difference between the "ICH"-laut and the "ACH"-laut is that the narrowing takes place either against the front part of the roof of the mouth (ICH-laut) or against the back part of the roof of the mouth (ACH-laut).

The front part of the roof of the mouth is the hard part and is called the Palate.
Here the narrowing produces the "ICH"-laut.
In phonetic language: the Palatal Fricative. (See cross section 'Palatal Fricative')

The back part of the roof of the mouth is the soft part and is called the Velum.
Here the narrowing produces the "ACH"-laut.
In phonetic language: the Velar Fricative. (See cross section 'Velar Fricative')

Since Vincent van Gogh was born and raised in Brabant, it is quite likely that he used the "ICH"-laut pronouncing his own name.
"Quite likely - in the sense of 'maybe not'" - because his parents had an "ACH"-laut origin.
"Quite likely - in the sense of 'maybe yes'" - because he used in his letters "ge" and "gij" for
"je" and "u" as Second Person Personal Pronouns.
"Ge" and "gij" are typical for the Brabant dialect.
"Je" and "u" are typical for the Holland dialect.
So, it is quite likely that most Dutchmen pronounce his name incorrectly if we take his own pronunciation as a benchmark.

Hans van Esdonk has an additional comments about the pronunciation of "Van Gogh":

In the south here the name is pronounced somewhat like Mr. Veldkamp explained, but I think it is better to pronounce the first G more with your lips forward as an addition to his remarks. In that way it sounds very softly and that's the way we do it here.

Further, the V is NOT pronounced like an F, only in the Holland provinces. In English the best way to pronounce Vincent is to split it in two "words", VIN CENT and pronounce it as one word of course. VAN is pronounced with the same V as in Vincent. The A is pronounced as in GARDEN, but somewhat shorter, more like in BAH! The gh at the end is pronounced as in "ICH bin ein Berliner"

The combination gh at the end is only used in special words like names. Normally we use the ch at the end.


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