Rheinische Dokumenta

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The Rheinische Dokumenta is a phonetic writing system developed in the early 1980s by a working group of academics, linguists, local language experts, and local language speakers of the Rhineland. It was presented to the public in 1986 by the Landschaftsverband Rheinland.[1] It offers a uniform common notation of almost every phoneme spoken in the Lower Rhine area, the western and central Rhineland, the Berg region, the Westerwald, Eifel, and Hunsrück mountain regions, plus the areas surrounding the Nahe and Moselle Rivers. It encompasses the dialects of cities such as Aachen, Bingen, Bonn, Cologne, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Eschweiler (in Germany), Eschweiler (in Luxembourg), Essen, Eupen, Gennep, Gummersbach, Heinsberg, Karlsruhe, Kaiserslautern, Kerkrade, Cleves, Koblenz, Limburg, Ludwigshafen, Luxembourg, Maastricht, Mainz, Malmedy, Mönchengladbach, Nijmegen, Oberhausen, Prüm, Raeren, Saarbrücken, Siegen, Trier, Venlo, St. Vith, Wiesbaden, Wipperfürth, Wuppertal, Xanten, and many more.

Rheinische Dokumenta was designed to be easily readable for dialect speakers educated in German writing, but there are some differences that make it quite distinct from the usual ways of writing the dialects: There is no doubling of consonants to mark short vowels, and there are extra diacritical marks. The German letters ⟨z⟩ and ⟨x⟩ are spelled ⟨ts⟩ and ⟨ks⟩, German ⟨ch⟩ is spelled ⟨k⟩ when it indicates a /k/ pronunciation, German ⟨qu⟩ is spelled ⟨kw⟩. These spellings appear in other Germanic languages as well, but Rhinelanders are generally not accustomed to them.


The Rheinische Dokumenta uses the letters of today's ISO basic Latin alphabet, without ⟨c⟩, ⟨q⟩, ⟨x⟩, ⟨y⟩, ⟨z⟩, though it has the digraphs ⟨ch⟩, ⟨ch⟩, ⟨ng⟩, trigraph ⟨sch⟩. In addition, the three common German Umlauted letters are used: ⟨ä⟩, ⟨ö⟩, ⟨ü⟩, and ten more letters, digraphs, and a trigraph, each having diacritical marks:


Each letter, digraph, or trigraph is strictly representing one phone. Most letters represent the usual sounds for which they are used in the German alphabet or, slightly less so, in the Dutch alphabet or that of the Luxembourgish language. Several letters are ambiguous in these languages, such as voiced consonants which lose their voice when appearing at the end of a word. These ambiguities are avoided writing Rheinische Dokumenta; despite the fact that word stems may change their printed appearance, when declined or conjugated, always the most phonetically correct letters, digraphs, or trigraphs are being used.

Digraph and trigraph unambiguity

As opposed to Dutch, the combination of ⟨s⟩ followed by ⟨ch⟩ does not occur in the languages for which Rheinische Dokumenta was made. Thus, since ⟨c⟩ is not otherwise used in Rheinische Dokumenta, both ⟨ch⟩ and ⟨sch⟩ are unambiguous, especially the underlined letter combinations, and the ones having an arch below.

Only the digraph ⟨ng⟩ has some ambiguity. An ⟨n⟩ may occur at the end of a syllable, but only a few dialects allow a syllable initial (g) after a syllable final ⟨n⟩. While ⟨ng⟩ at syllable joints is frequent in German, most languages that can use Rheinische Dokumenta have ⟨mg⟩ or ⟨nj⟩ instead in almost all instances. The authors of Rheinische Dokumenta suggest using the single letter engŋ⟩ instead of the digraph ⟨ng⟩ when possible.

Letter case

Though not defined in the original specification,[1] upper case letters can be used. While some authors do not use them at all, others start sentences with capitals or capitalise names, and few use capital initial letters on each substantive and noun, as standard German writing does.


Stress and the tonal accents are usually ignored when writing in Rheinische Dokumenta. There are diacritics to indicate them, but since they are seen to considerably hamper readability, make prints ugly, and are hardly necessary to facilitate understanding, they are seldom used. Some dialects do not have tonal accent anyway. For the other ones, there are only a very few word pairs or triplets having identical unaccented Rheinische Dokumenta spellings but different tonal or stress accents.

Also, other prosody, such as the "melody" of sentence, which carries semantic information in many Rheinisch languages,[2] is not preserved in Rheinische Dokumenta writing.


Vowels come in two variants, short and long. That many dialects feature three distinct vowel lengths is ignored, as doing so does not create any ambiguities and makes reading easier. Short vowels are represented by single letters, long vowels are represented by the same letters doubled to indicate lengthening.


Rheinische Dokumenta can write 25 monophthongs.

Short monophthongs

There are 14 short vowels in the languages that the script was designed for, 13 of which are representable in Rheinische Dokumenta:

Letter IPA Sample Word   Rheinische Dokumenta Unicode
Aa   [a][ɐ][ʌ] English "bud", "but", "butt": bat  U+0041, U+0061
  [ɑ][ʌ] English "column": kạle̩m  U+1EA0, U+1EA1 
Ää  [ɛ] English "where", "ware": wäe̩  U+00C4, U+00E4
Ą̈ą̈  [æ] English "batch": bą̈tsch 
Ee  [e] English "bet": bet  U+0045, U+0065
[ə] English article "a" in casual speech: e̩  U+0045+0329, U+0065+0329
Ii  [i][ɪ] English "spit": spit  U+0049, U+0069
Oo  [o][ʊ] French "Cologne": kolǫnje̩  U+004F, U+006F
Ǫǫ  [ɔ] English word "off": ǫf  U+01EA, U+01EB
Öö  [ø] Kölsch word "Köt" (cutaway) köt  U+00D6, U+00F6
Ǫ̈ǫ̈  [œ] German pronunciation of "Cologne": "Köln": Kǫ̈ln 
Uu  [ʊ][u] English verb, to "put": put  U+0055, U+0075
Üü  [y][ʏ] French "rue" (street): rü  U+00DC, U+00FC

The "e̩" is [ə], a schwa. There is no long version of "e̩". Although a schwa usually cannot carry word accent or stress, in some dialects there are exceptions. Words having only schwas do have their stress on schwas, and they can receive the main stress within a sentence as well. The Colognian word About this sound "e̩ns"  (in Rheinische Dokumenta writing) is an example.

The schwa "e̩r"

There is another schwa. It does not have a corresponding grapheme in Rheinische Dokumenta. It could be noted in IPA as an unstressed short [ɔ̆], in some dialects and positions also as an unstressed short [ɐ̆]. Some publications call it a "vocalic r".[3] It is almost always followed by a glottal stop. Glottal stops are not noted in Rheinische Dokumenta, even though they are phonemes occasionally having minimal pairs and a length attribute. Since this schwa almost always corresponds to the digraph "er" ending a word or a separable syllable prefix of Standard German orthography, most users of Rheinische Dokumenta positionally print "er", or "e̩r", respectively, for increased readability in an attempt of courtesy towards their readers who read German more fluently than Rheinische Dokumenta. From the standpoint of phonological writing, this is incorrect.

Long monophthongs

There are 12 long vowels. For each short vowel with the exception of the schwa "e̩", there is a corresponding long vowel:

Letter IPA Sample Word   Rheinische Dokumenta
Aaaa   [a][ɐː][ʌː] Kölsch "Aap": Aap 
Ạạạạ  [ɑː][ʌː] British English "Argument": Ạạgjume̩nt 
Ääää  [ɛː] Kölsch "Wääsh": Vääsch 
Ą̈ą̈ą̈ą̈  [æː] Australian English "Mad": Mą̈ą̈d 
Eeee  [] German "Esel" (donkey): eeṣe̩l 
Iiii   [][ɪː] English "speed": spiit 
English "meal": miil 
Oooo  [][ʊː] French "Eau de Cologne": oode̩ kolǫnje̩ 
Ǫǫǫǫ  [ɔː] British English "door": dǫǫ 
Öööö  [øː] Horst Köhler's surname: Kööle̩r  (see above remark on the digraph "e̩r")
Ǫ̈ǫ̈ǫ̈ǫ̈  [œː] English "stern": stǫ̈ǫ̈n 
British English "burger": bǫ̈ǫ̈ge̩ 
English "colonel": kǫ̈ǫ̈nl, kǫ̈ǫ̈ne̩l 
Uuuu  [ʊː][] English "boot": buut 
Üüüü  [][ʏː] Ruud Krol's first name: Rüüt  (Note: this may be a usual Rhineländisch pronunciation, but in Dutch, this name has a short vowel!)


In Rheinische Dokumenta, Diphthongs are simply denoted as a sequence of the two monophthongs heard and spoken jointly. For instance, the English word "boy" would be spelled: "bǫi" in Rheinische Dokumenta. There are occasions, when two monophthongs need to be written together without forming a diphthong; that means they are pronounced separately with either a glottal stop or an intervocalic joiner consonant "j" in between. There is no written distinction between these cases, although it is not forbidden to write the character "j" for clarity. The number of diphthongs existing in a dialect is far less than each possible combination of two vowels, thus there are not very many ambiguities when taking syllable structure into account.

Assimilation and coarticulation are predominant in most of the languages written using Rheinische Dokumenta, thus diphthong articulation may deviate somewhat from the articulation of the isolated monophthongs. Also, depending on languages, the lengths of their diphthongs may vary considerably between the extremes of as short as a typical short monophthong to longer than the sum of two long monophthongs. Varying lengths of diphthongs are not noted in Rheinische Dokumenta, which at least does not create ambiguities within a dialect.


There are no triphthongs, although diphthongs can be followed by schwas in some languages. If, for instance, Rheinische Dokumenta was used in writing Westphalian, triphthongs would be written in a manner analoguous to the diphthongs, using three adjacent letters of vocals.


Since most dialects follow the German, and Lower Franconian, rule of final-obstruent devoicing, voiced consonants cannot, or hardly ever, appear at the end of a word or sentence. This is one of the major differences between Rheinische Dokumenta and Standard German writing, since Standard German orthography tries to keep word stems unaltered, even if pronunciation varies with suffixes, endings, or phonological rules. If there is assimilation or other sandhi across word boundaries which yields a consonant voiced at a word end, some authors write them as contractions or join the words with a dash "-" to avoid having final voiced consonants.

Unvoiced plosives

Letter IPA Sample Word   Rheinische Dokumenta Unicode
Pp  [p]  English "pitch": pitsch  U+0050, U+0070
Tt  [t]  English "tell": täl  U+0054, U+0074
Kk  [k]  New England American English "colt": kǫlt  U+004B, U+006B

Voiced plosives

Letter IPA Sample Word   Rheinische Dokumenta Unicode
Bb  [b]  English "bee": bii  U+0042, U+0062
Dd  [d]  English "dull": dal  U+0044, U+0064
Gg  [ɡ]  English "guts": gats  U+0047, U+0067


Though some dialects vary the duration of nasal consonants considerably, they are not doubled to indicate extended length when written, while vocals are. Though this never creates ambiguities within a language, comparison of languages is less supported. A good argument against doubling is that often nasal durations depend on speaker, style of speech, and prosody rather than being a characteristic of a word or a dialect, although that is not always so.

Letter IPA Sample Word   Rheinische Dokumenta Unicode
Mm  [m]  English "moon": muun  U+004D, U+006D
Nn  [n]  English "new": njuu  U+004E, U+006E
[ŋ]  English "long": lǫng  U+004E+0047, U+006E+0067
U+014B, U+014A

The letter eng (ŋ) is recommended rather than the ng digraph when technically feasible. This recommendation is not always followed in an attempt to create prints closer resembling Standard German or Dutch. Though the phoneme cannot appear at the beginning of a syllable, upper case glyphs exist for all caps and small caps print.

Liquids or approximants

Some dialects vary the duration of liquids. With the exception of Ripuarian dialects, this is hardly a characteristic of words, but prosodic. It is not noted when writing Rheinische Dokumenta.

Letter IPA Sample Word   Rheinische Dokumenta Unicode
Ll  [l][ʎ] English "law": lǫǫ  U+004C, U+006C
Rr  [ʁ][ʀ] French "rue" (street): rüü  U+0052, U+0072
    U+0052+0323, U+0072+0323
Ww  [w][β] English "wall": wǫǫl  U+0057, U+0077
Hh  [h] English "hell": häl  U+0048, U+0068

There is no distinction between the different phones represented by l, and r.[specify] They are nearly allophones; most often a specific dialect uses one, but not the other phone of a pair.

Both , and , are rarely used since these sounds occur in few dialects only.

Voiced fricatives

Letter IPA Sample Word   Rheinische Dokumenta Unicode
Vv  [v] English "vice": vais  U+0076, U+0056
[z] English "zeal": ṣiil  U+0053+0323, U+0073+0323
U+005A, U+007A
(the breve stretches under all three letters)
[ʒ] English "jet": ds͜͜͜͜͜͜͜͜͜͜͜chät  ,
Jj  [ʝ] English "yet": jät  U+004A, U+006A
C͜͜͜͜͜͜͜͜͜͜͜H, C͜͜͜͜͜͜͜͜͜͜͜h, c͜͜͜͜͜͜͜͜͜͜͜h [ɣ] Dutch "goed" (good): c͜͜͜͜͜͜͜͜͜͜͜huut  U+0063+035C+0068

The letter z is recommended to be used as a replacement of , when is technically not available. This resembles the use of z in Dutch writing.

Unvoiced fricatives

Letter IPA Sample Word   Rheinische Dokumenta Unicode
Ff  [f] English "fish": fisch  U+0066, U+0046
Ss  [s] English "sick": sik  U+0053, U+0073
Sch sch 
[ʃ] English "shut": schat 
U+0053+0063+0068,  U+0073-0063+0068
C̲h̲ c̲h̲ 
[ç] German "mich" (me, myself): mic̲h̲  U+0043+0332+0048+0332, U+0063++0068+
Ch ch 
[x] German "Dach" (roof): dach 
U+0043+0068,  U+0063+0068

The variations Sch, and Ch, are used for title case, while SCH, and CH, are used for all caps and small caps.

Few West- and Central Ripuarian languages, most notably Colognian, have the non-allophones [ʃ] and [ɧ][4] Both are written sch in Rheinische Dokumenta. The associated phones are to a large extent positionally distinguishable and clearly articulated differently. Nevertheless they are acoustically hard to distinguish, in part due to coarticulation, at times even for natives. So the designers of Rheinische Dokumenta choose to consider their differentiation unnecessary or marginal.

Typographical considerations

Rheinische Dokumenta has several diacritical marks, some of which have their typographical peculiarities.

Umlauts can be seen as their counterparts in German, or Latin script, typography.

The "central hook below", which is being used to denote openness of the vowels ą̈, ǫ, ǫ̈. respectively, could be confused with the ogonek. In fact, it is different. While the ogonek is to be placed somewhat off the optical center of the glyph it goes with, the Rheinische Dokumenta hook explicitly goes to its center. Thus it gives another impression and does not resemble the ogonek. Most Rheinische Dokumenta prints choose it to be slightly more angular, longer, and thus appear bolder than ogoneks usually are.

The "center dot below" may not always be available. Using z as a replacement for is recommended in such cases, resembling Dutch writing. There are no such replacements or recommendations for the letters , and , respectively, which are comparatively much less used.

When the "horizontal bar below" is not available, using the glyph ə as a replacement for , when possible, is recommended in such cases.

The phoneme denoted by ŋ in print, alternately spelt ng, never appears at the beginning of a syllable, word, or sentence. Yet its upper case version could be used in all caps or small caps type.

The two variations of sch, and the three variations of ch, when written in title case, usually have only their 1st character uppercased, when used in all caps or small caps, however, each letter is converted to upper case.


Rheinische Dokumenta cannot currently be fully written in Unicode but proposals are underway to have missing pieces added.

Rheinische Dokumenta is part of the Latin character set of Unicode, and thus part of its Basic Multilingual Plane (Unicode). It is to a large extent covered by single code points. While unaccented characters do that anyway, even some of the characters having diacritical marks nevertheless occupy only one character position in a text stream in their normalized form.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Peter Honnen (presented following the previous works of Fritz Langensiepen): Rheinische Dokumenta: Lautschrift für Rheinische Mundarten, Mundartdokumentation im Rheinland. Rheinland-Verlag, Köln, 2nd edition, 1987, ISBN 3-7927-0947-3
  2. Ferdinand Münch: Grammatik der ripuarisch-fränkischen Mundart. Verlag Friedrich Cohen, Bonn 1904. Nachdruck mit Genehmigung, Saendig Reprint Verlag, Vaduz, 1970. ISBN 3-500-21670-6.
    https://archive.org/stream/grammatikderrip00mngoog#page/n18/mode/1up (November 5, 2009)
  3. e.g. on page 178 in Christa Bhatt, Markus Lindlar (editors) Alles Kölsch – eine Dokumentation der aktuellen Stadtsprache in Köln. 286 pages, 4 CDs, Bouvier Verlag, Bonn, 1998. ISBN 3-416-02847-3
  4. Whether or not the IPA glyph [ɧ] really is the correct notation is disputable, see voiceless palatal-velar fricative.

External links