Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A short introduction to Dutch

The Dutch language is currently (one of) the official language(s) in 3 countries across the globe: the Netherlands, Belgium and Suriname.

Belgium was originally part of the Netherlands, until it revolted and declared independence in 1830. Suriname, situated in the north of the South American continent, used to be a Dutch colony until, again, it was granted independence (no one seems to like hanging out with the Dutch much) in 1975.

Aside from this Afrikaans, one of the main languages spoken in South Africa, another Dutch ex-colony, is pretty much a slightly more modern version of medieval Dutch. Furthermore, the fact that the Netherlands was the only European country allowed trade with Japan from 1639 to 1854 means that the Dutch language has left its footprints in Japanese as well:

There is quite an extensive list of Dutch words in the English language as well:

Linguistically, Dutch is closest to German, its neighbor to the immediate East, with some clear influences of English (to the West) and French (to the South) as well. Like English, the word order is Subject-Verb-Object and there are no grammatical cases, except for personal pronouns. Furthermore, all plural verb conjugations have the same form for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd person.

Also, there is very little distinction in gender. Masculine and Feminine nouns are treated almost completely the same, with only neutral nouns getting a different definite article, but the only indefinite article in the language remains the same.

It is, in short, a version of German, simplified by English influences, which is indeed what most non-native speakers of the language have confirmed to me. This does not mean, however, that it’s easy to learn, apparently. Despite my insistence that Dutch is grammatically not very complex, many people have complained to me about how hard it can be to learn. I’ll admit, the pronunciation can pose some problems.

The guttural sound of the “G”, and some rather complex diphthongs (ui, au, ei/ij etc) and triphthongs (ieuw, iauw etc) are known in the Netherlands as easy ways of telling Native Speakers from non-Natives.

Not only that, but the Dutch language also seems to have a reputation of being lengthy and verbose. That is, including many different short words that change the nuance of the sentence ever so slightly but still significantly, and all of which are quite hard to translate separately. Words like ook, maar, toch, wel and weer etc. are injected freely into conversation and often serve to subtly express nuances of annoyance, politeness, surprise etc. (but mostly annoyance )

Don’t let this deter you from trying to learn how to speak Dutch though. I can tell you that speaking an extremely minor language can be very useful if you don’t want people to know what you’re talking about, and Dutch is a very colorful and expressive language in that regard indeed.