Dutch – Our Linguistic Cousin, by Neil Mathews
We regularly feature a language and this month sees our focus on Dutch. Neil Mathews, one of our Project Managers, spent almost 3 years in the Netherlands and introduces us to the language and its similarity to English.
Mijn naam is Neil. Ik kom uit Ipswich en ik werk bij Talking Heads.
Does that seem like double Dutch to you? Perhaps not! Here’s the translation:
My name is Neil. I come from Ipswich and I work at Talking Heads.
They’re not so different when you see them side by side This is because Dutch is in fact one of the most closely related languages to English. Both languages belong to the Germanic language family, which includes its namesake German and the Scandinavian languages.
So what separates Dutch from English? Since the Norman invasions, English has been heavily influenced by the French language, leading to our rich vocabulary and notoriously irregular spellings. On top of this, the various languages of the Germanic family have undergone different sound changes in their respective geographical locations – but if you see some words side by side, it becomes clear we share a common heritage:
Dutch has had its influences on English, too – particular during the Netherlands’ Golden Age (Gouden Eeuw) in the 17th century when the Dutch were one of the most powerful trading nations in the world. It’s no surprise that much maritime-related vocabulary has a Dutch origin, e.g. “yacht“ from the Dutch “jachtschip”, literally meaning “hunting ship”, and “skipper” from “schipper”, literally meaning “shipper”. Dutch colonial activity in Africa also gave English a number of words, such as “wildebeest”, which translates as “wild beast”. The artistic prowess of the Dutch in the 17th century even gave us words such as “easel” from “schildersezel”, literally “painter’s donkey”!
There are approximately 22 million Dutch native speakers around the world and while it’s not one of the biggest languages in the world if you compare it to Mandarin, English and Spanish, there’s still an amazing amount of linguistic variety within the Dutch language.
For example, we’ve all heard of Flemish, which is spoken in Belgium. But did you know Flemish is in fact various dialects of Dutch spoken in Belgium? They can sound so different to Standard Dutch that north of the border in the Netherlands, Belgians are often subtitled when they appear on television.
Even within the Netherlands itself, there is quiet a difference between the Dutch spoken in the north and that spoken “onder de rivieren” (“below the rivers” – the parts of the Netherlands south of the Rhine and Meuse rivers which divide the country in two). The characteristic, guttural “hard ‘g’” heard in the north (like “loch” in English) becomes a “soft ‘g’” in the south and the northern ‘w’, not dissimilar in its pronunciation in German (‘v’ in English) becomes much similar to the English ‘w’ in the south.
Indeed, in Limburg, the southernmost province, the inhabitants are extremely proud of their Limburgs dialects, with each town/village having their own unique vocabulary and other characteristics. As a non-native speaker of Dutch, it took some time to get used to these differences when I lived in Maastricht, or Mestreech as it is called in local dialect. Luckily, my knowledge of German gave me an advantage in understanding it all as many of the characteristics of Mestreechs have something in common with the dialects spoken just over the border in Germany.
So there we have it – Dutch is not so different to English and is just as varied as our language. Next time you’re in Amsterdam strolling along the grachten (canals), why not say goedemorgen (good morning) to your Dutch fellow perambulators? They’ll be delighted you made the effort! Oh, and remember my first Dutch teacher’s adage when you’re trying to pronounce that guttural “hard ‘g’” – if it hurts, you’re doing it wrong!