Monday, February 19, 2007

Learning to lithp in Dut-th

Learning Dutch is no easy thing, particularly for English-speakers, as most of the Dutch are very fluent in English and will quickly switch to English if they hear a foreigner trying to speak Dutch. Consequently, many expats in the Netherlands make no attempt at learning Dutch. I could easily do the same but speaking Afrikaans means that I already understand a substantial amount of Dutch. So I've resolved to learn the language.

Today is my second lesson.

Now while Afrikaans is considered a language in its own right, rather than a dialect of Dutch, there is a greater divergence within the dialects of the Dutch-speaking zones of the Netherlands, Belgium and Suriname than there is between standard Dutch and standard Afrikaans. So it's going to be a real breeze for me, right? Well, maybe, but there are quite a lot of basic differences one has to get used to at the start.

English, Dutch and Afrikaans are all West Germanic languages but English developed from the Anglo-Frisian branch unlike Afrikaans and Dutch which developed from Lower Franconian. Despite that, some Dutch-speakers will say that the simpler Afrikaans grammar is a bit like English.

Like English, Afrikaans nouns only have one gender whereas Dutch has two, common and neuter. And since gender influences the pronouns referring to a verb and the article used with it, there is a more complicated way of expressing these than in English and Afrikaans.

grammar lessonNotice how the third person plural 'hulle' in Afrikaans differs from the Dutch 'zij'. Several Dutch dialects, however, use 'hullie' and 'zullie'. The word is so different to 'zij' which is also used for the third person singular that it's difficult for me to get used to.

And then there's the pronunciation. The Afrikaans word 'loop' is sort-of pronounced 'loo-ip' whereas the Dutch pronounce it 'lope'. 'Uit', the Afrikaans for 'out' or 'from' is pronounced 'eight'. The Dutch pronounce it as 'out'.

A particular feature of Afrikaans is its use of the double negative, something that is absent from the other West Germanic standard languages. Most people learning Afrikaans find the double negative an odd thing to understand as a double negative in, say, English, tends to indicate a positive. Being used to it, I keep having to stop myself from using it but I get confused about whether I should keep the first negative or the second one.
  • English: I do not want to do that.
  • Dutch: Ik wil dat niet doen.
  • Afrikaans: Ek wil nie dat doen nie.
When it comes to vocabulary, the two languages are still very close. Because of the linguistic influences of English, Indian, Malay, Malagasy, Khoi, San and Black African languages, Afrikaans has a more diverse vocabulary than Dutch but most sources suggest that it still shares about 85% of its vocabulary with Dutch. The 15% divergence is very marked in everyday life. Just by going to the supermarket, I pick up on it:

vocabularyBut, oddly enough, for all the diversity of the Afrikaans vocabulary, it seems that the Dutch use more English words than the Afrikaans do. For example, the Dutch and English use the same words for 'drugs', 'stewardess', 'lunch' and 'barbecue' whereas the Afrikaans words are 'dwelmmiddels', 'lugwaardin', 'middagete' and 'braai'. And then there are words such as 'poes', the Dutch word for 'cat', which has an entirely different meaning in Afrikaans.

So, this learning Dutch lark may not be as simple as I'd hoped. But, it's a small class, just three students and the teacher, so that should help. We're all gay so if I learn to lisp in Dutch, you'll know why.


Blogger Ariel said...

How interesting! I remember once learning a phrase in Afrikaans: "ek is nog" to mean "ik ben moe", or "I am tired" (I think!). I can read Dutch but every attempt to speak it has been met with stony faces. I'm told I mix it up with German and it comes out as very abrupt, apparently. I wish I had made better use of my time in Benelux to learn it properly. In a feeble attempt to remedy my lingustic lacunas, I did pick up several books when I was in Brussels last November, but they're still in their carrier bag! I don't know if it's appropriate for you, but I find music a great learning tool. A firm favourite is the album "dagen van gras, dagen van stra" by Spinvis. The first track always puts me in an excellent mood! And you even have the option of going to a live gig... I miss Amsterdam.

12:58 am  
Blogger andrea said...

A very thpecial post, N. I love stories of language comparison. Saw a hilarious one on the news tonight of the efforts in Beijing to improve 'Engrish' with the 2008 Olympics looming.

2:44 am  
Blogger Alan said...

Despite learning a new language you have a lot of time on your hands to complete such a detailed blog. Very interesting though. Just one question - why would 3 gay men want or need to know the gender of anything ?

4:02 am  
Blogger janaya said...

i have to say this puts my difficulty learning to say "ab-out" instead of "ab-oot", "sa-rry" instead of "so-rry" and "flag" instead of "fleg" (that one i still can't seem to do after 10 years of living in the states) to shame. still could never bring myself to say "foy-er" instead of "foy-eh" though... but that has nothing to with "can't do it" and everything to do with "what is with these americans and their brutal attempts at bringing french words into their vocabulary?" :)

good luck with the dutch, sounds like you have quite the impressive task on your hands.

6:34 am  
Anonymous kyknoord said...

I feel so cheated. With all these genderless English nouns, it's no wonder so many of us have hang-ups about sex.

7:10 am  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

Ariel : The phrase would have been ‘ek is moeg’ if it meant ‘I am tired’. ‘Ek is nog’ doesn’t really mean anything but if you were to say ‘Ek is nog moeg’, that means ‘I’m still tired’. I’ll look out for that music.

andrea: That news item sounds good. Have you ever visited

Alan: Silly question, of course they’d be interested! Just like straight men (or women) would. Only those who are asexual would not be interested in gender.

janaya: The task at hand is rather daunting!

kyknoord: Life’s a bitch!

11:06 am  
Blogger BlondebutBright said...

Wow, sounds more complicated than knowing nothing at all! I wish you luck in your quest. I've given up on fluency and will instead stick to my supermarket/bar Dutch, which goes over quite nicely.

5:29 pm  
Blogger J. David Zacko-Smith said...

I think it's GREAT that you are forging ahead and learning a new language - it will allow you to understand the culture much better, too. You can never fully understand something until you become a part of it's context, and new challenges keep us young.

5:59 pm  
Blogger Caroline said...

Wow - this post has left me breathless... languages have yet to be my thing... (that's a positive way of putting the truth... I'm practicing being more optimistic..)

6:15 pm  
Blogger Ariel said...

Ah, thanks for putting me right. It was a long, long time ago that I learnt this phrase. I have perused your blog for a contact address and I cannot find one therefore I shall use this comment box: may I blogroll you? Your writing echoes my life somehow - the term 'reluctant nomad' fits me like a glove, but I never thought of it. I have spent years using the phrase 'permanently displaced person' instead. Anyway, let me know if you would like to join my 'raconteurs'...
Caroline, it's never too late to learn another language! Focus on speaking it, forget about the perfect grammar and spelling, just practice and have fun with it. The rest will fall into place soon enough.

9:57 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

BlondebutBright: I suspect that I won’t become fluent and will be happy with bar Dutch as long as I can philosophise in it. But, yes, you’re right, my knowing Afrikaans could be a complicating factor. Hopefully (bad grammar!!), only just in the beginning.

J. David Zacko-Smith: ‘Challenges keep us young’ – now that can only be a good thing. I think.

Caroline: I like your optimistic ‘yet’.

Ariel: There is no contact address on my blog but I’m always happy to exchange email addresses. As for wanting to join your band of ‘raconteurs’, I’d be honoured to.

10:10 pm  
Blogger Ariel said...

Thank you Nomad - consider it done! My contact details are on the blog. Tot ziens!

10:41 pm  
Blogger apprentice said...

I think Scots would do better learning Dutch, I think some of the roots are similar, eg kirk for church.

But it is still pretty much beyond me, love hearing it spoken though.

12:04 am  
Anonymous frog with a blog said...

Dutch & Afrikaans must be two of the sexiest languages on earth, with a little preferrence for Dutch. Seriously it makes me shiver. Speak Dutch to me and I'm turning into your love slave.
and I swear that I am nie joking nie!

My ma is poes.

12:20 am  
Blogger Babsbitchin said...

How very interesting. I did not think of all that. I spoke German as a child but after my nanny went back to Heidelberg I had no one to speak with. She was w/us from the time I was 2 till I was 6, an impressionable age. I dream in German and can often understand, if I am not trying to understand. Does that make any sense. It might even roll off my tongue, if I did not sabotage myself by thinking.
Love the new decor, really!

1:37 am  
Blogger H Y A K U N I N C H O said...

Many thanks for giving me all the answers to the questions that I had. Really interesting for a linguistic nerd like myself.

Speaking of Dutch - is there such a word as "klijdvaark" as an epithet meaning "poof, queer, pansy, fairy, faggot, weirdo"? A kid with Dutch parentage threw that one at me when I was in primary school. My rudimentary guessing in German puts it down perhaps to "earth pig" as a literal translation. Does this word ring any Dutch or Afrikaans bells?

Thanks for the fascinating post!

Tot ziens!

6:04 am  
Blogger Terri said...

Izzit, hey?!
I remember as a kid saying, "What's the point of learning Afrikaans when it's only used in South Africa?"
Then I went to Amsterdam. And Brussells. And Germany. In fact, it even helped me decipher a Swedish web page once. Languages are great.
I'll teach you Spanish next week ;)

1:50 pm  
Blogger cvodb said...

Kleivarken? Klei = clay. Varken = pig. I've never heard anyone say the word.

6:01 pm  
Blogger angel said...

thats fascinating! i love those tables!
i'm actually quite impressed you're learning the language even though they'll switch to english quite happily!

7:02 am  
Anonymous chitty said...

I am "tweetalig" as is most South Africans. What I like about Afikaans is that there are many words/phrases that you can only say in Afikaans. The minute you translate them into English, they loose all meaning/impact/humour.

10:06 am  
Blogger Minge said...

Christ. After reading your blog I spent far too long on Wikipedia. I can only wish you good luck.

5:20 pm  
Blogger Minge said...

I meant to say, I love poes. I can say cunt in fifteen languages.

4:45 pm  
Blogger LiVEwiRe said...

Geez! What kind of a crazy word is 'sinaasappel'?!?! I knew fruit was bad for bad for me but there's the proof! I'd love to learn another language but I don't know if I have the brain power to remember that a table is masculine, feminine or whatever. I mean, it's a table. I'm waiting for the lispy gay Dutch translation; that would be impressive! ;) (Really, I think you'll pick up quickly.)

4:42 am  
Blogger Verdant said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:04 pm  
Blogger Verdant said...

Ek is 'n Amerikaner en ek leer Afrikaans. Ek wil ook Nederlands leer. Albei van hulle is baie interessante tale. It's too bad that you stopped blogging. Ek geniet jou blog baie!

6:05 pm  
Anonymous price per head said...

Very interesting post. I think this advice can be very helpful for many people.

12:55 am  
Anonymous gil said...

Great post.Just a quick note it is important that Dutch translation being accurate and efficient can indeed not be overstated. Especially in the ever faster moving world of globalized business, successful information and technology transfer within multinational businesses can make the difference between win or lose.

8:55 am  

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