A student comes to Holland, he goes to the supermarket, does his shopping, goes to the cashier, and hears this awful lizard-snake, ‘sh’ sound, ridiculously long and almost impossible to pronounce word. The cashier keeps repeating it and the customers sometimes say it back to her. ‘Alstublieft’ says the cashier to the student who is confused, almost dizzy, making hopeless facesand timidly says ‘excuse me?’ The cashier smiles and immediately switches to English. The happy student pays, takes his shopping and leaves the store.
Walking through the streets of a beautiful Dutch city he tries to listen carefully to what people are saying around him, but all he can hear is the ‘g’ sound that Dutch people make when they speak. The student describes the sound like talking with aperson talking with a frog in his throat. He pays a lot of attention to the girls who are speaking in a very unsexy manner with a low voice making ‘frogy’ sounds and realizes that this is not at all attractive to the male tourists. He asks himself why in the world would people want to learn ‘this’ and what kind of language is it?!
You usually know how a given language sounds like. You find itout without having to necessarily visit that country. But not Dutch! Most people do not know what Dutch is supposed to sound like. A lot of them think it is German. So we can say that the Dutch language is a big mystery for most of world’s population.
A little bit of history
The Flanders (a region of intense French-British rivalry) and Brabant, which are the north provinces of Belgium, werethe most active in both cultural and economic aspects in comparison with other provinces in the region in the Middle Ages. In those provinces the first translated French works and important documents in Dutch were found. They played the biggest role in shaping the Dutch language in to what it is today. Therefore, the southern regions of the Netherlands are the destinations to go to when carrying outa “language investigation”. Dialects of those regions are more, you could say ‘archaic’. In addition to the knightly culture, an intensive bourgeois culture, which had a very big impact on creation of dialects, was also developing rapidly. This is where the very old translations of the word “Dutch” came from. It is thought to mean “of the people” - language of the common people. This was incontrast to French and Latin which were the languages of the upper class, which were the educated people.
The official Language
In The European Union there are 20 official languages one of which is Dutch. It is a state language in two countries and that is not common in Europe.
96 % of the citizens in the Netherlands and 56 % of the Belgians would say that Dutch is their “mother tongue”. Theother languages officially spoken in more than one country are English and French. Those two are really popular; there are even stereotypical beliefs that French people expect others to understand French and they don’t care if you don’t. That is totally opposite to what is happening in the Netherlands. Most of the people here speak English, even elderly people, and they are ready to speak Englishanytime. English is commonly known as a second language for 87% of the Dutch population. Maybe that’s why Dutch people tend to talk to you in English even though you try to practice your Dutch. When asked about this, one of the British students who is learning Dutch said:
‘Yes! And this is very annoying if you are trying to learn the language. I suppose it is because their standard of English isa lot better than my Dutch so they are being polite and making the conversation easier for everybody. Having said that, I do speak a lot of Dutch with a few Dutch friends and we usually end up switching between the two languages so that we both get practice.’
However if you speak to them in English for example in the shop they sometimes answer in Dutch. What a paradox?! Asked about that,...