Wetenschap - 19 december 1996

Double Dutch

Double Dutch

Asking the question Do you like it here in Wageningen? in Dutch would be translated as Bevalt het je hier in Wageningen? However, the verb bevallen is also the usual word for to give birth or to have a baby. The noun bevalling means childbirth but it is also used figuratively for any laborious or complicated business. For example, if you have taken a difficult examination recently you could say het was een zware bevalling, a heavy delivery.

Kevin Cook, a British translator of numerous languages including Dutch, has written a book entitled Dubbel Dutch, which pays particular attention to the ungrammatical and the more uneducated features of Dutch which tend to be glossed over by most grammar books and dictionaries.

Cook explains that he already had a good passive knowledge of Dutch when he moved to the Netherlands. However, he soon ran into all kinds of words and expressions which he could not find in books. Cook argues that there are apparently not many reasons for foreigners in the Netherlands to learn Dutch. In the first place, it is easy to get by with English as many Dutch are fluent in the language and like to practise it. Cook also feels that the Dutch do not seem sufficiently interested in their own language to encourage foreigners to study it in depth. Cook's experience was that a good Dutchman will look pityingly at you and at least doubt your intellectual powers if you are determined to learn the language without any apparent economic motive.

Dubbel Dutch is fun to read for the Dutch but probably hard work for anyone trying to master the language. If, after reading the book, you decide to give up learning Dutch altogether, but a Dutch friend tries to encourage you to go on, you could say to your friend: Je kunt me de boom in. Although this literally means You can go and climb a tree, it is actually also a Dutch expression for go to hell.

Dubbel Dutch, a practical guide for foreign students of Dutch, by Kevin Cook, Boekwerk, Groningen. Price: NGL 36,50. ISBN 90 54020946

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