[lg policy] “I love thee dearly, my Dutch language!”
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Wed Jul 29 13:52:52 UTC 2009
“I love thee dearly, my Dutch language!”
July 27, 2009
*Ik heb u lief, mijn nederlands! - I love thee dearly, my Dutch language!*
By Hennie Reuvers, original article<http://www.petericepudding.com/dutch.htm>
Long ago, my family and I spent our Easter holidays on the Spanish island of
Majorca. One of my little sons suddenly asked an interesting question: “Why
are we speaking Dutch in Spain?” He thought we should have changed languages
immediately after our arrival in Majorca, and he couldn’t accept that
everyone there knew Spanish except us.
His question made me ponder: where else in the world besides the Netherlands
and Flanders do people speak Dutch as their main language?
Fragments of an old folk song leapt into my mind …
O Nederland, geef me rijst met kouseband - O Netherlands, give me rice with
[image: Children in the Caribbean]
*Let’s begin with the former Dutch colonies “in the West”*. On the small
isles of Sint Maarten, Saba and Sint Eustatius in the Caribbean sea, Dutch
is the official language, although everybody speaks English most of the day.
On the larger islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao, the colloquial language
is Papiamento, but most people speak Dutch as well. Until recently, Dutch
was the only official language there. In Suriname, too, most people use two
languages: besides Dutch, they speak Sranan Tongo (an African dialect) or
Hindi-Urdu or Malay or some other language, depending on their ethnic
descent. Over the centuries, Suriname has become a medley of languages: “Mi
lobi joe, Paramaribo” means “I love you, Paramaribo”.
In the former Dutch East-Indies*, nowadays Indonesia, many elderly people
still speak Dutch, but the everyday language is Malay. The Malay language
has absorbed a lot of Dutch words in a somewhat corrupted form: belasting
(taxes), gratis, kantor (office), kwitansi (receipt), loket (ticket booth),
oma (granny), tanpasta (tooth paste), etc. Singer Wieteke van Dort, among
others, who grew up in Surabaya, but moved to the Netherlands in 1956 at the
age of 13, keeps alive our memories of ”tempo doeloe”, the “good old days in
*In much older former Dutch colonies such as Ceylon (Sri Lanka) or
Pernambuco (in Brazil)*, Dutch loanwords have been even more corrupted. But
“burgher” is still a well-known word in Sri Lanka. And everybody has heard
of New York City’s district of Brooklyn, whose original name used to be
Breukelen at the time of Dutch rule.
However, there is one Dutch former colony where a form of Dutch has been the
mother tongue for many people for the past four centuries: *South Africa*.
O bring my trug na die ou Transvaal, daar waar my Sarie woon - O bring me
back to good old Transvaal, there where my Sarie lives
Now that the Netherlands has qualified for the World Football Championship
in South Africa next summer, I see on teletext that the football matches
will be played in cities bearing old Dutch names: Johannesburg, Rustenburg,
Bloemfontein. These cities lie in the provinces of Transvaal and Oranje
Vrijstaat (Orange Free State) and were founded in the 19th century by the
Boers of Dutch descent who had trekked from the original coastal colony on
Until the early 20th century, the Boers stood firm, under the leadership of
president Paul Kruger, against the English “roiineks (rednecks)”.
If the Netherlands doesn’t stand firm in the football championships, we can
also cheer for the South African team, whose leading midfielder Steven
Pienaar bears a Boer surname.
Dutch children are taught at school that the first language of millions of
South Africans is Afrikaans, a daughter language of Dutch. As a child, I
learnt songs in Afrikaans, such as, “My Sarie Marais”, “Bobbejaan” and
“Ossewa”, a song about the ox-wagons used by the Boers to trek to Transvaal.
In old children reading books, the little gnomes (“kabouters”) Puk and Muk
are seen hopping around in the fields of “Uncle Paul and Aunt Sarie”, and
climbing over South African mountains called “Drakensberge” (Dragon
We also learnt how our language came to South Africa: in 1652 the Dutch man
Jan van Riebeeck founded Cape Colony, the Dutch colony near the Cape of Good
Hope which was to become Cape Town.
There are even more speakers of Afrikaans in the Cape Province and in
Namibia than in Transvaal and Oranje Vrijstaat. Nowadays, less than half of
the speakers of Afrikaans are white. This means that a great many black
communities are now speaking a language derived from Dutch.
*In some villages in Germany*, people speak a language that sounds almost
Dutch. Just listen <http://ingeb.org/Lieder/nachostw.mid> (midi file):
Nach Ostland wollen wir reiten - It’s to Eastland we wish to ride
[image: Low German]
My mother-in-law, Else, was born in Germany, near Oldenburg. Her own mother
died when she was eleven. In those years around 1920, many girls from the
north of Germany emigrated to work in “rich Holland”. Else was luckier: she
was adopted by a good family in the neighbouring Dutch province of
Groningen. She could go to school in the local village on the day of her
arrival. Language was hardly an obstacle, because the same dialect was
spoken on both sides of the border between the Netherlands and Germany.
However, Else must have said at least one strange word, because her
classmates remarked: “Dat wicht zegt tegen neus van Nase - That child says
Nase instead of nose”. But my mother-in-law could sing a song her classmates
knew as well: “Naar Oostland willen wij rijden - It’s to Eastland we wish to
ride”. In the middle ages, these Eastland riders brought the languages of
Low Germany and Holland all the way to Russia!
As a matter of fact, the dialects spoken in northern Germany strongly
resemble Dutch. This holds true for the dialects of Low German, to the north
of the Benrath Line <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benrath_line>, separating
the maken-machen isogloss.
The map above, which marks all dialect groups of Dutch and Low German, also
shows that the people of Kerkrade in South Limburg speak, of old, a dialect
of High German!
Maastricht lies on the “Low” side of the Benrath Line, but at the “High”
side of the Uerding Line, which separates “ik” (I) from “ich”.
According to the map, the Frisian tongue spoken in Leeuwarden and
surroundings is a separate Germanic language.
People living in the east of the Netherlands can communicate in their own
dialects with their German neighbours across the border, without any
problems. However, dialects in northern Germany have gradually been replaced
by standardised German <http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-high-german.htm>,
which is used at school and in the media. Likewise, many Dutch dialects are
slowly making room for Standard Dutch. So country borders are ever more
becoming language boundaries as well.
As to language boundaries… There is a language border in Belgium, our
southern neighbour, that is weighing upon the country like the legendary
millstone around the neck of the steed Bayard.
‘t Ros Beyaert doet de ronde in de stad van Dendermonde - The steed Bayard
goes around in the town of Dendermonde
[image: The steed Bayard]
*In Belgium*, the language boundary between Flemish Dutch and Walloon French
runs from east to west across the middle of the country. From the time of
the birth of Belgium as a state in 1830 until the 1960s, the language
barrier was also linked to social ranking: French was the language of high
Nowadays Dutch and French speakers are still engaged in a bitter fight for
every inch of the physical language boundary and for every comma in the
corresponding documents. This especially applies to the area around
Brussels, which has become almost French speaking. Will the country, like
Bayard, rise above the water up to three times and finally perish?
Formerly, the language boundary used to stretch all the way to the French
coast, so that Dunkirk and its neighbouring towns spoke Flemish. But some
sign boards on the beach would read: “Interdit de parler Flamand” –
Forbidden to speak Flemish.
Nowadays, speaking the local Flemish dialect in French Flanders is no more
than a hobby for amateurs.
But is Flemish similar to common Dutch? Yes and no. Flemish writers often
win Dutch literature prizes, and Flemish contestants often win the national
Dutch spelling competition. But Flemish television channels subtitle the
Amsterdam police series Baantjer … in Dutch!
As for me, I can immediately hear whether a television presenter speaks
Flemish or Dutch, because of the differences in accent, sentence structure
and choice of words. Dutch people don’t immediately understand what Flemish
politician Kris Peeters means when he says “I won’t let people play with my
feet”. A Dutchman would say “I won’t let people take me for a fool”.
Originally however, the Flemish and Dutch languages both stem from the same
Frankish branch of the Dutch and Low German language families. We learnt at
school that three Germanic tribes occupied “our country” after the Roman
era: the Franks, the Frisians and the Saxons. (See map below.) In the fifth
and sixth centuries, many Frisians, Saxons, Angles and Jutes crossed the sea
from the coast in the north of “the lowlands of Germania” to the island that
was to become the new ‘land of the Angles’ - England.
It is a long way to Tipperary, it is a long way to go
It’s quite a long way to Tipperary in Ireland, so the Anglo-Saxons only got
to England. But their language is now spoken all over the world.To which
degree is English still akin to Frisian and Low German?
Frisian and English form a separate branch of the family of West-Germanic
languages*. The Legend goes that the Frisian pirate Greate Pier, around the
year 1500, checked whether a captive was a real Frisian by asking him to
repeat after him: “buter, brea en griene tsies”. This sounds exactly the
same as “butter, bread and green cheese”, and it also means the same, so a
modern Englishman would come out of this test alive.
The English language underwent many influences in the course of history,
successively of Celtic British, Latin, Norse and Danish, French, and many
other languages. And Dutch underwent many influences, too. But the kernels
of English and Dutch are still closely akin: If a tourist from Holland says
in England “‘t Is een lange weg tot Tipperary”, English people will probably
understand him. However, if he recklessly says at breakfast that he wants
“boter, brood en groene kaas”, the landlord might jokingly gesture, like
Greate Pier, that the head of this tourist should be cut off!
How many people in the world speak Dutch today? Apart from the 16 million
Dutch speakers in the Netherlands, there are six million Flemish speakers
and six million speakers of Afrikaans. If we take into account the total
amount of Dutch speakers in the former colonies in the West and East, there
are altogether about 29 million of people who speak Dutch around the world.
But who cares? If we keep trying a bit harder, we will all eventually
understand each other … in English!
Pak al je zorgen in je plunjezak en fluit, fluit, fluit ! - Pack all your
worries into your kit bag and whistle a song !
[image: Puk and Muk]
By Hennie Reuvers
Dr Reuvers <info at petericepudding.com> (1951) is a retired teacher of
mathematics from Maastricht. He likes to solve math problems, but is also
interested in history. He is married and the father of four children. Visit
his website at http://www.petericepudding.com*
1. WINKLER PRINS Encyclopedie and Wikipedia under (Dutch equivalents of)
Papiamento, Sranan Tongo, Dutch in Indonesia, Afrikaans, Paul Kruger, Jan
van Riebeeck, Nederduits (Low German), Benrather Linie, Frisian, Belgium,
Dunkirk, Anglo-Saxons, Pier Gerlofs Donia, etc.
2. Groot VAN DALE Leenwoordenboek, Nicoline van der Sijs, van Dale
Utrecht/Antwerpen 2005 (This is a Dutch dictionary of loanwords, with an
article on the exact differences between Low German and High German.)
3. Puk en Muk door Afrika 1, Frans Fransen, RK het Jongensweeshuis Tilburg
1952 (This is a Dutch reading book for children.)
4. Some of the songs I took fragments from, to place them above the
* My Sarie Marais: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7c83DqE9WY (Jim Reeves
sings the song, and the Dutch lyrics appear in the same video.)
* Naar Oostland: http://ingeb.org/songs/naarostl.html (On this page you find
a midi-file of this song, and the Dutch lyrics of it. It’s to Eastland we
wish to ride, for in Eastland there is a better place for us to live. )
* Tipperary: http://www.firstworldwar.com/audio/itsalongwaytotipperary.htm(there
are links on this page to three singers who sing the song, and the
lyrics in English. It’s a long way to Tipperary, to the sweetest girl I
5. Some more of the songs I took fragments can be found at at
(This is a box containing the Dutch lyrics of many songs, and the staff
notation of the music of these songs. If you don’t mind downloading
QuickTime, you can even hear the music by clicking on the staff notation.)
* Under B: Bobbejaan klim die berg (Bobbejaan climbs the mountain to fight
* Under P: Pak al je zorgen in je plunjezak (Pack all your worries into your
kit bag and whistle a song. Why should you worry if it doesn’t help you
* Under R: ‘t Ros Beiaard (The steed Bayard carries the four sons of Aymon
on its back in the Frankish epic about these ‘vier Heemskinderen’ who fought
* Under R: Ry maar an, ossewa (Ride steadily on, ox wagon, my darling is
waiting by the path to Ouweland.)
* Under S: Sarie Marais (My Sarie Marais is so far from my heart, but I hope
to see her again. She lived in the village next the river Mooirivier, before
the war began.)
* Under W: Waar de blanke top der duinen - Ik heb u lief mijn Nederland
(Where the white tops of the dunes are shining in the glow of the sun - I
love thee dearly, my Netherlands.)
6. Suriname national anthem:
http://www.surimaribonet.com/volkslied.html(The anthem is sung, and
the Dutch and Sranan Tongo lyrics appear in the
7. Wieteke van Dort as aunty Lien from “good old Dutch East
Lien sings a wistful song whose Dutch lyrics appear in the same
video. It’s about the Hague as the ‘widow of Indië’)
8. “O Nederland, geef mij rijst met kouseband; wat moet ik anders eten in
dit koude kikkerland? - O Netherlands, give me rice with butter beans; what
else should I eat in this cold frogland?” I’m sorry I couldn’t find this
merry little song of Max Woiski jr on the internet.
But I did find
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