The Dutch Language

Dutch is a wonderfully expressive and elegant language. It incorporates various sounds which are not commonly found among other languages, such as the ij sound, which sounds a little bit like a startled Australian: “‘ey!”, or the g which is a rather harsh sound that is made near the back of one’s mouth. I believe it comes from the fact that much of the Netherlands is humid as it lies below sea-level, requiring that people clear their throat regularly, often mid-word, leading to it’s absorption into the language.

Some of these special sounds are very difficult to reproduce for non-native speakers. So difficult, in fact, that the Dutch used the pronunciation of the Dutch city Scheveningen to root out German spies during World War Two. It was this kind of outside-of-the-box thinking that allowed the Dutch to resist German occupation for over three hours.

Perhaps if the “Fighting Lions” had concentrated on shooting their guns rather than scurrying around the battlefield asking everyone to say “Scheveningen” the battle would have been more productive. But, be that as it may, we survived the occupation and have been able to continue spreading our linguistic influence deeply into the cracks of the English language, providing various amusing if not flattering expressions.

But, Dutch influence on the English language did not start after World War II; numerous expressions referring to the Dutch originate in Anglo-Dutch animosity during the 17th and early 18th centuries, when there were trade disputes, naval embargoes and three wars. As a result, “Dutch” became a pejorative word. Generally, it indicated insincerity. Later expressions are less derogatory and more humorous, implying the quirkiness that many nations attribute to their neighbors.

Dutch Courage: Courage induced by drinking alcohol.
Dutch Bargain: A bargain settled over drinks.
Dutch Concert: A great noise and uproar, like that made by a party of drunken Dutchmen.
Dutch Defense: A sham defense.
Dutch Uncle: One who gives unpalatable, heavy-handed advice.
Double Dutch: Gibberish or nonsense.
Dutch Treat (Going Dutch): Paying one’s share of expenses (i.e. no treat at all).
Dutched : Cancelled.
I’m a Dutchman: A general expression of disbelief.

(The full list)

With the North American Dutch colony of New Netherland and their ideally-placed settlement at New Amsterdam came a heavy influence on the American version of the English language. Many of the communities in what is now called New York City are derived from the names of Dutchmen who originally settled there. For example, Brooklyn resides on the land once owned by a Dutchman named Breuckelen and Yonkers resides on the property of Adriaen van der Donk, who was nicknamed “De Yonker”, or “Young Squire”.

But the influence runs deeper. In New Amsterdam, the supervisors were referred to as “Baas”. This word has become heavily incorporated into the English language as the word “Boss”. Additionally, there is the origin of the Southern term “Yankee”. The name Jan Kees is a common Dutch name, not unlike the American name “Joe” or “John”, in that the name is used to describe a generic, unknown person. At one time, there were so many Dutchman living in New York City that there was a “Jan Kees”, or Yankees, on every corner.

One Reply to “The Dutch Language”

  1. Your pictures of the India experience are beautiful! Glad you are back . Luv you, Cher

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