Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dutch? English? Sometimes it's just spelling...

I've been in Holland now for almost six weeks. I still haven't started my Dutch langauge classes, which is disappointing but unfortunately out of my hands... I have, however, been trying to decode what I can of the local language, Nederlands.

Spoken Dutch is, for the most part, unintelligible to me. That being said, a man asked me this evening, "Spreekt je Nederlands?" to which I sheepishly replied, "nee." I suppose that answering negatively, in the tongue in question, is ironic, given that he wanted to know if I spoke Dutch. Well, not enough Dutch for whatever he was going to say next! And, the only reason I know "Spreekt je..." is because I usually say it, followed by "Engels," to find out if people speak English. By and large, they do. Very well, as I've said before.

Written Dutch, or at least parts of it, can be quite readable, given some simple pronunciation hints and familiarity with letter-combinations. Some words look a lot like English, slightly misspelled -- think like a text-messager, and they're clear. For example, melk = milk, nieuw = new, het = the, and seizoen = season.

Once I determined that the letter combination "ui" sounds like "ow," a whole list of words opened up for me... Exit signs here say "UIT," which doesn't follow French rules and rhyme with wheat, but is pronounced exactly like the English "OUT." Very clear! Similarly, huis=house, and throw a little German vocabulary in there and stadhuis is suddenly City Hall.

In Dutch, the letter v sounds like an English f. So, vriend is obviously friend, and vriendlijk, thanks to the letter combination "ij" which sounds like "eye," is friend-like, or, simply, "friendly." People end their emails here with "met vriendlijk groeten," which, knowing the German "mit" is with, means "with friendly greetings." Nice, eh?

The Dutch don't have a sound like the English "th," neither hard like "though," nor soft, like "through." They use a "d" instead, as for example in the name of the nation, Nederland, which we call The Netherlands. I addressed the peculiar article and plural in an earlier post, not that it makes a ton of sense. Anyway, the word "fiets" looks nothing like its English equivalent, "bicycle." Bear with me. I have a nice fiets that I ride to work every day, and doing so is very Dutch, very fun, and very environmentally friendly. I like it. Riding a bike here, you often see a sign that says "fietspad." Remembering d=th, it's a bike path! And, a nice shortcut through the park, to boot. Sweet.

My new favorite Dutch word is one that I found cast into the lids of manhole covers throughout the city. VUILWATER. Reviewing, vuil sounds like foul, and foul-water? Well, that's the sewer, right? Yeah, this took me six weeks to figure out. Give me a break. Just getting a bank account took 2 weeks...

Oh, and did I mention that Google knows I'm in Nederland? All the ads I see are now in Dutch, which makes them even easier to ignore. However, this one I found amusing, and very readable in a mispelled-English sense:

What do you think? Yes? No? Maybe?

1 comment:

Steve said...

Definitely maybe ;-)