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Double Dutch

01:00 Mon 09th Jul 2001 |

Q. Spreekt u nederlands
Unless you've lived in Holland or Flemish-speaking Belgium or have a parent from either of those countries, the chances are you don't. As any of you who have visited either country will have discovered, it's not hard to get by with English. However, you will probably have noticed that every now and again you hear what sounds like an English word spoken in an unfamiliar accent. Boter (butter), water (water), een kop thee (a cup of tea) or hier is (here is), for example.

Q. Why's that
Dutch, or more correctly Netherlandic, is closely related to English. Both languages are part of the West Germanic group of languages, which is comprised of Netherlandic and German in one branch and English and Frisian in the other. Other living languages in the group are the North Germanic languages: Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Faroese and Icelandic. Frisian - which is spoken in the province of Friesland in the Netherlands and the Saterland and Schleswig along with a few off-shore islands in Germany - is the closest to English, followed by Dutch then German.

Q. Where is Netherlandic spoken
A. In the Netherlands, northern Belgium, a small coastal strip of France just near the Belgian border, South Africa (as Afrikaans) and as the language of administration in the former Dutch colonies of the Antilles in the Caribbean and Suriname in South America.

Because Dutch is not an international language in the way the English, Spanish and French are - the total number of people who speak it as a first language totals not much over 20 million - not many foreigners learn it. This is combined with the fact that most educated Dutch speakers will have mastered English - and quite possibly French and German, too - to a degree that puts many Brits to shame.

Q. What's the difference between Dutch and Flemish
Nothing, it's a distinction made by English speakers. Flemish, or Vlaams, the official language of northern Belgium, is the same language as Dutch, or Nederlands, the language of most of the Netherlands. There are many regional dialects in both countries, but everyone understands the standard form.

Q. And Afrikaans
Also called Cape Dutch, Afrikaans is descended from Dutch, and is spoken in South Africa and Namibia. While many English and African words have entered the language, it is possible for an Afrikaaner and a Dutch speaker to converse with relative ease, although they have diverged so much over the last four centuries that they are clearly separate tongues.

Q. Why Double Dutch not Double German
Why indeed Perhaps because the phrase Double Dutch alliterates, or maybe because to English ears there are a number of harsh sounds in Dutch that make it - erroneously - sound very foreign.

For more on Phrases & Sayings click here

By Simon Smith

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