Strange Facts about the Dutch Language
Dutch is a difficult and challenging language that features some very strange aspects, such as unexpected borrowings and very difficult spelling.
Dutch & Other Languages
You may be surprised to learn how many Dutch words are borrowed from other languages. French used to be considered the height of elegance in the Dutch-speaking world, leading to a lot of borrowings from French, such as paraplu (umbrella), bureau (desk or office), and horloge (wrist watch), among many others.
Almost equal in the number of borrowings is Hebrew, which is often surprising until you consider the large Jewish populations in Holland beginning in the Middle Ages. Jews developed their own versions of the local languages (e.g., Yiddish) but also contributed to Dutch by process of linguistic osmosis. Today most of the Hebrew words are part of the ‘street’ or slang language in Amsterdam, such as bajes (jail), jatten (to steal), and kapsones (arrogance).
Dutch is a curious language in three main aspects that make them look very odd to English-speakers (or, frankly, the speakers of most other languages!).
For one, Dutch is very hard to pronounce. It contains a lot of very hard consonant sounds that can be very rough on the throat. When you first start learning Dutch, in fact, it’s not unusual for your throat to start to hurt as you try chewing through words like Scheveningen. If you think German is a tough language to pronounce well, get ready, because the Dutch hit those hard consonants even harder. The difference is great enough that in World War II would identify German spies by the way they pronounced Dutch words.
Dutch also contains some extremely long words. More than thirty letters isn’t uncommon, like their word for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: chronischevermoeidheidssyndroom. Yes, where English uses three words, the Dutch simply have one enormous word. Not only are these words long, but many Dutch words also have a lot of consonants, which can make for difficult reading and speaking. Take slechtstschrijvend (worst writing) for example. After trying to learn and pronounce words with nine or more consonants in a row, you’ll need a drink.
Still, it’s exactly this sort of weirdness that makes language, for me, the most interesting subject in the world. It’s simply never a dull moment!
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