Tue
10 Feb

Bilingual Child

I am thirty five years old. I have been learning Dutch for the last fourteen years. During that time I have gone on courses, attended classes, filled out homework and taken exams.

My daughter is two. She has been learning Dutch for two years (the first year mainly involved listening). She has not gone on any courses or attended any classes. She has never had to do any homework or take any exams either (unless that is what the scribbles on the wall in crayon where last week).

She might be half Dutch but there is no denying that my Dutch is better. This is because I have a twelve year head start and a really good motivator; I can’t let her get better at speaking Dutch than me… And that might prove to be difficult because she is already gaining.

Language Race

Alarmingly she has already over taken me in some areas of the Dutch language. For example; unlike her I am unable to name all the Care Bears in Dutch, I do not know all the words to the Nijntje theme song and until yesterday I did not know the Dutch word for rainbow (until she told me).

This is a little unfair because I don’t get to practise the same kind of words that she does. I simply don’t get a chance to use them in my everyday life and would get strange looks if I tried. I can’t stand up in the middle of a meeting and say that, “the points made are all well and good but we must consider that the tijger doet rrraaaaaaa and the poes doet miauw.” I would probably be escorted out of the building and advised to seek help.

To add insult to injury my daughter and I will often have ‘disagreements’ over English vs. Dutch. Just last week we were having a debate about whether her favourite ball was green or groen. She was of the strong belief that it was groen. I was trying to introduce the idea that it was green. She was having none of it. When I tried to meet her half way and concede that the ball was both green and groen at the same time she only became more defensive in her beliefs.

“Neeeeee Papa! Groen!”

Sometimes when I do say something in Dutch she might try to repeat it but get the pronunciation slightly wrong. When that happens I repeat the word for her again so that she can retry. Because of this we usually end up in a loop, each saying the word one after the other, again and again. To be honest, after a while I get slightly lost and start to wonder who is leading who. It’s possible that she is actually trying to teach me the correct pronunciation of whatever word we have ended up saying over and over again to each other. When this happens I try to use the ‘I am an adult’ approach to proving that I am right and break the loop but then my wife usually enters the room and tells us that we are both wrong.

It is possible that I am going to lose this race.

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Fri
26 Sep

If you look up the word ‘dus’ in a Dutch-to-English language book it will tell you that it translates into the word ‘so’. However, this is a terrible over simplification. The word ‘dus’ is used by the Dutch to communicate a wide range of thoughts, feels, emotions, insights, desires and meanings that are not covered by this simple translation. Today we will look at a few of its many meanings:

Angry Dus 1

The Short Dus (Direct)

The short ‘dus’ communicates anger. It is often used to punctuate the end of an argument and declare ones self the winner. It is supposed to be the final word that crushes the opponent and signal that it is either time to storm out of the room or slam down the phone.

Meaning: This argument is over! I win!
Example: I’m right. You’re wrong. Plus you’re an a**hole. Dus!

Angry Dus 2

The Short Dus (Indirect)

This version of the short ‘dus’ is similar to the previous but it is used when re-telling the argument to a friend who did not witness the original fight. It still communicates anger but it is not directed at the listener (even though it might sometimes feel like it).

Meaning: I won that argument!
Possible Additional Meaning: And you better agree with me!
Example: “I was right. He was wrong and he’s an a**hole. Dus!”

Giggle Dus

The Giggle Dus:

This ‘dus’ is friendly and often accompanied by a small chuckle. It is used when delivering the punch line of a joke or a funny story that the user finds amusing. Sometimes it is even replaces the punch line to leave the outcome up to the listeners imagination. It can also be used as a reaction to hearing something amusing.

Meaning: This is (or that was) really funny.
Example: “He left his computer logged into facebook… Dus. Hehe.”

Confused Dus

The Drawn Out Dussssss (Confused)

If the Dutch are confused about something they will often use the drawn out ‘dus’ to communicate this. It signals that farther information is required and is often used in a moment of silence when something has not been fully explained yet. The longer the dus, the greater the confusion.

Meaning: And? What happens (or happened) next?
Example: Dussssssss?

Sarcastic Dus

The Drawn Out Dussssss (Sarcastic)

The sarcastic version of the drawn out ‘dus’ is used when the idiot you are trying to explain something to is too stupid to understand. If you are tired of repeating yourself simply replace the instructions or explanation you would normally give with the drawn out ‘dus’ instead.

Meaning: Could you be more stupid?
Example: It’s so easy a child could do it. Dusssssssss *roll eyes*

Contemplative Dus

The Contemplative Dus:

When the outcome or result of an action is unknown the contemplative ‘dus’ is often used. It is a slightly submissive ‘dus’ that suggests no farther action will be taken by the person using it, either because there are no options left to them or they simply cannot be bothered. It is sometimes accompanied by a shrug.

Meaning: We’ll have to wait and see what happens next.
Example: “I’ve done everything I can… Dus.” *shoulder shrug*

Reactionary Dus

The Reactionary Dus:

When something surprising or unexpected happens the reactive ‘dus’ is often used. It can convey genuine surprise or be used in a sarcastic manner when someone is not following the Dutch ‘doe normaal’ rule.

Meaning: That was (or is) weird.
Example: “Dus.”

Do you know any other uses of the word dus that should be included?
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Wed
17 Sep

Accent Detection

I have come to the conclusion that the Dutch have a very special ability. It might even be possible to call it a super power. I am not sure if it is a skill that they are born with or one that they develop naturally over time but it is something that I have encountered a lot.

Every time I try to talk Dutch with an unfamiliar Dutch person they are able to detect, analyse and identify my accent before I’ve even fully formed the first syllable of the first word of my sentence. It is entirely possible that the Dutch can hear my accent as I breathe.

“Ohhh. You,re English,” they will often interject as I stand there with my mouth open having only muttered the sound ‘umm’ or ‘err’ or simply having coughed. They even managed to say it with a hint of surprise that suggests they should have identified my accent sooner (before I entered the room for example).

It is either a form of super human hearing that allows the Dutch to do this or they have just had a lot of practise hearing people mangle their difficult language beyond recognition. The second option seems more likely because it is probably something that happens so often that they have been able to fine tune their accent detection instincts. Maybe they have even learnt to identify certain mistakes with certain countries (thus aiding the identification process).

“Oh. You pronounces the ‘ei’ sound as ‘aaa’. That’s a classic English mistake.”

Wherever I go in Holland it is almost impossible to say anything in Dutch without being immediately identified. This must make life very stressful for any spies who are trying to lay low in the Lowlands. They must be in constant fear of detection just from having to have a casual conversation with a passer by.

Even at an early age Dutch children seem to have this special power. Have you ever attempted to speak Dutch to a small Dutch child? It rarely goes as you expect. In my experience they might not be able to identify your accent yet and they might not even be able to fully understand that there is such a thing as a non-Dutch person but they will know something is wrong. They know it just by hearing your attempts to speak the language that, they themselves, have not even fully mastered yet. Then they will just stare at you in an awkward silence (awkward for you, not for them) as if waiting for you to stop being strange and start making sense.

No one can hold up to that kind of pressure for long and if you are a spy there is no dignity in having your cover blown by a three year old.

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Sat
4 Jan
How I sound when speaking Dutch


This cartoon first appeared in the September/October edition of DUTCH:The Magazine, a bi-monthly magazine for Dutch descendants and expats living in Canada.


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Mon
15 Apr

Life is full of mysteries. Who are we? Why are we here? Did I leave the oven on? Great big mysteries that are difficult to solve and keep a lot of very intelligent people busy.

However, there is a mystery that is bigger than any mystery ever pondered! Larger than any question ever asked! More infinite than any puzzle ever puzzled! Many people have attempted to solve this mystery and been driven insane by it. It is simply cannot and will not be solved… What is the correct usage of de and het in the Dutch language?

The true meaning of life will be solved long before anyone even comes close to solving this unsolvable mystery.

Please! Do not try to answer this question yourself. Even if you believe that you know the answer. Simply pondering this question for even a moment can put your mental health at serious risk. Thinking about if for just one second puts your sanity in danger. If you are an expat trying to learn the language it is far safer to just get it wrong and refer to things as de huis or het man (for example). It simply is not worth risking trying to get it right. I cannot stress this enough.

Dutch people especially might think they can answer this mystery. They are Dutch after all and being Dutch is a pretty good qualification to have on the subject of being and speaking Dutch. However, no matter how much they think they know the answer the truth is that they do not. This becomes very evident the moment they make the mistake of trying to explain the answer.

At first it is all very simple. ‘De’ is used for masculine and feminine words, where as ‘Het’ is used for neutral words. That’s it. How hard can it be?… But then they remember that one occasion where the rule does not work… and then that other one where it does not apply… and another where it is invalid… and that strange one where the rule is flipped… and sometimes reversed… or occasionally upside down… or when a entirely different rule is used based on the position of the moon!

Suddenly they realize they cannot explain the mysteries of De and Het. It was foolish of them even to attempt to do so, and it is probably best that they stop before the headache (that they don’t remember having a few moments ago) gets any worse.

It is at this point that there is only one explanation that they can give, wise words that have been handed down from generation to generation of Dutchman when dealing with outsiders trying to learn the language; “You just have to know it.”

It is a mystery that can never be solved without being born Dutch. And even then, trying to truly understand or explain it ends in madness.

———————–

Still don’t believe me that it is dangerous to attempt solving this mystery? While writing this post I had a migraine.

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