Tag Archives: Dutch language

Dutch – Constantly Moving the Goalposts

Dutch is a very challenging language to learn, because the constant adjustments in the ‘official’ spelling of Dutch words make for a chaotic and inconsistent linguistic environment.

A short blog but I need to keep going. I have been busy with translation work and this issue has been bugging me, hence the post. More recipes and Sri Lankan ramblings soon 🙂

All languages evolve, and words evolve too. This is normal and natural. However, the Dutch aren’t exactly normal in this respect: They more or less carry out what’s jokingly known as a ‘spring cleaning’ of the language and put out a new edition of Het Groene Boekje, aka the ‘Green Book’ or Word List of the Dutch Language. This book is released by a committee of Dutch Language experts in both Belgium and the Netherlands. It’s not a dictionary because here are no word definitions, but just a list of words and their new, ‘accepted’ spelling.

The initiative is meant well: They want to keep the language fresh and up-to-date, but still consistent and official. An honourable goal. However, they never seem to see the  real consequences of these changes. Instead of promoting consistency and precision, confusion is the result.


The problem is simple: The Dutch-speaking world simply doesn’t pay much attention to Het Groene Boekje. Nobody enforces it. Unlike the French, where maintaining the French language is a Government objective, backed by laws and policies, in Holland this is just a polite suggestion from academics. In practice, nobody really gives a shit.

Every time a new edition of Het Groene Boekje appears, the Dutch speakers react. Some people complain about some of the decisions and others support them; newspapers and writers tend to ignore it (wisely in my view). On the other hand, schools usually adopt the new spellings. As a result, spelling in Dutch is annoying.

So, if you’re planning to learn Dutch, be prepared: forget sense and semantics. Good luck with the spelling!



Filed under Translation titbits

Odd Things About the Dutch Language

Dutch is a difficult and challenging language that has some odd unexpected surprises, such as phrases from other languages and extremely 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 French words being adopted into Dutch, such as paraplu (umbrella), bureau (desk or office) and horloge (wrist watch) etc.

Almost equal in the number of borrowed words is Hebrew, which is often perceived as strange until you consider the large Jewish populations in Holland from the Middle Ages onwards. The Jews developed their own versions of 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 Words

Dutch is a curious language in three main aspects that make it look most odd to native English speakers (or, frankly, natives of most other countries except for Dutch speakers!).

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, it’s not unusual for your throat to start to hurt as you try chewing through words like Scheveningen (beach resort town in Holland). If you think German is a tough language to pronounce well, prepare yourself, because the Dutch hit those hard consonants even harder. The difference is great enough that in World War II the Dutch 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 the word for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: chronischevermoeidheidssyndroom. Yes, whereas 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 (writes the worst) for example. After trying to learn and pronounce words with nine or more consonants in a row, you’ll need a drink to soothe your throat (quite possibly a stiff one!).

So, if you have always thought us Dutch were somewhat odd….you’re not far off!


Filed under Holland life, Just stuff, Translation titbits