Do we respect our own languages? Part 6: Dutch

nlenAround a year ago, I wrote an article entitled Dutch: The Lost Culture, in which I looked at how Dutch in the Netherlands is, in some instances, being replaced by English in daily speech – but not English as we know it, rather a hybrid language, a sort of corrupted form of English that may well not be intelligible to a native English speaker. That was my perspective at least. Now we can look how Dutch is being affected by English through the eyes of a Dutch native and let’s see if the Dutch have any respect left for their language. 

“The tale of the relationship between Dutch and English is a bit double-edged and very much a hot topic in my country,” says Branco van der Werf, a Dutch translation student currently working in North East England. “There is definitely more than a mere spark of passion between the Dutch and the English; the Dutch seem infatuated with English. It sounds cool and fancy to Dutch ears, and many people of my generation will abandon a Dutch term en masse if there is a better sounding English term.

There are two sides of the coin concerning this trend though. On the one hand, English provides Dutch with a couple of new words for which no adequate Dutch equivalent exists. For that reason, English may be said to enrich the Dutch language to some extent. On the other hand, Dutch words are being replaced with English words. “I think that should be considered encroachment, rather than enrichment. This often wreaks havoc in Dutch texts, as these new English words have to abide by Dutch grammar rules. The end result is butchered English in an unappealing Dutch text.”

Don’t I know it! As a translator, I don’t know how many times I’m come across a so-called English word being used in Dutch, or German for that matter, but it has been so corrupted in terms of grammar, and even meaning, that it takes far too long to work out what is actually meant. As English is the dominant language of the technology industry, many good examples of this English invasion can be found in the IT sector, says Branco. “All languages have to cope with these new terms and phrases that are barely translatable. Nevertheless, there are many perfectly valid Dutch terms that are slowly but steadil

Purists often semi-humorously call the influence English has on Dutch the ‘English illness’. It’s not just words being replaced, grammar is affected as well, Branco explains. “Dutch nouns are written as one word, whereas English separates its nouns. ‘Christmas tree’ in Dutch is ‘kerstboom’, but more and more Dutch people write ‘kerst boom’. The most stupefying instance I encountered myself was the spelling of the Dutch word for ‘Tuesday’. It should be spelled ‘dinsdag’, but someone actually managed to write ‘dins dag’. ‘Dins’ isn’t even a Dutch word.”y disappearing altogether. Take the English word ‘save’. I would translate that as ‘opslaan’, but ‘saven’ is considered good Dutch as well. ‘He saves the file’ becomes ‘Hij savet het bestand’, not exactly much of a pleasure to the Dutch eye.”


To me, this shows a lack of respect for the Dutch language by the Dutch people. What’s more, it is also rather insulting to English. The Dutch often overestimate their English expertise and this sometimes leads to weird constructions that should have never seen the light of day. A second-hand car may be called an ‘occasion’ in Dutch, with English pronunciation, even though the word was originally taken from French and means something completely different in English.

It seems the Dutch care very little about their language. The younger generation, especially, are bombarded with English every day through the television, internet, video games and music, and seem unmoved by their dwindling knowledge of Dutch, being all too eager to just switch to English. Fortunately, older generations remain much more unaffected by this new trend, but it will be interesting, in the negative sense of the word, to see what effect this will have in a few generations’ time. Even at this stage, however, fully grown adults who may not be as ‘down with the lingo’ as the kids are obsessed with English.
“There is no better example for this than the Dutch word for ‘manager’… it’s ‘manager’.” And this is not an exception. Branco wrote a typical example of Dutch business speak with English words: “Het gaat om management en micromanagen staat centraal. Met het ‘management chain assessment-programma’ kunnen we de algehele experience en feeling dusdanig upgraden dat de efficiency van het team in grote mate toeneemt.

If current trends are maintained, Branco fears that more and more Dutch people might see their language as blunt and dated. “It’s a vicious circle really. Since English sounds so modern, it easily sneaks into the Dutch vernacular. That’s such a pity, because I do think genuine Dutch is beautiful.”

Luckily, the battle is not yet lost. De Telegraaf, a popular Dutch newspaper, often coins new phrases, some of which are very well thought-out. They often contain no English at all, which just goes to show that the Dutch actually do have the creativity to enrich and preserve their own language.


Branco van der Werf is a native of the Netherlands, who studies translation in Maastricht. He is currently on a  work placement at a translation company in North East England. He first came into contact with English at age five and also speaks French and German.