Which makes Dutch a very difficult language
Most people reading this article will find it self-evident to use the Dutch language, since it is their native language. There are also people for whom Dutch is not their mother tongue, but who have learned it. This could be because they came to live in the Netherlands or Flanders, whether or not as a child with their parents, or because they work here, or simply because they find it an interesting language.
Dutch is a separate language within the Germanic language group. Yet it is not as easy to handle and control as you might think. Here is an overview of what makes our language so difficult, both for Dutch speakers whose mother tongue it is, and for people who learn the language.
Dialects or regional languages
Isn’t it noticeable that a Flemish person speaks a little differently than a Dutch person? And that an Antwerp citizen speaks differently from a Gentenaar? Within the Netherlands, the Frisians will also find it more difficult to explain to the people of Rotterdam. By the way, Frisian is still a separate language and if you were brought up in that language area, it will certainly affect your language skills.
Start with the pronunciation, which differs from region to region. The people of Antwerp have their typical sounds, which they find difficult to get out, even after years of practice, and they also tend not to blow the h. The people who live on the sides of Enschede, near the German border, clearly have a German accent.
So the pronunciation of General Dutch is fixed by rules, most people do not grow up with it, even if they are born in a Dutch-speaking family. For immigrants who are used to other sounds, the Dutch pronunciation is very difficult. Many people have trouble telling you and you apart.
In addition, many dialect speakers also corrupt or misuse many expressions. In Antwerp, for example, something is expensive. So that is a wrong use of language, derived from something that is expensive or costs a lot. You should not visit an Antwerp citizen either, but you may come to see them. A dialect is indeed a language in itself and that is why you can say that General Dutch is actually your second language and not the French, English or German that you are learning.
Actually correct Dutch is a learned language for most people who speak it, because they started from a dialect. In terms of pronunciation and sounds, Belgian Limburgish, just like Dutch Brabant, is the closest in pronunciation to General Dutch, often also called AN. It used to be called ABN, for Common Civilized Dutch.
Changing spelling rules
The Dutch spelling rules have changed several times over the years. The most recent that people may have experienced were in 1946 (Flanders), 1947 (Netherlands), 1955, 1966 and 2066. That is why grandmother still points her cards to a “big” boy or girl, if she was still before 1955 went to school. We only owe the open syllable to this change.
To make it even more complicated, but also more livable, there are also words of which two spellings are possible: a preferred spelling and an alternative. For example, you can write chic as well as chic, but officially the preferred spelling is chic and you must use it in official documents.
So someone may well intentionally use archaic or alternate spellings, especially if they use outdated spell checking software. This is a problem for older generations, because many do not yet use a computer. The younger generations are now more and more alternative to spelling and SMS language is gradually making its appearance in everyday language use.
This is still a difficulty for most languages, as the rules for this differ from language to language. For example, there are languages where the adjective is placed after the noun, such as in French, while we put it before it in Dutch. We will talk about a black car, while a Frenchman talks about “une voiture noire”. It is therefore understandable that people especially from a language where this is common will have to get used to this.
The conjugations of the verbs are not always easy. Think of the dt rule. It is considered a mortal sin by many teachers, yet this rule is often sinned against. Sometimes overlooked errors can also be found in professional publications. Also weak and strong verbs, the rule of the kofschip and our syntax do not always make it easy to conjugate a verb correctly.
The Dutch language also allows inversion, which means that one may reposition the zindelen, within certain rules. That’s what makes our language so rich for writers, but also so difficult and can sometimes make them so confusing. It is indeed boring to read a whole novel through OPA sentences. By OPA sentences one means: Subject Person form, other phrases.
For example: Saartje broke her wrist yesterday during gymnastics class. This sentence is purely informative and according to the OPA construction. But with this one can go in different directions. Would also be correct:
- Yesterday Saartje broke her wrist during gymnastics class.
During the gymnastics class, Saartje broke her wrist yesterday.
Saartje broke her wrist yesterday during gymnastics class. All four sentences from the example above are correct, but have a different emphasis. The more elaborate and composed the sentences are, the more difficult it becomes to put them together correctly grammatically. It can also sometimes become a strenuous effort for the reader to have to read many compound, twisted sentences in sequence. That is why the question can also be asked whether a difficult grammatical use of language is always desirable.
When a text is composed in such a way that a reader has to parse the sentences to make sense of it, it is also more difficult for the writer to write them down. The more complex the sentence structure, the more chance that errors will be made and misunderstandings will arise among the readers, especially if they may not be originally Dutch.
Besides “I”, “you”, “he / she”, “we” and “she in plural”, Dutch also distinguishes between the informal “je” and the more formal “u”. In English, for example, this no longer exists and you always address another person with “you”. These different person forms make our language more difficult, but also clearer compared to English. For example, a Dutch-speaking writer can unknowingly make the mistake of using “je” and “u” in one text, since his spelling and grammar check unfortunately overlooks this.
The verbs must also be conjugated according to the person form and that sometimes seems easier than it is. Let us not forget the DT errors, which everyone who has ever learned to write Dutch texts will have guessed, although not everyone will gladly admit it.
Most language errors happen unconsciously or out of ignorance. That’s why the brain reads about it, because it knows what to say. This is not unique to Dutch, but can also occur with non-native speakers. Spelling and grammar checking, cutting, copying and pasting in texts does not always make writing easier. They can be useful tools, but if used carelessly, they can sometimes do more harm than good.
A text may be reread several times, but it may still contain errors. Every language is difficult, but General Dutch is actually difficult. This is due to the inversion, because we have a complex grammar and an actually artificial pronunciation. The man in the street often hears you say mistakes, broken sentences, incorrect construction, wrong pronunciation, dialect, … But the most important thing is that we only understand each other.