According to someone who works for Bright.nl, yesterday all of a sudden their Google Home Minis, a type of wireless speaker and voice command device with an integrated AI-based virtual assistant started to understand his commands in Dutch. Before then, his entire family had to ask for everything in their best American English.
After choosing Dutch as a default language, all devices stopped working except the Hue lamps, a line of colour changing LED lamps with wireless control, and the Honeywell thermostat. Sending images from the front door to the television with the Dutch command ‘Hey Google, show me the front door on TV40’ produced a YouTube video about front doors on the telly.
A day later, Hue dropped out, with an error that the lighting was no longer available. Bright hopes that Dutch language support will be working properly on 24 October when Google Home speakers will officially be available in Dutch shops. I’d hate to be working in a shop that is going to get a wave of complaints with no fix in site or be told to use it in English or German. And I wonder if it will understand those of us who speak Dutch with accents.
The CES in Las Vegas, a large exhibition of innovation, is currently showcasing some 50 Dutch start-ups, and one of them is Travis, presenting its real-time translation gadget Travis Translator, which costs 150 euro and can process 80 languages. However, the video below shows it doesn’t always work, but then maybe the person using it needs to learn how to use it a bit better.
The Travis Translator uses sites like Google and others to provide a live translation from one langue to another but also back again as people converse, which is a great idea. Some guys from Dutch tech site Bright.nl tried it out using Dutch on the Las Vegas Strip with tourists who spoke Japanese, English, Farsi and possibly Latvian or Lithuanian because the Dutch guy said ‘Latvanian’, which is nonsense and could have chosen the wrong language.
The first attempt with French at the beginning was wrong, but then the word Travis must have thrown the Travis off, and Latvian or possibly Lithuanian (someone tell us) turned up nothing at all as a translation, but then if the user thinks ‘Latvanian’ is a language, then the user could be at fault. Wouldn’t you want to the gadget to detect the language of a person like Google does? Maybe it does. And the interviewer does make a good point that it would be much better to have a phone app than yet another gadget to carry around.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who isn’t known for his command of English, has made sure everyone in the galaxy knows his written English isn’t out of this world either.
While visiting California, Rutte was invited by a satellite manufacturer to send a message into space with his signature on it. He wrote down “Peace and prosparity”, instead of ‘prosperity’. In his defense, in Dutch the ‘e’ and ‘a’ of English sounds the same to many Dutch people. But he’s the PM and someone in his entourage (does he have one?) could have said something.
Of course, this small mistake is a vast improvement on his predecessor Jan Peter Balkenende who apparently addressed George Bush as ‘your presidency’. Then again Bush apparently also thought JP was from Belgium because a lot of European countries look the same.
Theologist and missionary Steven Paas has put together an English-Chichewa and Chichewa-English dictionary, which is currently being published and will soon be distributed in Malawi, an African country where language is a huge barrier. The dictionary has some 35,000 words and is hand-bound by local women. The first run will have 5,000 copies of this 750-page dictionary, then another 10,000 in August and ideally some 100,000 copies in the end. About 90% of these dictionaries will be distributed to secondary schools and the rest will be sold to finance more copies.
When Paas was preparing himself to leave for Malawi back in 1997 he realised that there were very few reference books in Malawi’s native language, Chichewa. He started making lists of words, which eventually turned into an English-Chichewa dictionary, the first edition of which was published in 2003. Then in 2004, the Chichewa-English dictionary was published, and now the time has come to put the two together.
Although the official language of Malawi is English, most people speak Chichewa, a ‘language problem’ this book wants to help alleviate. Of course, the not so hidden agenda is to help the people understand the Bible better and all that, which has concepts that clash with Malawian society. Nonetheless, Malawians apparently do not speak English well, which hinders their chances at a better life. Once Malawi became an independent state in 1964, English became the language of education, media, politics and justice, while 50% of the entire polupation cannot read or write.
Dunglish.nl, one of Orangemaster’s many ventures, posted this brilliant ad for Unox pea soup a while ago. In it, you see some sort of sales manager walk through a company cafeteria while holding a bluetooth-enabled phone conversation in that lingua franca of the Dutch business world, English with sprinklings of Dutch. When it matters though — that is, when he wishes to order pea soup — he switches to all-Dutch.
Yesterday on telly (Nova) I saw a report about how Poles were getting on in Rotterdam. Once they showed the Polish food store (ethnic groups are often automatically associated with their food), I watched the rest. What I heard was well educated, normal looking Europeans who just happen to have crappy jobs that apparently pay less than minimum wage in 40% of cases and homes that are overpriced and crowded. As well, some 50% want to stay in the Netherlands because their chances are simply better. Some politicians says this will prepare them for the next wave of Eastern Europeans (Bulgarians and Romanians) who are due to arrive soon. These people are more often than not highly educated, speak several languages and do jobs the Dutch apparently have the luxury to refuse to do. They are not illiterate housewives or too old to integrate.
Then I found this recent article that reads “Poles speak English too well”, which is some weird complaint. On telly, they said that many Poles came to the Netherlands from England and Ireland, so it is logical that they speak some English. The article, however, basically points out that setting up Polish lessons for employers (known as reverse integration and highly criticised) is a waste of time if the Poles speak English. The people setting up these courses could have known this if they 1) bothered to get information from the Polish community like the telly did and 2) looked further in Europe than their own miniscule backyard.
And remember, when the Poles do stay they are obliged to learn Dutch anyways, so communication will be even easier! It seems the municipalities and the people setting up courses could use some serious cultural communication lessons themselves. Poles often speak Polish, some Russian and/or German, English and even other languages like French. Ah but learning Polish was a way to make money which backfired big time hence the complaint.
Last Tuesday Dutch evening paper NRC Handelsblad launched an online, English language version of itself. The paper will publish a “selection of news items, background pieces, reports and opinion pieces.” Located at http://nrc.nl/international/, the online English NRC partners with amongst others German magazine Der Spiegel, which has had its own English online section for a while now, and Robin Pascoe’s Dutchnews.nl. The Dutchnews.nl staff will take care of the copy editing and journalistic translation, according to NRC’s press release (Dutch).
NRC International is aimed at “foreigners who cannot read Dutch, and who are interested in quality Dutch reporting.”
In one of his Austin Powers movies, Canadian actor Mike Meyers portrays speaking English with a Dutch accent as basically having some sort of lisp. If you really want to hear what a Dutch accent sounds like, listen to British comedian Bill Baley when he is introducing human beatboxer Shlomo. One minute into the following Youtube clip he compares his own beatboxing skills to those of a “burnt out Dutch stockbroker who is into a bit of Dutch hiphop”. His vowels are particularly good — and he pronounces them while beatboxing!
When I try to speak English, its my vowels that betray my Dutchiness. Plus, of course, the fact that I use words like “Dutchiness”.
(Oh, and “eftenfiften” is not a Dutch word, nor is “achtung”.)
Filed under: Literature by Branko Collin @ 11:10 am
In a riff on the book ‘French Women Don’t Get Fat’, a book that explains how French women manage to avoid the treadmill of the gym by skipping along merrily from marché to marché carrying delightful baskets full of good wholesome food, (Dutch! female!) psychologist Ellen de Bruin has published a book called ‘Dutch Women Don’t Get Depressed’. The review in the International Herald Tribune seems to be toggling between the ideas that on the one hand the book is a parody, on the other, a serious work.
So why don’t Dutch women get depressed? The review hints at many a contorted explanation, dragging in several stereotypical views of Dutch society. Gay marriage gets a look in (suggesting the Dutch desire for family building) as does the Amsterdam Red Light District (suggesting sexual freedom). And an important element seems to be that Dutch women don’t feel the stress of the need to seduce, and instead dress in lumpy, gender-blurring clothes that are ideal for biking along windy canals.
Meanwhile English (female!) columnist Sarah Sands first discards the suggestion that an English version should be called ‘Why English Women Don’t Get Laid’, then gets bitter:
This is also a country that embraces euthanasia. All those elderly parents in old people’s homes must feel nervous about family visits. And if we have discovered the correct social conditions for human happiness, they are fragile. The cultural clash between Islam and the secular West has been fought ferociously on Dutch soil.
The main problem with this book is that it does not have the obvious appeal of French Women… Many of us would like to be French, at least on the outside. With respect, how many of us wish to be Dutch?
You tell ’em, fatty! ‘Ere, have some Belgian chocolate.