April 14, 2019

Most Dutch people talk to their pets

Filed under: Animals by Branko Collin @ 11:34 pm

Assocation of language lovers Onze Taal (‘our language’) has published the results of an informal poll that suggests that 95% of all Dutch pet owners talk to their pets.

The type of pet and whether or not the animal is deaf doesn’t seem to matter. People address their pets in their local dialect.

Popular ‘conversations’ are: admonishments, compliments (“Who is the cutest kitten in the world? You are!”), sharing what the owner is going to do (“Mummy is going to the pet store”) and, apparently, deliberation (“Is it OK if I move your bowl over here?”).

People don’t just talk to pets, but also inanimate objects. Furniture gets apologised to when bumped into, and encouragements are uttered towards blocked robotic vacuum cleaners and bent trees.

The poll was held in January among the visitors of the association’s website.

(Photo by Eddy Van 3000, some rights reserved)

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May 18, 2015

ISIS terrorists use fake passports from ‘Enshede’

Filed under: History by Branko Collin @ 4:01 pm


When rebels raided an ISIS safe house in northern Syria, they secured dozens of passports stolen from Westerners, Al Aan TV reports.

Among the many real passports was also this forged Dutch passport signed by the mayor of ‘Enshede’. Since there is no place called Enshede (but Enschede exists), border controls should have no problems stopping the holders of other copies.

Using the sch-sound to separate the good guys from the bad has long been practice in the Netherlands and Flanders, especially since foreigners don’t seem to be able to pronounce it correctly. The Flemish are said to have used the war cry ‘schild ende vriend‘ (shield and friend) during the Battle of the Golden Spurs to differentiate themselves from the French, and fishermen returning to the main land after the Nazi attack on 10 May 1940 were told to use the password Scheveningen to tell them apart from German agents.

I am guessing the forger wrote the name Enschede the way he heard it.

(Link: RTL Nieuws, Photo: Al Aan TV / RTL Nieuws)

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February 23, 2013

Dutch with an accent just as easy to understand

Filed under: Science by Branko Collin @ 3:13 pm

People who speak Dutch with a foreign accent are just as easy to understand as native speakers. Listeners may need a while to adapt to the accent, anywhere from a few sentences to a few minutes.

Yesterday Marijt Witteman received her PhD for researching how fast listeners adapt to foreign accents. One perhaps surprising finding was that native speakers who were used to the accent, for instance, Dutch people living near the German border listening to Dutch spoken by Germans, understood words pronounced by language learners just as fast as they understood words pronounced by native speakers.

Even listeners who were not regularly exposed to the foreign accent only needed a few minutes of ‘priming’ to get up to speed. Witteman used reaction time tests in which subjects first heard a word, then saw the word written out on a screen, after which the subjects had to state if a word existed or not. Previous experiments had shown that people respond faster if they hear the word before they see it on the screen. The response times for words pronounced with an accent were just as fast as for words pronounced without an accent.

Witteman’s results could be useful in designing language courses. Course materials could be less about perfecting pronunciation and more about understanding a language. My personal take-away lesson is that Hollanders can stop pretending they don’t understand what the rest of the Dutch are saying. The game is up!

(Photo by Leo Viëtor, some rights reserved)

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February 16, 2013

Nickname ‘mosquito’ for journalists more popular than ‘rat’

Filed under: Animals by Branko Collin @ 10:23 am

OK, so this is completely unscientific, but I decided to have a little fun.

If the Dutch want to use a derogatory term for a journalist, they have a couple of options. Persrat (press rat) is one of them, persmuskiet (press mosquito) is another.

According to Google, persrat appears on 10,600 web pages, while persmuskiet appears 12,700 times. There is not much between them and Google is hardly the place to do reliable linguistic research, but since we had already decided this wasn’t going to be scientific I declare ‘press mosquito’ the winner.

A derogatory term for the entire profession is journaille, borrowed from the German language in which the word is a portmanteau consisting of the word ‘journalistic’ and the French word ‘canaille’, meaning ‘rabble’.

Dutch comics godfather Marten Toonder used to have a rat in his fabled stable called Argus, who was of course a reporter (working for a publisher called E. Phant).

To me the word persrat feels different from persmuskiet. Rat seems to suggest a low character, whereas mosquito implies tenacity.

Are you wondering if there is perhaps a reason to this whim of mine? There is. I was getting a bit tired with the news cycle, with the whole idea that there is always news and it is always important. Trying to find a Dutch angle to the British horsemeat scandal (British supermarkets selling horsemeat as beef), reporters of the Parool newspaper had tracked down a restaurant owner who had kept quiet about having used horsemeat instead of beef for his famous steaks for 60 years—even in the Netherlands there is a bit of a stigma attached to eating horsemeat. “Why did you lie,” the reporters asked and that irked me. Sure, the restaurant owner had lied by omission, but every word a journalist ever prints is a lie of omission, because journalists decide what is important enough to print and what not.

And that is when I got a little bit irritated and started thinking in terms of ‘press rats’.

(Image by A.E. Goeldi, in the public domain)

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September 17, 2012

Dutch people counting to 100 (video)

Filed under: Film by Branko Collin @ 10:36 am

This cute video by filmersblog.nl shows Dutch people aged 1 – 100 tell their age.

It’s been doing the rounds on the Internet for a couple of weeks, but if you haven’t seen it yet, you should. Linguists have already discovered the video and noted that different age groups pronounce words differently (the people were all filmed in Amsterdam, so that variation wasn’t regional).

(Video: Vimeo / Filmersblog)

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February 23, 2012

Etymology of Dutch word for bicycle cracked after 140 years

Filed under: Bicycles by Orangemaster @ 4:48 pm

Two Flemish linguists of Ghent University in Belgium have finally pinpointed the historical origin of the Dutch word ‘fiets’ (‘bicycle’, sounds exactly like ‘feats’). They claim it comes from the German word ‘Vize’ (pronounced ‘vietse’, almost rhymes with ‘pizza’), which means the same as the English ‘vice’ (like in Vice-President, a ‘deputy’ president). In this case, it’s a surrogate horse, a ‘vice horse’. And a ‘vice horse’ is understood to be a bicycle.

The Dutch word ‘fiets’ was very different from the French word ‘vélocipède’, where the bicycle originated from in 1870, the English word and the German word ‘Fahrrad’. The French abbreviation ‘vélo’ couldn’t possibly have turned into ‘fiets’. A man called E.C. Viets from Wageningen started making bicycles around 1880, which was often quoted as a possible origin, but that was historically incorrect.

One day, one of the linguists was pouring some cider for a German colleague from a region who called it ‘Vize’ (vice-wine, surrogate wine), although in Dutch it could have sounded like the German had said ‘bad wine’ (‘vies’ in Dutch means ‘dirty’ or ‘bad quality’ in this case). But the German was speaking German and meant to say ‘surrogate wine’, ‘Vize’ being used for all kinds of surrogate things in his region of Germany.

The German ‘Vize-Pferd’ (‘surrogate horse’) was discovered by the linguists in written documents and then they found German dialect words ‘Fitz’ and ‘Fietse’, which was the missing link to ‘fiets’. A lot of Dutch words come from German, but for some reason, ‘Vize’, a bit like saying ‘bike’ or ‘vélo’ never made it over the German border.

(Link: www.standaard.be)

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June 18, 2011

Two hundred euro note bridge to become pedestrian crossing in Spijkenisse

Filed under: Architecture,Art,Design by Branko Collin @ 2:22 pm

As we wrote a couple of days ago, Robin Stam is making real bridges of the fictional ones you can find on the euro banknotes. His playground is a new neighbourhood in Spijkenisse near Rotterdam (bordering the Oude Maas river) called ‘t Land (the Land), which is still very much under development.

Robin gladly answered a few of our questions:

The first two bridges are almost finished, and the rest will be built in sync with the realisation of the neighbourhood.

The properties are sold in shifts, so unfortunately it will take a while for the project to be completed. The first two bridges will be ready at the end of September. The drawings and calculations for the other bridges are almost done. The way things are looking now the 200 euro bridge will be built at the start of next year. This will become a small pedestrian bridge, built exactly like on the banknote, meaning that the scale will be completely out of proportion.

Mark van Wijk, Joeri Horstink and I are working on a number of projects under the label Rotganzen. Currently a project of ours that is getting a lot play in the blogosphere is Party, about stylized broken party tents.

Completely off topic: an exhibit of big party tents in Dutch would be called an ‘evenementententententoonstelling’. I’d like to see other Germanic languages come up with compound words like that. I bet you cannot! I bet you are too scared!

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June 8, 2011

My language comes first, as my rules are arbitrary

Filed under: Science by Orangemaster @ 11:25 am

Coming from Canada, a country that questionably prides itself on having millions of people speak English and French functionally, it’s odd to see that there are still discussions (if we believe the media) about having Dutch and European children learn foreign languages at school at a young age. There’s Dutch, then English, French or German, sometimes Spanish, and there are kids who already speak Frisian, never mind kids who speak Dutch dialects at home. All the kids who speak more than one language or dialect are at an advantage in general. All of this assumes the traditional ‘Caucasian’ Dutch person learning a foreign language, and totally ignores any child with a foreign background.

Profession Paula Fikkert makes an interesting point, which proves my usual point that language and culture are inseparable. When the second language in question is English, Dutch parents think that’s fantastic, but if that second language is Dutch and the first language is, let’s say Turkish, then all of sudden Dutch speakers get defensive. She mentions that Dutch policy makers will then automatically tell you how important Dutch is, even though linguists can easily explain why knowing any good native language is important.

This is a kind of language apartheid: English is the best, Dutch second or best in the absence of English, and anything else is of lesser value, while none of this is scientifically correct. Ironically, Dutch is best all the time socially, except in the ivory towers of some of Amsterdam and Rotterdam’s international corporations where the main language is English and only the cleaning staff are not able to join in, although could do so in more than one language. I’m speaking from experience.

The article also goes on about how sign language is treated as even lower than the rest for Dutch babies, but taking clases to try and decipher your baby’s gesticulations are all the rage.

(Link: kennislink)

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August 8, 2009

A Caransa died

Filed under: Dutch first by Branko Collin @ 12:56 pm

Amsterdam real-estate multi-millionaire Maurits Caransa died at age 93 yesterday, Z24 reports. Caransa’s story was one of rags-to-riches, from being the son of a coalman to becoming the owner of most of the major hotels in Amsterdam.

The reason I’m reporting his death here though is that he left a linguistic legacy that few others can lay claim to. Back home, when we wanted to point out that we could not afford something, we would say: “I’m no Caransa,” which in English translates pretty much to “I’m no Rockefeller”.

Unlike Rockefeller, Caransa wasn’t anywhere near being the richest man of the world or even the Netherlands, but he had managed to literally become a household name. His fame may have been based on the fact that in 1977 Caransa was the first famous Dutch person to be kidnapped. He was released for a ransom of 10 million guilders. To this day, it is unknown who the kidnappers were.

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February 16, 2008

English words no longer automatic trademarks

Filed under: Sports by Branko Collin @ 2:46 pm

Visitors to the Netherlands have noticed the phenomenon before, but now a judge has confirmed it: English has become common in the Netherlands. So common, that the use of an English word in a trademark no longer makes that trademark automatically unique. The owner of the “Runner Hardloopcentrum Groningen” trademark found this out last year when it tried to stop a competitor from trading under the name “Runnersworld” through the courts.

Having a trademark means that you are the only one allowed to use that word or phrase for selling your products or services. To avoind stifling commerce, words common to a certain trade cannot be trademarked. If you are a glass fitter, you cannot trademark the word “glass fitter,” because that would mean other glass fitters would infringe upon your trademark as soon as they described their commercial activities.

In 1993 the same parties stood in front of the same bench, and the judge then held that the two brand names were confusingly similar. But the Groningen court now finds that the Netherlands have changed. According to the judgement published by Book 9 (Dutch) “running” is a now a common enough word in the Netherlands to describe, er, running. The 1993 winner lost.

Via the Iusmentis Blog (Dutch).

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