Linguistics

Ok. I’m going to try to move some ‘comments’ to a new venue.

271 Comments

  1. Hanneke

    @BCS, this is going to need more than one post to answer.

    Language courses or books: I’ll have to look those up. I know Sweden has a full, free, Swedisch as a second language course available online; my nephew is doing that at the moment, since he’s moved to Sweden for his university years (no college tuition for EU students!). I don’t know if the Netherlands has something similar. My aunt gave “Nederlands als tweede taal” (NT2) (Dutch as a second language) lessons to a Moroccan lady this last year, for which she got free books (a bit of theory and several conversations per chapter) and audiofiles of all those conversations after registering to give those lessons. More useful for pronounciation than grammar in my estimation. I’ll ask her if she knows of any free online resources; and searching for NT2 or the full phrase in the .NL domain might give some useful results. I’ll let you know what I find.

    Pronounciation and spelling rules in the next post, as I’m going to shut down and listen to the Beethoven coffeeconcert now.

  2. Hanneke

    @BCS, if you like modern pop music, one way to get the sound of Dutch in your ears while doing other stuff would be to listen to Radio NL online or through an app on your phone. I listened to a lot of French chansons when I was doing homework in high school, and it really helped to get the flow of French. This is the online listening URL for the Radio NL Dutch-language pop music broadcast: http://player.radionl.fm/#RADIONL

    There is one thing to note regarding Dutch pronounciation: there is a north and south difference, “below” or “above” the big rivers. The Rhine and Meuse rivers have historically been the edge marker for lots of things (the south was part of the Roman empire, the north wasn’t; the south was freed before the winter of 1944-1945 while the north wasn’t and suffered the Hungerwinter as a result). The traces of that in the present times are that the two south provinces (North Brabant and Limburg) speak with a soft G and are predominantly Catholic, while the north is more Protestant and speaks with a hard G. The northern style of speech is dominant as the TV and radio business was based in the north, as well as most of the well-known big cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam and The Hague, including the national government. So most things you find on YouTube will have the harsher and more guttural northern G instead of the softer aspirated southern G.

    To be continued when I get home.

    • Hanneke

      @BCS, Sorry I couldn’t edit the above. Why is North Brabant in the south of the Netherlands? Because (South) Brabant is in the Flemish (Dutch-speaking) part of Belgium, where they also use the soft aspirated G. So if you want to hear how that sounds, you might have better luck if you search for “Vlaams” (Flemish) or “Vlaanderen” on YouTube.

  3. Hanneke

    @BCS, I don’t know official phonetic spelling signs, the ones you put in like [ə] (except for that one), so I can’t help you with those.
    I’m also no good at the rules and terminology of grammar, even if I do tend to use grammatically correct language.

    Here’s the bit I can tell you for now about writing/spelling conventions and pronounciation in Dutch; the rest will have to wait until you find a good book.

    Dutch pronounciation is much more fixed than English: letters and letter-combinations are mostly pronounced the same, unless they are in an obvious (recent) loan-word from another language. Dutch uses lots of loan-words, previously often from French but recently mostly from English. Thus Dutch people will use the word download and both spell and pronounce it the English way – if you wanted to spell those sounds in Dutch it would be written as “daunlood”.
    (In case you listen to Flemish YouTube here’s a point of difference: Vlaanderen dislikes loanwords, so Flemish often invents their own new circumlocution for these words).

    At the same time, despite the spelling revisions that have led to the new “Wordlist of the Dutch language”* about 15-20 years ago that were meant to simplify things, Dutch still has many frozen spellingcombinations that mean that the same sound can be spelled different ways. Historically there were (subtle) differences in the sound, but in modern-day Dutch you can’t hear those anymore.
    The sounds of G and CH are the same, but after an S like in SCHOOL or before a T like in YACHT you’ll never see a G, these are fixed combinations with CH. There are also quite a lot of words that have the fixed -ISCH(E) suffix (like -IC in English, e.g. graphic industry = grafische industrie), in which the CH is silent.

    Q is always followed by a U (which isn’t pronounced) – QU is pronounced KW just like in English.
    Similarly, W is always preceded by a silent U, except if it’s at the start of a word.

    Syllables are important to pronounciation; and thus to spelling. A vowel at the end of a syllable is always pronounced long, so if you need a short vowel there you have to double the following consonant. If there is a double consonant, the syllable breaks between them, so the vowel won’t be at the end of the syllable.
    If you need a long vowel in the middle of a syllable, you have to write it long by doubling it: AA, EE, IE (!), OO, UU.

    Thus the verb LOPEN (to walk), which breaks into the syllables lo-pen, needs only one O; but I walk = IK LOOP (pronounced like the English “lope”) needs the double OO to keep the same long sound.
    The exception here is the long i-sound IE (pronounced like the English ee in keep) which is always spelled IE, even at the end of a syllable.
    Thus GIETEN (to pour) – IK GIET, but KITTEN (to glue with silicone kit/glue) – IK KIT

    Y is mostly pronounced like J but can also sound like or be used like an I(IE), especially in older words. It’s never doubled or lengthened as it’s already long by itself.

    C is pronounced as K or S, depending on the following vowel: KA KO KU SE SI (which makes Latin students laugh when they hear that Greek inscriptions have proven that Cicero was pronounced Kikero – a kikker being a frog, in Dutch – and so most Latin teachers still use the Dutch pronounciation of Sisero).

    Dutch has a few extra vowel dipthongs which have their own sounds: EU, OE, UI, AU = OU, and EI = IJ (these last two pairs sound the same but are historically used in different words and a few fixed combinations, like the suffix -LIJK which turns a noun into an adverb (like the English -LY).

    There are a few consonant dipthongs, but the only one I can think of is NG, which sounds the same as in English and never occurs at the start of a word.

    All together this can lead to fairly long strings of alphabet soup to foreign eyes: my name just means Newhouses but in Dutch that looks like this: Nieuwenhuijzen – which breaks down to these sounds: N ie uw ən h uij(= old spelling for UI) z ən = 8 sounds from 14 letters. (I hope the blog can show the upside-down e in front of the N, for the uh-sound of the almost unvoiced E).

    All this means that if you can read Dutch, and know how we pronounce the letters and fixed combinations of letters, you can speak it. The reverse is more difficult: if you can speak Dutch, you cannot automatically spell it correctly, as the choice of which lettercombination is used in this word is based on historic choices and not always obvious, especially with the identical-sounding pairs AU-OU, EI-IJ, G-CH, K-C-S.

    * The Woordenlijst (wordlist) was supposed to simplify the spelling, but it can never encompass all the words you can make in Dutch as it’s a language in which you can easily combine words and some prefixes and suffixes into new and quite correct words. It’s sometimes a bit arbitrary in the choices made by the deciding committee, like changing the c in elektra (the electric wiring) to a k, but leaving it a c in electro- (a prefix used to denote the following word should be applied to electricity or electronics, e.g. electromagnetisch), which means that a lot of people raised on the old spelling (like me) still aren’t always fully compliant with the new spelling-rules.

  4. BlueCatShip

    Aha! Oh, thank you very much! That helps some. I hadn’t thought of the Flemish connection or the divisions geographically, but of course, that makes sense. (I need to read more about Dutch history.) It makes sense to me that there’s variation by region and modern Dutch differs from older Dutch from even a couple of centuries ago. English in America and the UK also differ that much or more. Things I grew up with when I was in school, about languages, are now taught differently because the times have changed. (I’ve begun to think that “OK” has become a universal loanword.)

    The impression I get from that and other reading is that Dutch spelling does make good phonetic sense, better than either English or French, which have historical arbitrariness built in. Combining word elements and affixes makes sense from English and what I know of German, especially since Old English and Middle English, and even Modern English, still do this a lot, but we tend to hyphenate things.

    I’m unclear whether W in Dutch gets a W or a V sound, or whether it varies by position in a word, or with letter combinations. For example, some languages (like Spanish) vary how a consonant sounds based on whether it’s at the start, middle, or end of a word or syllable. Some languages vary a W and V (or blurry B) sound together like that, depending on the position in a word.

    So G is exactly like the CH in Dutch, like loch or Bach, and like German nacht and nicht? That is, I’m asking if the G is “voiced,” meaning: k is unvoiced, g is voiced; h/ch and a blurry g used to have the same contrast in Old English and presumably some older stage of Dutch. Then the G in English stayed hard G or went to Y- before AE/E/I/Y (geard –> yard, gealu –> yellow), but G and H/CH/GH could also go to a W- sound, like (folge –> follow) and a few other cases, around A/O/U. So if I understand you right, then Dutch CH stayed CH like in German, and G “devoiced” from the blurry G/GH to the same as the CH sound? Does it depend on position in a word, or “back vowels” (A/O/U) versus “front vowels” (E/I/Y) and the AE sound (like A in cat in English, or Old English æsc (ash)?

    What I was asking about for the [æ+I] was this: Typically, [ai] is the AH+EE sound, like English long I/Y. But that can change over time (centuries) to [ei], as it did in French. There’s a possible intermediate stage where it goes from [ai] to [æi] to [ei]. The [æi] is like saying A in cat, apple, followed by EE or I like in machine, so [æ] + [I], which is difficult to distinguish, but occurs in dialects and history. — I’ve heard various sources claim that Dutch IJ and EI are somewhere between the AI (long I/Y in English, EI in German) and the long A in English, EI or ÉI in Spanish or French or Italian; for example, seis, vrai, Universität. So is Dutch EI/IJ in between those, as [æi] or is it just [ai] like long I/Y or like German EI? — What I’d heard in the few videos I’d found on YouTube so far, sounded like English long I/Y enough that I couldn’t really tell a difference.

    Fun fact: In Houston, there is a major road, Kuykendahl. It always confuses new people. It gets pronounced “Kirkendoll” by locals. In French, the UY would get French U plus Y, like in le puys, huit, etc., and my understanding was that in Dutch, it was (supposedly) about like the French version. (But the person who said so didn’t know French or Dutch and was reporting what they’d heard from someone else.) — And over here, Stuyvesant usually gets pronounced Steevesant or (rarely) Stoovesant, and Huygens usually gets changed to Hew-ghenz or Higgins. (Actually, Higgins might be the English equivalent, like miller is to German mueller/müller. — So in other words, Americans, particularly in Texas, get totally confused by perfectly good Dutch names. 😉

    That reminds me: The book I was reading hasn’t had any color names yet, even black and white. What’s white in Dutch, and does it have any variants with a long or short I or EI/IJ? I’m sort of expecting it loses the H and becomes wit(te) or wis(se) or weit or weiss, something close to that.

    Hah, I’ll check the radio link. I listen to most kinds of music, including modern rock and pop. (I’ll admit I have trouble when local stations call the 80’s and 90’s rock “classic” nowadays, which probably also bothers people who grew up with the 60’s and 70’s stuff I also grew up with.)

    One small note: In English, it’s spelled “pronunciation” and the U is short, while the verb form is “pronounce” with OW. This holds true in US and UK spelling. But please note also, your spelling and grammar are better than most of the native-English speakers when I worked in desktop publishing / copyediting / proofreading.

    • P J Evans

      And in California, Van Nuys, the name of a former city, now part of Los Angeles, is pronounced with an English short A, and Nuys is pronounces like “n’eyes”. (Listening to someone who’s a little sloppy, you’d hear “Van-eyes”, where the two Ns run together.)

  5. Hanneke

    @BCS, my phone ate my long list of all the declensions of ” to be” so I’ll have to type them all again 🙁 and hope I don’t forget any.

    Good guess on the color:
    White = wit
    Black = zwart
    Gray = grijs
    Yellow = geel
    Green = groen
    Blue = blauw
    Brown = bruin
    Red = rood
    Orange = oranje (the one word where an ending on -(t)je doesn’t mean a small one).
    Pink = rose (which really should be spelled with an accent grave, ròse, as its an old loanword with a (lengthened) short O at the end of a syllable – but except for a trema on -eë- and -eï- to denote the start of a new syllable instead of the usual dipthong, Dutch uses hardly any accents. In this case doubling isn’t possible, as ROSSE already existed as a word for red-haired (or reddish, chestnut).

    My aunt sent me to this site for people who want to practice their basic skills online for free (in Dutch): oefenen.nl, the link goes straight to the language division (“taal”). Taalklas 1 NL is the first basic level of learning words, but if you just try out the promo for that you wil get words with the ou, oe and ui dipthongs. The -uy- spelling in Nuys and Stuyvesant and Kuykendahl (chicken valley) is an old variant of the modern -ui- spelling in huis and muis (house and mouse) which are spoken in the free to tryout without registering bit of Taalklas 1 NL.

    If you want to really use the lessons you need to register, but it is free to use after that. You can buy some paper practice booklets to go with the lessons, but that isn’t necessary. It does start off with lots of vocabulary.
    I’ll have to look around some more for a good grammar.

    If you know the German pronunciation of EI and CH that would sound quite Dutch – the word NACHT is the same in both languages, but the German MEIN is spelled MIJN in Dutch (just to get tricky), and the German sound is just slightly rounder, closer to ai while the Dutch is a bit flatter and more forward, closer to ei, at least the way I’ve been taught.

    • Hanneke

      @BCS, Error correction: the Taalklas 1 NL promo contains the word “douche” for a shower, but that is a loanword from French and is still pronounced the French way; so the pronunciation of the OU (and to a lesser extent the CH) are not the usual sounds in Dutch!
      French pronunciation of OU should in Dutch be written as OE, and the CH sounds like it should be written as SH or maybe SJ (with the J almost unvoiced). If you see a CH combination without an S in front or T behind, it’s quite likely to have the French SH pronunciation and not the G, but that is alas not universal.

      For example, the verb to laugh = LACHEN, IK LACH, WIJ LACHEN which does have the G sound and a short A (the syllables break as lach-en) and doesn’t change its vowel sound, and shouldn’t be confused with the past tense of the verb to lie (down) which does change its vowel sound to denote tense and singular/plural: LIGGEN (present tense, short I, breaks as lig-gen), IK LIG, WIJ LIGGEN -> LAGEN (la-gen, long A, past tense), IK LAG (short A), WIJ LAGEN (long A)

      That is something I had forgotten – the G sound after S or before T is spelled as CH unless it is part of the next syllable or word-part, like in moss green = mosgroen, so that can help you to guess where the syllable break falls.

      I know they are working to a theme here, going through a house and giving grownup new residents like refugees the words they might need first, but as a method for learning Dutch pronunciation and spelling rules that introduces some variables that don’t make it easier to discern those rules.
      The “maan roos vis” method used for 6 year olds is better structured around that, but that is proprietary and not available online, and way too low level as it focusses too much on learning the alphabet and syllables.

  6. Hanneke

    @BCS, as an introduction for finding out a bit more about the Netherlands from a historical/geographical point of view, CGP Grey has a fun short video about the difference between Holland and the Netherlands that you might like, and he also explains one of the most ridiculous borders on earth (between Belgium and the Netherlands) – I can’t find that one now, but for a laugh it’s from 2min50 to 5 min09 in this video (though Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg had their own open-borders treaty long before Schengen).

    OK, here I go again with the verb to be = ZIJN (which is the same way you say and write the possessive “his”, in Dutch, to confuse things).

    The second person singular gets -t on the end ( at least in the present & future tense) when it’s in a statement, but not in a question (i.e. when the actor follows the verb); “jij” (j + ij) is 2nd person singular familiar, “u” is the polite version of second person, both singular and plural.

    Present tense singular:
    Ik ben … (I am …)
    Jij/u bent; ben jij? / bent u?
    Hij/zij/het is (He/she/it is)
    Plural:
    Wij zijn (we are)
    Jullie zijn (you are)
    Zij zijn (they are)

    Past tense:
    Ik was … (I was …)
    Jij was
    Hij/zij/het was
    Wij waren
    Jullie waren
    Zij waren

    Future tense:
    Ik word … (I become …)
    Jij wordt / Word jij?
    Hij/zij/het wordt
    Wij worden
    Jullie worden
    Zij worden
    (JIJ, WIJ and ZIJ can be replaced with JE, WE and ZE, if less emphasis is needed on that word – the E in those is the [ə] uh- sound).

    The completed past tense (pluperfect?) which in Dutch is used both for “I came by, but you weren’t at home” ” Ik ben langsgeweest, maar je was niet thuis”, and for “I have been a beekeeper” “Ik ben bijenhouder geweest”.

    Ik ben … geweest (I have been …)
    Jij bent … geweest / Ben jij … geweest?
    Hij is … geweest
    Wij zijn … geweest
    Jullie zijn … geweest
    Zij zijn … geweest

    The conditional tenses (whose names I don’t know) use the help-verb ZULLEN (shall), which changes vowel sound with tense and singular/plural:
    Ik zal … zijn (I wil be …)
    Jij zal zijn
    Hij zal zijn
    Wij zullen zijn
    Jullie zullen zijn
    Zij zullen zijn

    Ik zou … zijn (I would be …)
    Jij zou zijn
    Hij zou zijn
    Wij zouden zijn
    Jullie zouden zijn
    Zij zouden zijn

    Ik zou … zijn geweest (I would have been …)
    Jij zou zijn geweest
    Hij zou zijn geweest
    Wij zouden zijn geweest
    Jullie zouden zijn geweest
    Zij zouden zijn geweest

    Ik zou … zijn geworden (I would have become …)
    Jij zou zijn geworden
    Hij zou zijn geworden
    Wij zouden zijn geworden
    Jullie zouden zijn geworden
    Zij zouden zijn geworden

    To express the English “I should have been king” you need two more help-verbs in Dutch, HEBBEN (to have/to hold) and MOETEN (must/have to) ->
    “Ik had koning moeten zijn” (literally, “I had to have been king”).
    To express the sentiment in “I have had to be the king, to experience it” in Dutch you would change the past tense HAD to present tense HEB -> “Ik heb koning moeten zijn, om het te ervaren”.

    You can pile up to 4 verbs on the ends of your sentences in order to express really complicated conditional ideas, but people almost never do so.
    E.g. “Ik had koning geweest moeten willen zijn” (I should have wanted to have been king) – logically and grammatically it’s allowed but nobody uses sentences like that!

    The English verb is often quoted with “to” – to be, to like. In Dutch that’s only used for the conditional: “In order to be it” = “Om het te zijn”

    That’s about all the tenses and permutations I can think of at the moment. If I missed any, please post the English sentence you want me to translate as I don’t know the names of all this grammar stuff.

    • Hanneke

      Bah, I forgot two:
      Ik zal … geweest zijn (I will have been …)
      Wij zullen … geweest zijn
      (I don’t know why the sequence changes, but it does)

      And
      Ik zal … zijn geworden (I will have become …)
      Wij/Jullie/Zij zullen … zijn geworden

      That’s it. I’m going to sleep.

  7. BlueCatShip

    @Hanneke, thank you! I’ve copied down the links and need to recopy the radio link. I’m now reading through the conjugations you gave for “to be” and after.

    Hmm, what you’re describing for Dutch CH is almost exactly the same as the Old English and Middle English sources of H and what’s spelled GH in Middle and Modern English, but was H in Old English. The Norman French used GH to respell Saxon English words because they (the Normans) already used CH for what was still CH/TCH as in Modern English, but changed to a SH sound in Modern French. So English GH is almost always the cousin of Dutch and German CH. Almost always. There are a few odd changes back and forth in all three languages.

    Hah, that makes Dutch liggen, lig, laggen, lag cognates to English lie and lay, which had the voiced blurry G instead of the hard G, but in English, it changed from G to a blurry GH to a Y- as in yellow, before dropping or merging into modern lie and lay. (Lie and Lay are the two subtle verb distinctions that I _still_ have trouble with. Lie is intransitive; it takes no object. “I lie down.” But lay is transitive and takes an object, “I lay down the book,” and means to put. The past tense forms get oddly confusing. Plus, there are fixed expressions involving laying hens (they lay an egg, still transitive) or, well, the carnal / procreational sense of “to lie / lay with someone,” which therefore confuses people.) — Sit versus set don’t give me trouble. Apparently, the only reason Modern English even separates those into two pairs of verbs instead of just two verbs, is due to early 18th/19th Century grammarians getting overly picky and proscribing usage.

    To laugh, like Dutch lachen, would be another case of cognate, cousin-words. The older forms in English had that H or yogh again, the H/CH like in Dutch. (Yogh, however, is like the G in Dutch, but voiced and blurry.) — English had lahen or lauhen and I can’t recall, but I think the old forms went: lauhen, lauhung, (ge-)lauhte. — In other words, knowing a little about Old English and Middle English gives me a big boost to guess at Dutch and then to remember once I know the Dutch forms.

    What Dutch is doing there with zal and zull and zou, looks like English shall and should, will and would, can and could: sceale, sceolde, willen, wulden/wolden, cannen / ceannen, golden/culden. Might, moghte, and so on. (I don’t recall the Old English pronouns, because I never had formal coursework in Old English and only a little glasswork about Middle English when we read Chaucer.) But English has “them” and “hem” because “hit” (it) and “hem” (’em) were from Saxon English, while “they, them, their(s)” were borrowed from the Viking Danish invaders who settled in English kingdoms before the Middle English period.

    I’m very surprised and puzzled at -IJ- instead of E or IE (English E, EA, EO, EE) in so many basic words, but that’s the Dutch pattern. It went “higher” in the vowel shift than in English.

    I’m more surprised that Dutch dropped “thou, thee, thy/thine” in favor of a “you” and “you all” -like forms, just like English. I would’ve thought that would be peculiar to English. Having strong and weak -IJ versus -E (like how English has long the and you versus unstressed weak the and you (as if they were tha and ya) is interesting, because it’s almost the same in both languages…which means either it has been there since before the split, or it developed in parallel independently in both. Interesting!

    One thing I see in Dutch words and pronunciation already is the same sort of thing that happened in an older stage of French, and happens to some degree in dialectal English. The change of L after a vowel to a -W- sound. In the YouTube examples I’ve heard, film sounds almost like fium or fiwm from some Dutch speakers, and an older L seems to have gone to -U or -W in sound and spelling after some vowels in some environments. (It’s the same sort of process why French as au and eau instead of al and el or eal, occasionally also for eu and ou. This is why French has that -u in some masculine forms and -l in the feminine forms.) In other words, there are always patterns and reasons behind the patterns, in how languages do things, how they sound, and how they change. (Unless a group of speakers just decide a word isn’t clear or different enough, or they decide it “sounds better/cooler” a new way.) Heh.

    Thanks very much, Hanneke! — At least I’ll start recognizing a lot more before I have the words memorized, and with so much in common, remembering the two should be easier. I think I will need to be extra careful not to let English or what I know of German pronunciation to trip me up.

    At some point, I may try reading a passage in Dutch and posting it on my website, then sending you a link, in order to get a critique on pronunciation. 🙂

    • Hanneke

      @BCS, I can’t post audiofiles, so I’ve been thinking about how to give feedback on pronunciation. I do have Skype, Mumble and Discord on my computer, so those might be an option for direct audio contact, if you have one of those too, by the time you are ready to get Dutch feedback.
      My nine o’clock at night is Jane’s noon, so if a somewhat middle of the day moment is convenient for you I could get behind my computer anytime between 7 and 10 in my evening to answer your questions through one of those free Voice Over Internet Protocol services.
      That seems easier to me than you posting an audiofile and I having to react to that in written words.

  8. Hanneke

    @BCS, I have a good (secondhand) grammar and dictionaries (an NT2 basic paper one and a comprehensive bidirectional one on CDrom) for you. Can you mail me your new address to send them to?

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