Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Woord van de dag: rouwen

What will I do tonight (or in Dutch translation 'What shall I tonight to do?)?

Let's check out the free newspaper available in the metro, called Metro.

Aha!... films.

Ooh, 'Gravity'. It's had good reviews…hmmm.

Oh. I can understand most of this in Dutch (glows).

Hang on. What the…. ? "Zij rouwt"…!? (confused look)

Must be the verb 'rouwen'. Is it similar to an English verb? (thinks….)

Nope. Gonna have to look it up.

Rouwen: 'to mourn'

Etymologie of rouwen in Dutch: Proto Germanic 'hrewwana'.
Cognate with Old English 'hreowan' from whence 'rue' a little used word for 'sorrow' (for example, "He rued the day…").

The etymology of mourn is from the PIE root mer- (to remember).

Sounds like a fun film!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

English should be Brussels' official language.

This might sound like any other blogger spouting off about Belgium and its old, intricate and sometimes confusing linguistic issues and so can easily be dismissed. Who am I to make a difference, right? I'm just some blogger bloke.

The thing is, I didn't say this: "English should be Brussels' official language". Flemish Minister for Education Pascal Smet did. In this article he says it would help Brussels to be further perceived as an international city and (although he doesn't say this in the article) might smooth over some of the linguistic tensions in this multilingual capital.

It seems Mr Smet is echoing German President Joachim Gauck's comments when he suggested English should be the EU's official language. Although there are many obstacles to this idea, not only because it is undemocratic, it's clear to me Gauck is suggesting a more streamlined communications process in the workings of the EU.

But on a personal and completely egocentric level alone…please don't make it more difficult for me to learn Dutch Mr Smet. It's hard enough as it is! I can't find a Dutch speaker willing to speak to me in Dutch in Brussels anyway! This would make it even worse… Let's keep Brussels multi-cultural and mutli-lingual. It's one of the things that makes it a special place.

Vive la différence!

Monday, 28 October 2013

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Culture chameleon

With a bit of work we can change languages, but can we change culture so easily? Jean finds out…

Jean takes a look into a cultural journey, highlighting some of the stark differences between two peoples sharing the same country but different languages. Can he do it? Is he a bit weird all the same?

Judge for yourself…..

(in Dutch and French)

Monday, 14 October 2013

Translation Poetry on the Tram

Another great language initiative in what must be one of the most linguistically diverse capitals of Europe. In Brussels we often see signs, notices and adverts in several languages and so can readily translate different meanings and learn new phrases. Of course a little knowledge can be dangerous, so when reading multilingual literature you have to know that poetic license may have been used. Despite this it can be a useful and enriching experience.

Take for example the Transpoesie project running on Brussels' trams at the moment. Poetry from around Europe is posted on trams in their original language as well as in French and in Dutch.

Enjoy the poetry and learn some new words and phrases in Dutch and French.

Elsewhere, a headline cries
a man was lynched yesterday,

Billie Holiday is cured for good now 
on the cover of Ebony, 1949.

The guitar drags like an anchor,
rope around its neck, and keeps on

singing, side to side, its strings alive


Ergens anders, een krantenkop schreeuwt
een man werd gisteren gelyncht,

Billie Holiday is nu voorgoed genezen
op de cover van Ebony, 1949.

De gitaar sleept als een anker,
touw rond zijn nek, blijft hij

zingen, heen en weer, de snaren levend

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Het openbaar vervoer in Brussel: Systeem werkt niet!

Interesting TV news article about the 'openbaar vervoer' (public transport) in Brussels. Mostly in Dutch it also dips into French and English and has French subtitles for those who need them.

It highlights the twitter account 'STIB Fail' @STIB_Fail which is an attempt by some to give customers a way of communicating their dissatisfaction with the service. In a country where customer service is really not a high priority this initiative is an excellent way to have our voices heard. In my opinion the public transport here in Brussels is pretty extensive, covering a large area and including buses, trams and the metro (voertuigen=vehicles) at what I think is a reasonable price. The problem which I and many others, including @STIB_Fail , perceive is the poor communication by the MIVB (Maatschappij voor het Intercommunaal Vervoer te Brussel). Often when something goes wrong (which we accept can happen), we just need to be told.

Useful Dutch phrases
Geen metro tussen…. en…..: No metro between….and…..
Onbepaalde duur: Unspecified duration.
Pendelbussen ter plaatse: Replacement buses provided.
Het metroverkeer op lijnen 1 en 5 verloopt opnieuw normaal: Metros are running as normal again on lines 1 and 5.
Potverdekke!: Darn it!

Basic Dutch Phrases

By gum you could cut that Dutch accent with a knife, but it's a nice introduction video to some basic phrases used in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Monday, 2 September 2013

To bowl a maiden over > Mijden?

Whilst playing cricket yesterday I spent some time scoring our first innings and chatting with one of the Flemish players. We mulled a little over the term 'Maiden' (a scoreless over) and I offered that the etymology is more to do with the older sense of being 'unproductive'. I quizzed him if there was a similar word in Dutch and he came up with the possibility of 'mijden' which means to avoid.

The etymology of maiden shows simply a root meaning of 'unmarried' but I can't link it to mijden whose etymology is more associated with the Anglo-Saxon 'mīðan', which also meant to avoid.

It seems my fancy research was all for nothing. It was unproductive: a maiden! I looked back into the etymology to find German, 'mädchen', Dutch 'meid/magd' and English 'maiden'  (ongehuwde, unmarried, unproductive…) to be most likely to have given the word to the cricket over.

Friday, 30 August 2013

The might of language

Having mused about the connection between Dutch -acht/-ocht endings and English -ought ending I was further interested to read David Crystal's comment on the word 'might'.

In Crystal's great book 'The Cambridge Encyclopedia of The English Language' he makes a study on the Middle English variations of the word might (note: the -ght ending). In this little aside he shows that the written evidence for this particular word during the Middle English period was varied due to scribal error, context or dialectal variant.

He adds as an example that the North Eastern dialect form of 'might' was 'micht'. Furthermore as David Simpson states in his fantastically entertaining book 'Aal Aboot Geordie', Northern dialect was chiefly influenced by Saxon (a West Germanic language) and not, as is commonly thought, Viking (North Germanic) languages. So we see that the Saxon (or North Eastern English) equivalent of might was close to 'micht'. This further proves a link between the -ght of English today and its equivalent Germanic -cht.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Monday, 22 July 2013

A biography of the Dutch language

This is definitely a book I'm putting on my Christmas list! A biography of the Dutch language, written in English by Flemish linguist Roland Willemyns. I heard him being interviewed on Dutch language radio een (I think!) but I didn't quite understand the author's name so I was glad when I spotted an article in the English language paper 'Flanders Today'.

The book, printed by Oxford University Press, covers the history of Dutch as well as the influence of Dutch today. For someone like me who is interested (obsessed?) by the etymology of the English language I think it's pretty indispensable. Part of the joy of this blog is spotting links between English and Dutch to help me remember what sometimes seem at first glance super-complex words. And of course as a learner of the Dutch language it'll be fairly interesting to see the development of the language; knowing the history will help me understand the grammar more. I hope.

Of course, I can't say too much about it as I haven't read it yet.

Maybe I'll move this from the Christmas list to my birthday list.

Or maybe I'll just buy it tomorrow….

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Werchter 2013 Dutch

Essential word learned at Rock Werchter this year:

Apparently a West Flemish dialect word for intense French kissing.

Muilen means muzzles or mouths.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Woord van de dag: zenuwachtig

Love it!

What a fantastic word, "zenuwachtig". I could say it all day….

It means nervous, or jumpy.
From zenuw, nerve (poss also sinew?)

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Just a thought (connection between words ending -ought in English and -acht/-ocht in Dutch)

A little thought piece looking at a connection I've noticed between words ending in '-ought' in English and their counterparts in Dutch which mostly end in '-ocht' and sometimes '-acht'.

As I was studying Dutch the other day it struck me that the words 'thought' and 'brought' (as past participles) have similar equivalents in Dutch and, just like in English, their equivalents end in a similar way!

Thought - gedacht
Brought - gebracht

It seems that this is a straight link between these types of words. I did a little digging and came up with the following list:

Bought - gekocht
Sought - gezocht
Fought - gevochten (but gevocht in the imperfect)
Wrought - gewrocht

Further digging in the etymology of the English words throws up some interesting evidence for the link:

Seek (Old English sohte) and zoeken both originate from the Proto-Germanic 'sokjanan', likewise fought (Old English fohten) and vechten come from fekhtanen and so on. Perhaps 'ought' was the English rendering of the k followed by j or h sound? -kj and -kh

The online etymology dictionary highlights why the -gh spelling for a 'hard H' sound is used. It was a scribal habit to represent the yogh.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Eggys or Eryen?

William Caxton who is credited as setting up the first printing presses in England also helped edit and translate many works. One story he wrote illustrates some of the difficulties he had with the various English dialects of the time. It is the tale of two merchants who knock upon a door and ask to buy eggs…

"And one of theym named Sheffelde, a mercer, cam in to an hows and axed for mete and specyally he axyd after eggys, and the goode wyf answerde that she could speke no Frenshe. And the marchaunt was angry, for he also coude speke no Frenshe, but wolde have hadde egges; and she understode hym not. And thenne at laste a-nother sayd that he wolde have eyren. Then the good wyf sayd that she understod hym wel. Loo, what sholde a man in thyse dayes now wryte, egges, or eyren? Certaynly it is hard to playse every man, by-cause of dyversite and chaunge of langage." (Ref)

The confusion comes form the fact that 'Sheffield' was using a Northern dialect (influenced by Old Norse) which gave the word 'eggys'. Eryen which is very similar to modern Dutch 'eieren' was in fact influenced by the Southern Old English dialect. Interestingly Caxton decided to furthermore use the word 'egges'. (Ref p.87 The Story of English, Piercy, London 2012).

Sunday, 21 April 2013

The etymology of shit

At a friend's house I come across an interesting looking book called 'The Etymologicon' by Mark Forsyth.
I pick it up and sit in the terrace with it over a cuppa while my pal sleeps off last night's excesses. As I flick through the pages I'm immediately interested by the chapter concerning shit and fuck. Of course! I'm a boy and this behaviour seems to be de rigeur for boys who pick up books on language. "where's the naughty stuff?". I digress.
I was happily reading the etymology of the word shit when I stumble across an etymology for a Dutch word (scheiden, to separate). How so? From shit to separate?
Let's see...
Scitan (Old English for to shit)
Skit (proto-Germanic)
Skhei (proto Indo European for to separate)...which looks amazingly like the Dutch Scheiden: to separate!

Skhei also begat the word schism.
And of course shit and scheisse.
Charming, I know.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

English is second spoken language in Brussels

The following article from Flanders Today highlighted something that I have suspected for a long time: English is everywhere in Brussels. Maybe not EVERYWHERE, but I do know some non-Belgians who live here without knowing any French or Dutch (or German which is the third official language in Belgium).

In fact the figures used in the article show French spoken by 88% of respondents, English by nearly 30% and Dutch by 23%.

The results from the VUB team (note their website is only available in Dutch and English) which carried out the inquiry show also that Dutch knowledge is increasing. Something to which I, as a resident of Brussels and a Dutch language student, can attest. I hear Dutch a lot more in the streets and trams than when I first lived here nearly 20 years ago and I find the Dutch language education in Brussels extensive. There are lots of opportunities to learn Dutch and get better at it: not only subsidised Dutch lessons but Dutch language local libraries (such as Kontakt) and conversation tables organised in Dutch.

The sad truth of it though is that these initiatives need to be in place (regardless of any political motivation) because Flemings simply don't like speaking Dutch to non-native Dutch speakers. One Fleming conceded that this was because they didn't want to give the 'power' of the conversation away; that they prefer to understand everything and keep the 'advantage'. Another Fleming friend maintains that he speaks English rather than Dutch (to me!) because Flemish people like to help others, which I can well understand but it doesn't help me learn Dutch!

I was at a dinner party with Flemings and said, in Dutch, "It's a struggle to speak Dutch here in Brussels as Flemings speak to me in English", to which the guy, completely unfazed, replied in English…

It's a good job I'm tenacious! I still try to speak Dutch in shops and in street encounters but my goal of being fluent in Dutch within a year came and went. I am conversant with a strong intermediate level but this is thanks mainly to my own hard work and lessons rather than encounters with native Dutch speakers.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013


I've written before about how easy it is to pick up bits of Dutch vocab in Brussels due to the bilingual nature of public signage. Of course it helps if you speak French fairly well but now and then you can find something resembling English owing to our Norman heritage! Here we can deduce the Dutch word for 'Responsible' (in French Responsable) = 'Verantwoordelijk'. I suppose Old English would have been more like 'Answerable' based on the Dutch...

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Verboden in- of uit te stappen zodra het signaal weerklinkt

Seen in the metro in Brussels: instant and free translation!

"verboden in- of uit te stappen zodra het signaal weerklinkt"

Note the similarity between German erklingt and Dutch weerklinkt. Also the word verboden (inf verbieden) almost the same as the German word verboten and very similar to the English forbidden.


Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Aandacht! Politie!

During a pleasant stroll through Brussels with a friend and a slow mooch around some cafés in St. Géry (in Dutch Sint-Gorikseiland) we marvelled at how where we walked there was once marshland and, later, a series of rivers and streams. Among our conversation we touched on the multi-lingual aspect of Brussels' life and my friend posed me a question concerning the pronunciation of '-tie' in Dutch. Ah yes! To English speakers this indicates a hard sounding 'T' and I myself was disconcerted when I realised that this has a soft sound in Dutch and is much more like an 'S'.

For example, police in Dutch is 'politie' but this is not pronounced /po'liti/ (with a hard 'T') but rather /po'litsi/ or softer even /po'lisi/.

Likewise the word 'Attentie' or attention (synonym of aandacht) is pronounced /a'ten'si/ with a soft 'si' ending. This, of course much like the similar word 'attention' in English; we don't pronounce the '-tion' exactly as the spelling of it might indicate. Instead we also employ a softer '-shun' ending.

Food for thought about pronunciation.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Aethelred the Ill-Advised

With the discovery of King Richard III's remains recently I've been thinking of Britain's monarchs. An interesting and bizarrely named AEthelred the Unready springs to mind and makes me dip into some etymology. His name in Old English was in fact 'Æþelræd Unræd' which meant AEthelraed 'Bad Counsel' (or Ill advised). Nothing to do with being unready, simply a mis-translation of 'Unræd' (potentially used by biographers to their own end).

"Unræd", thinks I. "Hmmm….link to Dutch?"

Of course!

Counsel (or an advisory position) is 'raad' in Dutch (synoniemen: advies, advocaat, counsel).

Etymology for 'raad': [advies, adviserend college] {oudnederlands rat 901-1000, middelnederlands raet [advies, adviserend lichaam]} van raden.

Synonymous with German, 'rat', cf Rathaus (town hall).

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Gedichtendag 2013

Morgen is het Gedichtendag 2013! Zijn jullie dichters? 

But how to make poetry in this interesting but sometimes bewildering new language we're learning?

Monday, 28 January 2013

Fyra explained

…in Dutch:
Niet zo lang geleden was het zeer eenvoudig om met de trein van Brussel naar Amsterdam te reizen. Je stapte op de IC-trein (intercitytrein) in Brussel en een kleine drie uur later was je in Amsterdam.

…in English:
"The Dutch and Belgian governments last week stopped the service of the new high-speed Fyra train linking Brussels and Amsterdam, which has been plagued with problems since its launch last month. "

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Belgians divided by language barrier

Language issues in Belgium. Note the reaction by the headmaster, "If they have a problem, they can go elsewhere".

Three little biggetjes

Varken always struck me as a funny Dutch word. It sounds GREAT!



But it puzzled me that there was no link between this and the English word 'pig'…

…until I heard on the radio an advert using the three little piggies tale 'De drie kleine biggetjes'!

Pig in Dutch is indeed 'varken' or 'zwijn' (similar to 'swine')

Looking at the etymology of pig in English we see that the word comes from Old English 'picg' which meant young pig. And this is exactly what 'big' (and its diminutive 'biggetje') means in Dutch: piglet.

Check out the 'Drie kleine biggetjes' sprookje in het Nederlands.
A good opportunity to listen to the imperfect tense too.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Woord van de dag

Today's word of the day is just a word I love the sound of. Maybe that's enough! It's not a nasty word or a negative word but it is a simple, three syllable sound. Take a risk and learn it…

Risico = risk

See it here in context in a De Morgen article.

"Uit nieuw onderzoek van de Amerikaanse Cancer Society blijkt dat 4 kopjes koffie per dag het risico op mondkanker halveren door de vorming van tumoren in mond en keel tegen te gaan."

Saturday, 5 January 2013

The Vocabulary of Poverty (armoede)

De Morgen is running a special campaign to highlight poverty in Belgium: 'Innocenti, het anti-armoedeproject' which gives food for thought and a lot of new vocabulary.

Stories tell of people living on the street (dakloos=lit. roofless) and difficulties feeding or clothing themselves.

wrijfen = to rub
wieg = the cradle (Mijn armoede is begonnen toen ik nog in de wieg lag)
korstjes = crusts (Zij kregen de boterhammen, ik de korstjes)
schillen = peels (Zij eten de appel, ik de schillen)
tegengekomen = encountered
slokdarm = gullet
gezellig = cosy
grijns = a grin
rouwen = to mourn
aanvaard ons = accept us
kansarm = underprivileged / disadvantaged
kringwinkel = thrift shop / second hand shop

Niemand kijkt de bedelaars in de ogen
Nobody looks the beggars in the eyes.

And lastly, don't forget...
"Want armoede, het kan u ook overkomen. Plots. En dan sta je daar. Alleen"
(Because poverty can happen to you also. Suddenly. And there you are. Alone)