Often referred to as Holland, the Netherlands, meaning ‘low lands” and is a small country situated below sea level. It’s well known for its picturesque canals, cute houses, and overall bohemian vibe, however, fewer are familiar when it comes to the background of its universal language, Dutch. Dutch is spoken by over 24 million speakers all across the globe and is the closest popularly spoken extant language to English in the world – in other words, apart from actual English itself, Dutch is the closest thing to it. Although thought to be challenging, it boasts a pretty interesting lingual diversity that features quirky phrases, consonant clusters, and abstract pronunciations and while this may not be a huge list, we’ve included lesser known fun facts about the Dutch language for you to enjoy below!
1: THE FIRST DUTCH WORDS ARE 12 CENTURIES OLD
The first known example of written Dutch is said to had been written as a poem on a piece of paper, thought to test a writing implement during the 12th century. Though, some say the oldest writing pieces of Dutch writing were either a book on Salic Law in the 6th century or an inscription found on a metal mount for a sword scabbard, called the Bergakker inscription. No matter, the Dutch language has sure come a long way.
2: THERE’S A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DUTCH AND DEUTSCH
Until about the 17th Century, “Dutch” referred to all Germanic speaking areas on the continent south of Scandinavia, however the word Dutch is an English word used by natives of the Netherlands. On the other hand, the word Deutsch is the German word for the German language. While Germans quite understand Dutch, native Dutch speakers can actually understand a great deal of German, due to the fact that they encounter the German culture with frequency.
3: THE DUTCH WORD GEZELLIG IS UNTRANSLATABLE
Surprisingly, this word lies at the center of Dutch culture and it’s called, gezellig. It’s one of the most used Dutch words, has no, literal translation in English or many other languages, and is an adjective for the noun being, gezelligheid. It is basically used to describe anything that evokes feelings of coziness, enjoyment or feel-good vibes. For example, “I had a really nice evening and and sat gezellig by the fire cuddled up to a good read.”
4: THE NOUNS IN DUTCH ARE NOT SPECIFIED FOR CASE
Although similar to the German language, there’s no need to think that Dutch has the same gruesome array of cases for all of its nouns. Luckily for those looking to learn Dutch, their nouns have no cases. This is definitely a plus as it’s one less thing to memorize!
5: DUTCH HAS SOME REALLY INTERESTING PROVERBS
One example is maak dat de kat wijs, which is the literal translation of “make that the cat wise”. Apparently, this means that someone is telling something so bizzare or unbelievable, that even the cat won’t believe it. Another example is a phrase used to explain the change in puberty of a young boy when his voice breaks, called “hij heeft de baard in de keel”. This is literally translated to “he has the beard in the throat”.
6: DUTCH WORDS HAVE MANY CONSONANTS
While Dutch may be the easiest language for English speakers to learn, it does have its challenges. There are many Dutch words that are quite tricky and seem like tongue twisters within themselves, containing several consonants in a row. For instance, angstschreeuw which means “a scream of fear”) has eight consonants while the word slechtstschrijvend, meaning “worst writing” has nine.
7: NEARLY ONE-THIRD OF THE DUTCH LANGUAGE WAS BORROWED
With origins from the French, English and Hebrew language, it’s no question that the Dutch language has a long linguistic history. A few examples of French loanwords include bureau (desk or office), paraplu (umbrella), or jus d’orange (orange juice) and more while and some of the Hebrew loanwords are mazzel (lucky), and tof (cool), and bajes (jail) just to name a few.
8: THE LONGEST WORD CITED IN DUTCH IS 60 LETTERS LONG
The Dutch language like German is capable of forming compounds of potentially limitless length. The word kindercarnavalsoptochtvoorbereidingswerkzaamhedencomitéleden contains 60 letters and refers to the commity members of the preparation activities for a children’s carnival procession. It was cited by the 2011 Guinness Book of World Records as the longest Dutch word. The Dutch like writing words without spaces between that’s clear to see with this one and that’s clear to see with this word.
9: DUTCH WAS HEAVILY INFLUENCED BY FRENCH
The influence of French in the Netherlands is profound, where many of its words have found their way in many languages, with much of its vocabulary being adopted into Dutch lexicon. Between the 19th and 20th century, the spillover effects of French in the Dutch language is natural and makes sense, as language is a part of a people’s culture, and cultures spread easily. Here are just a few Dutch words taken from the French language:
- bagage – bagage (baggage, luggage)
- blesser – blesseren (to hurt, to injure)
- caduque – kaduuk (broken)
- appartement – appartement (apartment)
10: SOME WORDS IN DUTCH SLANG DERIVED FROM HEBREW
Yes, it’s true that the Dutch have appropriated a few Yiddish words to some color to the language and were given new pronunciations. Holland’s traditional openness to its Jews back then somewhere down the line created a slang in Amsterdam known as Bargoens, which has a large Yiddish vocabulary. A few couple examples are, child in Hebrew was katan (“little one”), which became Dutch koter or the Hebrew word excuse or alibi pit’ḥn-peh, became biskopetjes in Dutch.
The Dutch is a very interesting language of many and the only way to learn any language is to dive right into the language itself and, of course, the culture. If you’re interested in learning more, about other languages, check out our blog that can be found on our website for more fun facts!