On Nov. 23, 2005 I moved to The Hague from Washington, DC. This is my new Dutch life.


Blink Blink

Yesterday marked Day 2 of my Dutch language course. Only 37 hours till fluency. YES!

I didn't bother to report on Day 1 mainly because we covered everyday vocabulary, about 30% of which are the same in English. After Day 1, I thought I was on a roll. While others worried over the correct pronunciation of Engels*, I was thinking ahead to the Dutch novels I'd write, set in windmills, involving lots of bicycle thievery. Of course, I'd be the spunky Amerikaanse that busts up the bicycle mob, downing a few lazy cops and bureaucrats on the take...


Highlights from Monday include three fruits and veggies all named "apple."

appel - apple
aartappel - potato
sinaasappel - orange

Yesterday's class started out well enough. Anyone have any questions about the homework? After a little review, we moved on to vocabulary about the Netherlands. I learned that canals are to the Dutch as snow is to the Eskimos. That is to say they have at least three words for "canal." Very important in a boggy sort of country as this.

About fifteen minutes into the class, after only 1 hour 45 minutes of total Dutch instruction, and in typical Dutch fashion (that is to say, direct to the point of cruelty), our teacher blew our minds!

Ye bastards, I call you definite articles!

You know what a definite article is - that simple little word that we use to talk about specific things: "the." English speakers are blessed, BLESSED, with simplicity. In other languages, like French and Spanish, we tip toe out of our comfort zone to learn masculine and feminine nouns with their corresponding articles. Our solace? With a few exceptions, there are rules to guide you in knowing which article to use.

The Dutch have a curious direct article syntax that bleeds into the spelling of some pronouns and adjectives. Let's see if I understand this correctly, and can break it down for you:

1) The are two direct articles: de and het. Technically, one is for neuter nouns and one is for masculine and feminine nouns. It doesn't matter which is which b/c there are NO guidelines. You have to memorize which article goes with which word. The instructor tried to soften the blow by pointing out that 70% of the words use de. If that were all there was to it, then sure. But it's not.

2) If you are talking about a noun that uses de as its definite article, AND you are actually talking about this noun in a general sense using an indefinite article (in English "a" or "an"), AND you slap an adjective in front of the noun, THEN you change the bloody spelling of the adjective by adding an "e" on the end of the word. In some cases the spelling changes more dramatically.

Now for the problems with the pronoun/adjectives: this, that, these, those, and the occasional, though terribly incorrect, them (Pass me them thar peas, Maw.).

3) Basically, de nouns and het nouns have their own corresponding "this" and "that."
de --> deze (this) and die (that)
het --> dit (this) and dat (that)

4) When using the indirect article, you just use dit and dat.

5) This distinction also infects the words for "which." De takes welke, and het takes welk.

All of this information was transferred to us in the way that language instructors always do - she pieced it out to us in Dutch, hoping that we'd catch on through repetition. To all language instructors everywhere, on Day 2 that doesn't work.

Granted, I manufactured a few too many Zs the night before and my brain was a bit muddy. I spent the whole half of the class scratching my head. I was not alone. At one point, one woman asked if we could take a break and do something a bit easier. Apparently there isn't anything easier b/c we moved on to verb conjugation.

It wasn't all for naught, however. I learned what might be the unintentional origin of the word "bling." Behold, blinken, the Dutch word for "shine."

* Engels is the Dutch world for English. For some, it's a challenge b/c the "eng" is pronounced like the end of verbs like "walking," "talking," etc.



Blogger Reid said...

I dunno...I pity the people who have to learn English, trying to figure out when to use what grammar rules. And the number of homonyms we have is ridiculous.

But still, when my head was swimming as I was trying to figure out how to say "thank you" in Dutch, I can only imagine how confusing those classes are.

(ps. the verification word is djuyn, which has gotta be a Dutch word. If it isn't, it should be)

4:20 PM GMT+1

Blogger Doc Paradox said...

I can only imagine that our mutual friend Soo Doh Nim will devour this entry like a coffeehouse patron tucking into a jumbo order of patat frites slathered with a choking amount of mayonaise.

As for your novel idea, I anxiously await your first draft. Although, I think it would work wonderfully if there was a robot driving instructor in there who goes back in time for some reason and his best friend is a talking pie!

1:19 AM GMT+1

Blogger soo doh nim said...

I did devour this. I will need to read it again when I don't have to be up for work again so soon after coming home.

Deze/die and dit/dat are confusing. The only reason they don't exist in English is that we got rid of them. They used to be there. German retains this in a form that has more variations, but in a different way. Believe it or not, it's simpler, or at least more logical more of the time.

De vs. het is a problem for every reason you mentioned, most of all the random nature. That really tripped me up.

Is it "het groote huis?" or "de groote huis?"

What is the gender of a slaapkamer?

no idea.

One thing that might help though is to throw out the masculine/feminine thing. What helped me to think it through at the time was:

"regular verbs" and "neuter verbs."

Two. Done.

I can't remember a damned thing now of course.

5:03 AM GMT+1

Blogger akaijen said...

So Reid, believe it or not but everyone keeps insisting that English grammar is easier to learn than any other Indo-European language. It's, as you said, the pronunciation that screws everyone up. The articles are just a first step towards mental hospitalization. French grammar, for instance, gets really nasty as soon as you start dealing with direct objects.

Wally, this robot and pie duo.... sounds a bit familiar.

And Rob - Yes German is definitely harder, and this is but one reason. I will hand it to the Germans for upholding the latin tradition of declining nouns. You crazy masochists. Seriously, word order is much easier.

And it is:
Het grote huis.

WHICH doesn't make any sense b/c I left that damn class thinking that HET nouns don't mess with adjectives. I would have guessed that it is Het groot huis, but I am wrong. :(

And by the way, no Dutch houses are grote.

11:07 AM GMT+1

Blogger soo doh nim said...

Yeah - there was no question I was going to get it wrong somehow. The last time I constructed a Dutch sentence from more than just my hazy memory was 1993. So it goes.

7:37 AM GMT+1

Blogger soo doh nim said...

Oh and yes - German noun declensions are for masochists. But I can say this - once you get the pattern, it never shifts. It is very reliable, consistent and dependable - just like German behavior.

And the best part is, it's way easier to learn and memorize the way to do it than it is to even say the bulky phrase "noun declension."

But I'm not a traveling salesman for the German language so I'll quit now.

7:39 AM GMT+1

Blogger PeeKay said...

wow jen, your account of day 1 had me so nervous to take a language class again! eeek. my head hurts now, i need some caffeine.

de patti

6:09 PM GMT+1


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