17 Jan 2017

Hallo Allemaal!

Hallo allemaal! Ik ben deze maand Nederlands aan het studeren!

If you’re scratching your head, wondering whatever has possessed yours truly, rest assured that Alex has not fallen prey to a bout of logorrhea. Rather, he is learning Dutch this month; and he has decided (since he has been terribly busy and unable to write on the Magical Realm) to give you a rundown on his activities over January.

Firstly, I shall address my experience learning Dutch thus far; and secondly, I shall address the many other important aspects of my literary life, with particular regards to my progress with Fallen Love and my beta readers. But yes, before I go into that, allow me to explain a few pertinent elements of Dutch.

Nederlandse is Gezellig!

The full complexities of grammar, spelling and other such tedious details I shall not be overly concerned with here; I intend, rather, to speak about Dutch in a more general sense. What is the character of Dutch? What does it sound like, feel like? Languages, I believe, are more interesting in the broad sense—in the way they communicate meaning and in the cultural character that they reveal about their speakers—rather in the technical minutiae.

So: what is Dutch like? I think the word gezellig—which translate rather approximately as ‘cozy’—is a good example. A Dutch man or woman, when speaking positively, will often describe a place (or indeed numerous other entities) as being gezellig. In English, there is no real equivalent. We might say cozy, or comfortable, or moody, or characterful; but such words are encompassed by a single word in het Nederlands.

Gezellig can also be used to describe the Dutch character. The Nederlanders are a laid-back, conversant, and expressive people. In conversation, they can seem curiously joyful, with such expressions as ‘dat is moi!’ or ‘Lekker!’ (The former translates, again approximately, as ‘that is pretty’; while the latter means ‘it is great, nice, pleasant’).

I believe part of this impression also stems from the way the language sounds.

Dutch Phonology (and Orthography)

The Dutch language is melodious. In fact, I would say it is the most melodious language I’ve heard, surpassing English and even Italian. (And for the record, French, which isn’t at all as romantic as it’s cracked up to be.)

But you would never guess that from the orthography. No doubt some of you, when seeing the word gezellig, incorrectly tried to pronounce it as /gɛzɛlɪg/ (a bit like geezer) instead of /ɣəzɛlɪɣ/. The Dutch pronunciation of the g grapheme is very unfamiliar to modern English speakers. It is known in the technical parlance as a ‘voiced velar fricative’; basically, it’s like having a sore throat. If you gyrate your vocal cords together, you’ll get it.

You’d think this would make the Dutch language sound harsh, like German or Scandinavian languages. But you’d be wrong: when the voiced velar fricative is introduced in a language that has very pronounced vowels (e.g. as in alleen or allemaal) it sounds quirky rather than harsh.

But yes, Dutch does have a lot of elongated vowels. Duur and straat are examples; indeed in any case where there are two a’s or e’s, the vowel is elongated. But, even in words like deze (this) you still get pronounced vowels, being realised as /deːzə/.


I admit I am still very much unfamiliar with the grammar, so I shall make only a minor observation regarding it. As with many languages, the word order can change depending on context: in the main clause (hoofdzin) the verb comes second (Dutch, like English, is an SVO language: we say ‘I love you’ or ‘Ik houd van jou’). But, in the subordinate clause (bijzin) the verb comes last: Ih heb hoofdpijn, dus ik wil een ibuprofen hebben.

In English, the meaning can be subtly changed by the word order as well—particularly when yours truly is writing poetry. For example:

Deep in mountains great and terrible \ O’er the frozen wastelands of the north \ There lies the dwarven hinterland.

What is the significance of saying ‘deep in mountains great and terrible’ instead of ‘deep in great and terrible mountains’? Perhaps nothing, you say. But notice that in the former I use asyndeton (there is no connecting word between the noun—mountain—and the two adjectives, great and terrible). This can give the prose a different character to ordinary conversation.

Het Diminutief

Another curious aspect of Dutch is the use of the diminutive, i.e. ‘little words’. These usually (albeit not exclusively) terminate in -je. Examples would include e.g. kopje or broodje.

It is difficult to describe what exactly a diminutive is for English speakers, but perhaps I can peruse an example from Scots English instead. You will sometimes here a Scotsman using the word wee, as in ‘a wee lad’. The word wee in Scots English acts as a diminutive.

Dutch is in fact not the only language where diminutives exist. In Romanian, a similar rule exists: you can say ‘un scaun’—a chair—or ‘un scăunel’ (a wee chair). In Romanian the use of the diminutive is complicated by the presence of gendered words, so ‘o masă’ (feminine word) has a diminutive form ‘o masuță’. Moreover, there are even some words that have irregular diminutives, so ‘un copil’ (a child; masculine word) has the diminutive ‘un copilaș’.

As you can see, Dutch isn’t the hardest language you can learn!


And now, finally, I shall address my writing progress.

I have written 22,000 words in Fallen Love so far, and will continue to write more. I have already received feedback from my two beta readers for the first 10K words; and I will receive more soon.

As for the Necromancer, I have finished reviewing the books allotted to me, and I have received the reviews I was owed. I shall seek more reviews for it, though with writing, reading, and learning Dutch, I have more than enough on my plate.

To Finish

The month of januari will be a busy one for me, as you can see, so my blogging will alas cover only the essentials. But, you can expect to see two interesting pieces published in the coming weeks. The first is another poem I have written (but not published); and the second is a piece I wrote for Scriptus, the university journal.

Very well; that is all for now. As the Dutch would say: Doei!

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