Dutch/Flemish/Afrikaans mutual intelligibility?

MindBoggle

Senior Member
Danish. English from childhood
Hello everybody.

In another thread, someone asked the following question:

To what extent do Dutch speakers understand speakers of Flemish or Afrikaans and vice versa?

We couldn't answer it.

Can you?

MindBoggle
 
  • Peterdg

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    Dutch and Flemish are actually the same. It's like the difference between British English and, let's say, Australian English. There are some pronunciation differences and some vocabulary that is different, but we understand each other perfectly.

    Afrikaans is also understandable for Dutch speakers and vice versa, meaning that we will understand about 95% (meaning, most of it) of what is said.
     
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    Varis

    New Member
    Dutch
    According to Wikipedia: '...Dutch speakers tend to find it easier to understand Afrikaans than vice versa as a result of Afrikaans's simplified grammar, although the large number of false friends between these languages can cause misunderstanding.'

    As for Dutch/Flemish, this is indeed officially the same language, but you have to take into account the great variety in dialects. I recently saw the movie Rundskop (Bullhead) and I found it pretty hard to understand what was being said at some points. Especially the West-Flemish parts.
     
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    NewtonCircus

    Senior Member
    Dutch (Belgium)
    Flemish is unfortunately one of the most confusing terms there is, not at least caused by the Belgians themselves and in fact used to refer to two different things:

    • Belgian accented Dutch.
    and

    • A collective term to group all Germanic dialects spoken in Belgium and technically speaking also Flandres (France) and Zeeuws-Vlaanderen (The Netherlands)

    As Peter already mentioned, the first is no different than the distinction between British and American English, even closer if you ask me.

    As for the latter some, especially the Dutch, would argue that some of these dialects aren't mutually intelligible. Ultimately, it all depends on how exposed one has been to all these different varieties, which if you include the ones from the Netherlands easily amount to a dozen main ones. My younger nieces who are 40 years my junior grew up with only cable TV and have hardly ever watched a Dutch TV-channel in their life claim to have problems understanding certain Dutch dialects and accents. 40 years ago we could only receive 2 Flemish, 2 Dutch and 3 German TV channels at the place were I grew-up and I guess that made a considerable difference for my generation in terms of exposure.

    In another thread.
    Do you mind if I ask for a sneak-peek in that thread :D ?
     

    Chimel

    Senior Member
    Français
    A good indication is to see to what extent TV-people feel the necessity to use subtitles when people are interviewed on the street or so.

    There is a "standard Flemish" (the language used at school, in the media, by public administration... in Belgium - I suppose this is what Newton calls "Belgian accented Dutch") which is perfectly intelligible in the Netherlands and vice versa. As Peter points out, you may wonder about some words being used a different way and the pronunciation (the "music" of the language) is quite different, but basically it's the same language.

    Now, if people really speak a Flemish dialect, you'll often see subtitles on Dutch TV, which clearly shows the language is not perfectly understandable to everyone. But as a matter of fact, it's not merely a Dutch/Flemish problem: I frequently see subtitles on Flemish TV too (I mean: translation of a Flemish dialect into standard Flemish) as not every Flemish person understands every Flemish dialect - the dialect spoken in the West of Flanders or in Antwerp, for instance, is especially difficult to understand, you can trust me!

    We French-speaking people have a similar problem with people from Quebec. TV-makers rarely use subtitles with them, probably arguing "it's the same language" and feeling it would be offensive to them. But if you ask me, they sometimes should...
     

    Varis

    New Member
    Dutch
    Now, if people really speak a Flemish dialect, you'll often see subtitles on Dutch TV
    It goes much further than this; even when Flemish people speak perfectly standard Dutch, they are subtitled!!! I'm from a large city in the province of South-Holland, which means my Dutch is the most standard variety there is; and I understand people in this or that Flemish TV show perfectly, because they simply speak Standard Dutch! And _still_ it's subtitled! It's maddening! It's insulting to both Flemish speakers and Dutch listeners.

    For North Americans; this is comparable to TV shows where actors speaking with a slight Southern drawl are being subtitled or dubbed for New England audiences; or speakers with a New York accent being dubbed for Canadian English-speakers.
     

    Hitchhiker

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I went to Belgium as a student for several years. The language wasn't my main discipline of study, but if one year of Dutch language courses was completed, the university would refund the fees for the courses. I never really got Dutch while I was there but i later spent ten years in Namibia. The town was a mainly German-speaking town but nearly everybody there knew German, English and Afrikaans. i first stayed with an English-speaking famiy and later with an Afrikaans-speaking family. I learned just about everthing of Afrikaans but they would always laugh at my accent. I can read Afrikaans newspapers without any trouble but I struggle to understand everthing in Dutch newspapers. I now have a better understanding of Dutch though. Some Dutch speakers find that Afrikaans sounds a bit like the way young children speak Dutch.

    Here in Washington we now have one Dutch TV channel. It has a mix of TV programs from Belgium and the Netherlands. Some game shows are about proper language. There is at least one show with TV presenters from Belgium and the Netherlands with a contest between them about langiuage.

    At the university in Belgium there was one South African guy and his family spoke Dutch and Afrikaans. There was a South African girl that was Afrikaans-speaking who also spoke perfect French that she learned in school but she couldn't understand a word of Flemish when the Belgians were speaking.
     
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    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    Greetings

    This is purely anecdotal but so have been some other contributions in this thread. Some years ago I found myself in a quiet pub in London, where a Dutch customer was in conversation with an Afrikaaner barman - clearly they were understanding each other well enough to pass the time of day. Although I speak neither of these tongues, I could recognise the timbre of them both, and, interested as I am in languages in general, when a polite opportunity arose I asked the Dutchman more or less the question posed here; his answer was, interestingly, "It's like talking to someone from the 16th or 17th century".

    In the EHL forum there are probably threads already on this, or on a tendency for colonial minorities to preserve more conservative linguistic habits than those from the original motherland.

    Σ
     

    Varis

    New Member
    Dutch
    Greetings

    Although I speak neither of these tongues, I could recognise the timbre of them both, and, interested as I am in languages in general, when a polite opportunity arose I asked the Dutchman more or less the question posed here; his answer was, interestingly, "It's like talking to someone from the 16th or 17th century".
    This Dutchman of yours was clearly wrong. For one thing, unless he's a scientist studying early modern Dutch, he wouldn't know how Dutch people from the 16th or 17th century would speak. I think his reply to you was inspired by the common knowledge that Afrikaans is a descendant of 16/17th century Dutch, which is definately not the same thing. No language is static. My understanding is that, compared to modern Dutch and especially early modern Dutch, Afrikaans is pretty radically simplified in terms of grammar; this would explain the asymmetricality of the mutual intelligibility between Dutch and Afrikaans. In that sense, Hitchhiker's comment that 'some Dutch speakers find that Afrikaans sounds a bit like the way young children speak Dutch' is a bit more understandable.

    And on a purely anecdotal level: the few times I spoke with Afrikaans-speakers (they were tourists in a Dutch supermarket and I was an employee there) their language sounded like the way I imagined mildly retarded farmers from the provinces would speak Dutch :eek:
     

    YellowOnline

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    As a Flemish speaker, I have no trouble to understand Dutch and Afrikaans, but even though I do not speak dialect, they both have trouble understanding me.

    As Varis said, Afrikaans language separated from Dutch a few centuries ago and evolved its own way, but their grammar was simplified and the vocabulary isn't hard if you're at home in archaic and contemporary Dutch (there are, of course, words that are alien to me, e.g. Zulu-influenced). If you know some basic phonology rules and grammatical particularities (eg. double negation), reading it should be no problem and hearing usually neither for a Flemish/Dutch speaker. The other way round, however, seems to be hard - but my interpersonal experience with Afrikaner is too limited I must admit.

    Why the Dutch don't understand me is more puzzling, even if I change from Flemish (which isn't really a language but more of a concept, but that discussion out of scope here...) to standard Dutch. I even go as far as to change my pronunciation of some phonemes! (Except my [r] - I just refuse to do a [ɹ] even though I can) To be honest, the problem seems to be more to the north and the east of the Netherlands (Friesland, Groning, Drenthe, Overijssel). Surely in Noord-Brabant and Limburg I never had issues.

    The big issue between Flemish and Dutch might be that the Flemish simply have more contact with Dutch than the other way round; and therefore understand the Dutch better than the Dutch Flemish. As NewtonCircus also mentioned, the gap will get bigger because we (= 30+ y.o.) grew up with few TV channels and often watched the Dutch channels, but anyone under 30 now grew up in a time with multiple Flemish channels and seldom tune in to what was called "Nederland 1, 2 & 3" (in reality, it was TROS, AVRO, VPRO,... complicated!).

    I am, however, like most Flemish, deeply insulted by subtitling us. There are exception I understand (e.g very old, mumbling people with a really heavy dialect), but generally it is just intellectual laziness. It would be indeed like Americans subtitling UK, Australian or Canadian English; or Germans subtitling Swiss or Austrian German; or French subtitling all the varieties of French in Africa and Canada; or Spanish ... .

    [And yeah, I have some trouble with Swiss German pronunciation and need to concentrate on Canadian French vocabulary that is really different, but that's part of knowing a language: also admiring the variation in it. The same goes for Dutch in the Netherlands and Belgium.]
     

    Hitchhiker

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Afrikaans has some words from Malaysian that came to Africa in the Western Cape. There are many English words and also anti-English words that have been made-up to avoid English. Flemish also has some unique words to avoid French words that are in the Dutch language. There used to be a radio program from South Africa I listened to in Namibia that was a soap opera set in old times in South Africa and the wealthy people would mix Afrikaans and French words when they spoke. The radio station is on the internet but I think the program has been discontinued. The station is Radio Sonder Grense (Radio Without Borders). The radio soap opera was called, "Stralejakkers" which translates in English to something like, "Jet-Setters." Modern Afrikaans doesn't have much French but there is some Yiddish, especially on the west coast of South Africa and in Namibia.
     

    NewtonCircus

    Senior Member
    Dutch (Belgium)
    This Dutchman of yours was clearly wrong. For one thing, unless he's a scientist studying early modern Dutch, he wouldn't know how Dutch people from the 16th or 17th century would speak. I think his reply to you was inspired by the common knowledge that Afrikaans is a descendant of 16/17th century Dutch, which is definitely not the same thing. No language is static.
    I agree.


    I am, however, like most Flemish, deeply insulted by subtitling us.
    Why would you feel insulted? Shouldn't this encourage the schools in the Netherlands to include Dutch in their curriculum :D.

    On a different note, this reminds me about the reader comments in an unrelated article in a Dutch newspaper only a week or two ago. De Volkskrant, I think, however I can't find it anymore .

    A reader, who obviously had a different opinion about the topic of discussion reacted to an earlier comment of another reader. I can't recall the exact words, but the response of that 1st reader on the comments of the 2nd was something like this.
    -"Don't pretend to be Dutch, I can spot a Belgian from miles away by the writing style and choice of words. So what relevance does your opinion have on Dutch matters?".
    On which the second reader responded.
    - "You just confirmed the general consensus here in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen that we're treated like 2nd class citizens by our fellow Dutchmen up North?

    As an "outsider" this tickled me :). The 1st commenter apologised, nevertheless the dialogue shows how parochial people in the Low Countries can be when it comes to language.


     

    Joannes

    Senior Member
    Belgian Dutch
    This Dutchman of yours was clearly wrong. For one thing, unless he's a scientist studying early modern Dutch, he wouldn't know how Dutch people from the 16th or 17th century would speak. I think his reply to you was inspired by the common knowledge that Afrikaans is a descendant of 16/17th century Dutch, which is definately not the same thing. No language is static. My understanding is that, compared to modern Dutch and especially early modern Dutch, Afrikaans is pretty radically simplified in terms of grammar; this would explain the asymmetricality of the mutual intelligibility between Dutch and Afrikaans. In that sense, Hitchhiker's comment that 'some Dutch speakers find that Afrikaans sounds a bit like the way young children speak Dutch' is a bit more understandable.
    Of course Afrikaans hasn't been static, but in terms of vocabulary, which is a common thing for non specialists to look at rather than morphosyntax, Afrikaans does have quite some words that are now archaic in the Netherlands -- and interestingly perhaps less so in Flanders. This is also true for that other colonial variety of Dutch: Surinamese Dutch. So while I would disagree with the statement that Afrikaans is "like talking to someone from the 16th or 17th century" as a general conclusion about the linguistic differences, I can see where it might come from.
     

    Janis Rainis

    Member
    Scottish English
    "It's like talking to someone from the 16th or 17th century".
    Here is a really readable study on this question http://www.let.rug.nl/~gooskens/pdf/publ_litlingcomp_2006b.pdf. I gather from it that Dutch speakers can understand Afrikaans better than Afrikaans speakers-Dutch because Dutch actually has the older forms, at least (but not solely of course) as regards spelling. In Afrikaans conjugations of verbs are rather simplified compared to Dutch and in many nouns letters have been removed, like in 'eie' from 'eigen' or 'plaas' from 'plaats'. It's interesting the recent loanwords in Dutch can make Afrikaans sound old fashioned- I wonder if the South Africans would ever say the same about Dutch.
     
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    YellowOnline

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    Here is a really readable study on this question http://www.let.rug.nl/~gooskens/pdf/publ_litlingcomp_2006b.pdf. I gather from it that Dutch speakers can understand Afrikaans better than Afrikaans speakers-Dutch because Dutch actually has the older forms, at least (but not solely of course) as regards spelling. In Afrikaans conjugations of verbs are rather simplified compared to Dutch and in many nouns letters have been removed, like in 'eie' from 'eigen' or 'plaas' from 'plaats'. It's interesting the recent loanwords in Dutch can make Afrikaans sound old fashioned- I wonder if the South Africans would ever say the same about Dutch.
    Did I interpret that wrong, or did that study even show that Dutch speakers actually understand a written text in Afrikaans better than the Afrikaner do (albeit by a small margin)? :eek: Now that is more surprising than the asymmetrical intelligibility.
     

    Hitchhiker

    Senior Member
    English-US
    When I lived in Namibia the internet was fairly new. It wasn't common for people to have internet access at home, unless they worked for the telephone company or used it for business. Afrikaans developed unique computer and internet terms. People my age use these terms. With the spread of the internet, many young people from Namibia and South Africa now use the more international, English internet terminology. Young people will often laugh at the Afrikaans words and tell me that they don't use those words.


    It was standard Dutch that was taught at schools until Afrikaans became a state standard language in 1925. I think many school books and teaching remained in Dutch until sometime later though. An effort to standardize written Afrikaans was started in 1891. The written language was modernized and standardized in 1947.

    When Dutch changed to the new spelling standard in the mid-1990's, the Belgian Embassy here in Washington gave me a free book about the new spelling in Dutch.
     

    Peterdg

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    Did I interpret that wrong, or did that study even show that Dutch speakers actually understand a written text in Afrikaans better than the Afrikaner do (albeit by a small margin)? :eek: Now that is more surprising than the asymmetrical intelligibility.
    What is even more surprising is that a statement is made at all about mutual intelligbility with a test that obviously has some serious shortcomings. As a scientist, you should humbly admit that your test failed to prove or disprove an argument instead of applying some statistical hocus pocus on it and still come to a conclusion.
     
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    NewtonCircus

    Senior Member
    Dutch (Belgium)
    Coincidently there was an article and accompanying test "How Flemish is your Dutch" on this topic in the Standaard newspaper today. One might be wondering if certain journalists are actually through the WR forum :).

    When I lived in Namibia the internet was fairly new. It wasn't common for people to have internet access at home, unless they worked for the telephone company or used it for business. Afrikaans developed unique computer and internet terms. People my age use these terms. With the spread of the internet, many young people from Namibia and South Africa now use the more international, English internet terminology. Young people will often laugh at the Afrikaans words and tell me that they don't use those words.
    Holland and Belgium went through a similar phase. I grew when computers came about in the eighties and we also used words at the time that have either completely disappeared or are rarely used nowadays.


    • Programmatuur: Software
    • Bestand: File
    • Gedrukte schakeling: PCB
    If you ask anybody below 30 where he or she has left the programmatuur you may expect giggles.

     
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    bibibiben

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Netherlands
    Coincidently there was an article and accompanying test "How Flemish is your Dutch" on this topic in the Standaard newspaper today. One might be wondering if certain journalists are actually through the WR forum :).


    Holland and Belgium went through a similar phase. I grew when computers came about in the eighties and we also used words at the time that have either completely disappeared or are rarely used nowadays.


    • Programmatuur: Software
    • Bestand: File
    • Gedrukte schakeling: PCB
    If you ask anybody below 30 where he or she has left the programmatuur you may expect giggles.

    Bestand can still be used for file. In fact, it's a very common word. The Dutch version of Microsoft Office always uses bestand​, for example.
     

    GQ.Wong

    Senior Member
    Nederlands (Dutch)
    Hello everybody.

    In another thread, someone asked the following question:

    To what extent do Dutch speakers understand speakers of Flemish or Afrikaans and vice versa?



    Afrikaans, I understand it more or less, but its distinctly different. It may also because I am not exposed too Afrikaans. I am not in contact with many people who speak Afrikaans.

    We couldn't answer it.

    Can you?

    MindBoggle
    I understand Flemish people without a problem.
    How ever if they are froma small town in West Flanders, I might have some difficulty, but tha´t because it might be a regional accent that I am not familiar with. But then again I find people from Limburg also diffivult to understand. I am from Amsterdam btw.


    I think that Dutch people find it more difficult to understand Belgians and Southafricans than vice verca, but I think this has to do with exposure,

    for example the AMERICAN accent is sort of easier to understand than the LIVERPOOL ENGLISH accent.
     
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