German and Dutch - mutual intelligibility

Discussion in 'Deutsch (German)' started by Ayazid, Sep 3, 2007.

  1. Ayazid Senior Member

    Guten tag!

    In this thread I would like to discuss this very interesting topic: mutual intelligibility of Standard German (Hochdeutsch) and Dutch (both formal language and dialects). It´s easy for speakers of one language to understand the other one? Are they able to understand to some extent both written and spoken language? How communicate native German speakers who don´t speak Dutch in Netherlands and Dutch speakers in Germany? Do they mix their respective language with English or communicate solely in English, taking in consideration high fluency of many Dutch and German speakers in this language, or do they use only German and Dutch? Is there a lot of cultural exchange (music, cinema etc.) between these 2 countries which could contribute to mutual intelligibility? For example it´s common to watch German TV stations in Netherlands?

    I recall my talk with one German guy from Leipzig who told me that he is able to read and understand Dutch newspapers. However, in a Brazilian airport I once saw a Dutch family who were talking with one German girl only in English.
  2. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    English, UK
    Many Germans claim they can understand Dutch better than Swiss German, which is basically supposed to be the same language. Those Germans who live in the North in areas where the dialect Plattdeutsch or Low Germarn is spoken alongside Hochdeutsch or High German (the standard version) have no trouble at all in communicating with citizens of the Netherlands. The Low German Society in Münster Westphalia where I used to work, regularly went on excursions to Holland as part of their cultural programme.
  3. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    I should imagine that communication is easy between a speaker of a North-West German dialect and a speaker of a North-East Netherlands dialect, because the latter are classified (by some linguists at least) as part of Low German, not Dutch.
  4. Suilan

    Suilan Senior Member

    Germany (BW)
    Germany (NRW)
    We had a Dutch guy in our gaming group for 4 years. We spoke English or German, but he sometimes slipped into Dutch without noticing. The rest of us didn't understand a word. He could always tell from our faces: oops, I must have spoken Dutch just now. Same when he was talking on his mobile phone to his folks back home: not a word.

    I'm from Düsseldorf, which isn't too far off the border. Close enough that we used to get (still do? I don't know. I haven't been living there for 13 years) bus-loads full of dutch people at weekends, who came to shop.

    Trying to read Dutch one might understand a few words and guess a few more (which look similar to German or English words), but there are always enough to completely puzzle you.

    So as for me, I see no mutual intelligibility at all between standard German and Dutch.
  5. Reigh Senior Member

    Germany, Frankfurt
    German, Germany
    I totally agree with Suilan. If I listen to a Dutch conversation, I will generally understand some words but not at all enough to understand what they're actually saying. Reading Dutch works a little bit better but a newspaper in Dutch is impossible for me to understand. Some simple phrases in Dutch are easily intelligible, though.
  6. Ayazid Senior Member

    Interesting, but how Dutch people in Germany and Germans in Netherlands usually communicate with locals? Do they rely on their English or try to speak also in their native languages? And how people in border region communicate with their neighbours on the other side of the border? Are they regularly exposed to the other language and its speakers (TV transmission, tourism, language courses ...)?

  7. Suilan

    Suilan Senior Member

    Germany (BW)
    Germany (NRW)
    When I was teenager, my family went to the Netherlands once a year to go sailing. My impression then was the everybody over there spoke some German. But of course, as a tourist, you usually deal with natives who are used to dealing with tourists. ;)

    Anyway, my gaming friend was the first Dutch person I ever met who didn't know a word of German when he came here to get his doctorate, so we spoke English at first. He claims that people in the Netherlands speak English more fluently than Germans, because they don't dub American and British TV series or movies, but use subtitles. (Back in my teenage years, my only source of English movies was Dutch television, which we received in Düsseldorf. That was before cable or satellite.)

    I've heard about towns & villages close to the border, on the German side, with a lot of Dutch residents (real estate is more affordable in Germany) who don't mingle with the German residents because they work/go to school in the Netherlands and have all their friends there & spend all their leisure time there.
  8. Joannes Senior Member

    Belgian Dutch
    Mutual intelligibility between speakers of German and Dutch will highly depend on the interlocutors’ dialects. Before standardization one could barely speak of a linguistic border but rather of a Germanic dialect continuum: speakers of Dutch living in the East of the Low Countries would better be able to understand the language (dialect) spoken just across the border than the western varieties in their own countries (the same for the Germans but the other way around). This may still be true for (mostly elderly) people who stick to their local dialects. But the national borders have become linguistic ones: speakers in Belgium and the Netherlands conform to Standard Dutch, speakers in Germany to Hochdeutsch.

    In general, I guess speakers of Dutch will find it easier to understand German than the other way around simply because they tend to be more familiar with the language than speakers of German are with Dutch. So they have a better view on where to find differences and similarities. (Language internally we find the same thing within both language communities: Belgian and Swiss people will better be able to understand Netherlandic Dutch and Hochdeutsch respectively than the other way around, simply because the latter are the so-called ‘dominant varieties’.)

    Well, there will be quite some Dutch speakers who know some German, and little is enough to make oneself comprehensible. Depending on the speakers’ proficiency, communication will go smoothly or not very. For some people the similarities clearly serve as barriers for communication (For an example, type in “Jean-Marie Pfaff Spreekt Duits” on :D). In that case, and also when both speakers are rather proficient in English (as will probably most often be the case!), that one may serve as a lingua franca.

    In the direction Dutch > German I don’t think there is. In the other direction there barely is, certainly as far as ‘popular culture’ is concerned.
  9. Ayazid Senior Member

    Hi Joannes

    Thanks for your response, but now I have realised that I completely forgot to mention your own country :eek:

    To all:
    When I am talking about Dutch speakers I obviously mean also those from Belgium and not just Netherlands :eek:
  10. Suilan

    Suilan Senior Member

    Germany (BW)
    Germany (NRW)
    Another friend of mine grew up trilingual (French, Flemish, German). When she was in the Netherlands recently, speaking Flemish, people kept telling her to speak German instead, it would be easier for them to understand. But she can understand what Dutch people say. Curious.
  11. HKK

    HKK Senior Member

    3010 Leuven, Be.
    When I was in Italy, like 10 years ago, still being a child, I met an Austrian boy. I only spoke Dutch and he only spoke German. We spent time together climbing trees and playing board games. We didn't talk much, but when we did we kind of understood each other. Back then, I didn't realize he spoke another language, I just thought he talked weird. Like a completely different dialect:D
  12. jonquiliser

    jonquiliser Senior Member

    Svediż tal-Finlandja
    When I was in Belgium I met a bunch of Austrians who were also living there. Most of them learnt Dutch with extreme ease. Even I, with basic school-knowledge of German, relative fluency in English and Swedish as my native language, found written Dutch quite easy to understand, without any sort of previous study of Dutch. Spoken, well, I guess it always takes a little more time.
  13. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    I don't think this discussion makes sense if you compare Dutch speakers who are familiar with German with Germans who are not familiar with Dutch.

    Discussions of "mutual intelligibility" across languages usually assume that speakers of one language have not studied the other language(s).
  14. Joannes Senior Member

    Belgian Dutch
    You’re right, although I wasn’t talking about speakers who have 'studied' the other language, but nur about people who heard it before, or even heard no more than stereotyped ‘imitations’ of it.

    I admit that (the greater) part of my post was more of an answer on ‘How do speakers of Dutch and German communicate?’ rather than ‘Is there mutual intelligibility between Dutch and German?’, but as you know it’s hard -- well, impossible really -- to reflect on the latter without reflecting on the former, since languages themselves don’t speak. :)
  15. MarX Banned

    Indonesian, Indonesia
    I have relatives in the Netherlands and I've visited them a couple of times.

    In my experience, I generally was able to understand more than half of written
    Dutch, yet the spoken language is a different story.
    It also amazed me how different the Dutch accents actually are within a relatively small country. In Germany, the accent of Greifswald is not much different from the one of Bremen, and they're hundreds of kilometers apart.
  16. Ayazid Senior Member

    By the way, some people in this thread have already mentioned the fact that many Dutch speaking people have some notions of Hochdeutsch, but it is true also for people who live far from the border region, let´s say in Amsterdam, Holland, Zealand and the Dutch speaking part of Belgium (Flanders)? Would be difficult for a German speaker understand locals in these regions and be understood without speaking English?
  17. MarX Banned

    Indonesian, Indonesia
    From my experience the Dutch and Belgians generally speak a decent English, and in most parts of the Netherlands people actually understand German. I speak with my Dutch uncle in German sometimes.
    Oh, I also remember getting to know a Belgian whose mother tongue was German. Apparently a minority of Belgians are German-speaking.
  18. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Spoken Dutch and spoken German are not mutual intelligible - unless, probably, you speak a German dialect close to the Dutch border (problem being: the German dialect would have been influenced by standard German for centuries, same of course would go for the Dutch dialect on the other side of the border, respectively influenced by Dutch standard language). But as I do not speak those border dialects I could only guess.

    As for written language, Dutch and German seem to be mutual intelligible to a degree. I have once read a review on a camera which I was interested in, on a Dutch website; and even though there was some technical vocabulary I got most of the content (I later double-checked with a Dutch guy on another forum).
    And my Austrian dialects really are on the opposite, geographically (to me, spoken Swiss is so much easier to understand than Dutch), of the old dialect continuum which indeed once stretched from Switzerland and Austria up to Flanders and the Netherlands. This dialect continuum however now has been interrupted by national and standard language borders.
  19. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    If it is belongs to the Low German group it couldn't be a dialect of Netherlands, could it. It would be a language of its own like all other versions of Low German.

    I've never heard this before though. I know that in some parts of the Netherlands they speak various versions of "Friesisch". That again is something different.

    Besides I miss one info in the threadstarters question. "German and Dutch - mutual intelligibility" - High or Low German.

    If you know some version of Low German or even a Scandinavian language, Dutch is not that hard to understand - in writing! Spoken is a different story.
  20. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    But Düsseldorf is a big city. I'm guessing there might be a sharp difference between city German and country German (as well as between city Dutch and country Dutch). Wouldn't the dialects be generally more alive -- and hence the dialect continuum smoother -- in rural areas near the border than in the cities?
  21. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    I don't (know a version of Low German) - at least, not really (the odd snippet, that's about it), nevertheless I can read Dutch texts to a degree, quite good actually.
    But if one knows a Low German dialect then of course it surely would be even easier - to read.
    As for Low German dialects and Dutch dialects (not Frisian ones as Frisian is a closely related, but different language): indeed there was a dialect continuum; it probably existed until Luther's Bible and the switch of the (Low German) Hanse standard language to the High German standard language in the north on the one hand, and the development of a seperate Dutch standard language on the other hand.

    The dialect continuum broke up since the middle ages, and I'd say that pretty little is left of it, though something surely (common words not shared by High German dialects, some similarities in phonetics, etc.).

    But of course I agree with you fully concerning mutual intelligibility in spoken language: this is not the case.

    Düsseldorf is not very renowned for its dialect.
    (Almost all my business contacts from Düsseldorf and around speak standard German only on the phone - however, there's one who inserts the odd 'dat' instead of 'dass' while else sticking to standard language. Of course, business contacts usually stick to standard language, therefore the one exception is still remarkable.)

    It is completely different with Cologne where Kölsch is still alive and well; and if I listen to Kölsch songs (google for "Kölsch Pop" or, if you're more one for tradition, "Kölsch Lieder") I am strongly reminded of - Dutch. ;)
    So probably there's some Kölsch speaker around who could say something about if and how much it helps being a Kölsch speaker, when it comes to understanding Dutch speech?!
  22. manninagh New Member

    English - GB
    When I worked in Düsseldorf a few years ago, a colleague from Mönchengladbach told me that her grandmother spoke pure dialect, and could converse happily with Dutch people in Venlo, just on the other side of the border. My colleague, having been brought up to speak Hochdeutsch, couldn't do this. She confessed that not only did she could she not understand Dutch, she also sometimes found it hard to understand her own grandmother.

    Anyone who knows German should be able to cope with reading a bit of Dutch. It helps to know a bit about linguistics (so that you recognize e.g. that German 'z' often corresponds to Dutch 't' as in Zeit/tijd, zwei/twee). The more formal the Dutch, the easier it is: legal contracts and academic papers are OK, newspapers are much harder.
  23. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    The historical popular language in some parts of the Netherlands, in particular in the province of Groningen, is indeed Low German and not Dutch or Frisian.
  24. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Ignoring Frisian, you have to talk of two different historical dialect continua: Franconian in the west and (Anglo-) Saxon in the east. Low German is descendant from Saxon while Dutch together with the modern the Moselle and Rhine Franconian dialects of Germany (including Lëtzebuergesch) are descendant from Franconian.

    Speaking or at least understanding both, High and Low German certainly helps in understanding Dutch because Dutch has communalities with both.
  25. Kuestenwache Senior Member

    I personally don't have to much of a hard time reading Dutch at all, so understanding the written standart language is possible for someone who speaks German (which also works with Danish and even Swedish, allthough that is much more difficult, than Dutch). And I can tell, that my father, who can speak Flamian, the language of Belgium and the Netherlands, can understand and talk to people who speak Frisian or Low German, at least he claims to do so, I have actually never seen him really do that. So as far as I can tell, there is a bit of a natural intelligibility among all germanic languages, but not enough for a real conversation I guess.
  26. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    English, UK
    I speak German well and had no difficulty in learning long ago to read both Dutch and Afrikaans just by looking at newspapers and novels and accustoming myself to the way the wordforms and structures of these languages vary from German. However, I miss a lot when I hear these languages spoken at normal speed though I would understand perfectly if I saw what was said written down. Much later I got used to reading Danish and Norwegian. This was more difficult but one may also get used to their particular version of the Germanic roots as one recognises an object in a distorting mirror, e.g. Scandinavian fors is German verstehen (English to understand, Dutch verstaan), unrecognisable at first sight. However, I can only catch the odd word when Norwegian is spoken and nothing at all when I hear Danish of whose spoken form I would despair of ever learning. Though its spoken form is pronounced much more clearly, written Swedish is much more difficult to work out.
    Btw, I take it that by "Flamian" Kuestenwache is referring to the Belgian version of Dutch, Flemish in English and Vlaams locally (Flämisch in German). I failed to find Flamian in the Wikipedia.
  27. Grosvenor1 Member

    Scottish, resident in England, language English
    I studied German at university in the 1980s and speak it fairly fluently. I can read Dutch-language newspaper and magazine articles without much trouble - I have picked up some Dutch itself but even basing it on Hochdeutsch, it is not hard to work out written Dutch.

    The spoken language is a different matter. I think there is probably only very limited mutual intelligibility between the spoken forms.
  28. peter031 New Member

    I know that is an older topic, but since i find the topic very interesting I like to respond. As a dutch I have worked with germans for 3 years now on a weekly basis. I noticed indeed that for germans it is easier to read written dutch than to understand spoken language.
    In german perspective the dutch tend to speak rather fast making it more difficult to understand, if one speaks slow it makes is easier.

    However about 75% of the dutch have some basic knowledge of german,
    since german is taught on schools in the netherlands and watching german media occasionally is rather common (radio, music, television).
    Germans have knowledge of dutch is much lower.
    For this reason dutch and germans often conversate in german.
    Whereas dutch words can be used occasionally.
    However by means of politeness it is also common to speak in english especially if you met someone just recently.
    later on conversations tends to shift in german and a some dutch.
    My expression is that younger, higher educated people tend to prefer to use english language, whereas other groups prefer use of german.

    Furthermore I noticed that the capability of germans to learn to speak and understand dutch varies substantially from person to person.
    since the languages have simularities, normally it is quite easy to learn the basic principles of the other language.
    If you know generic differences between dutch and german spelling, unknown new german words can be easily understood by matter of applying generic translation rules

    My personal impression since germany is bigger than the netherlands this leads to the effect that most dutch are familiar with german but not the other way around.To some extent new german words are more often imported in dutch but not in the other direction. All this makes it easier for dutch to understand german then for germans to understand dutch.

    In border Regions most people are bilingual, especially in shops.
    By matter of service shop personal will speak in the language of the customer.

    At least it is also seen especailly in border area that in a conversion dutchmen speak dutch and germans speak german with eachother if it is assumed that the counterpart is bilingual.
  29. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    English, UK
    At least it is also seen especailly in border area that in a conversion Dutchmen speak Dutch and Germans speak German with eachother if it is assumed that the counterpart is bilingual. peter031

    I saw a TV interview with an ancient Johannes Heesters, a controversial Dutch singer very popular in Nazi Germany, in which the Dutch interviewer asked his questions in Dutch and Heesters wandered back and forth between Dutch and German without any Dutch subtitles or explanations. It seems the Dutch viewers were assumed to understand everything said.
    Welcome to WRF! I think you must have broken the record for the length of a first post (my own are usually quite long).
  30. peter031 New Member

    Johannes Heesters is a special case, born and raised dutch, however lives in Germany for a long time.
    He speaks a mixture from dutch and german in this program.
  31. Frank78

    Frank78 Senior Member

    What are you trying to say by "popular in Nazi Germany"? He´s still popular maybe more than ever. By the way swing music was also popular in Nazi Germany although it was forbidden to listen to it.
    Heester has been living since the 1930´s in Austria and Germany. No surprise that he has forgotten some of his native language.

    The experience I have made with Dutch people is that they understand every German word but they answer in Dutch. :D
    I just can grab the meaning of some single words not enough to really understand it but I guess people from the north of Germany have some advantage there as they have when learning English.
  32. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    English, UK
    It would almost certainly be regarded as irrelevant to reply to Frank78 here, so I shall send a private message instead.
  33. Rjarjun Member

    There is a film "Twin Sisters" or "De Tweeling". More than half of the dialogues as far as I could make out were in German. Was the spoken German of the Dutch actress good? And when the film was released in the Netherlands were there subtitles for the German dialogues?
  34. Katejo Senior Member

    English - UK
    As a native English speaker with a good knowledge of German, I can make sense of short texts in written Dutch quite well but can't follow spoken Dutch. When I hear Dutch, I think very briefly that it is German and then realise that I haven't understood and work out that I am listening to Dutch!
  35. montmorencywrf Member

    Abingdon, Oxfordshire, GB
    English - England (south-central)
    I learned a little Dutch many years ago, before I had formally learned any German. I never attained any proficiency, but absorbed the basic principles like genders and certain grammatical principles that I later found were somewhat applicable in German as well. Many years of studying German later, I had some opportunities to spend some time in the Netherlands, and found, as others have indicated, that understanding written texts was often not very difficult, if you could relate them to their German equivalents.

    At the time I was friendly with someone who had been brought up bilingual in English and Dutch (mixed parentage), and he told me, contrary to my expectation, that it was worthwhile trying out a bit of Dutch in casual touristic situations, even though the Dutch people involved knew you were English, and could speak English perfectly well. (I had got the impression that it wouldn't be worth the trouble). He said not only did they appreciate the effort made, it was slightly bad manners not to make the effort. And surprisingly, I found that in quite a few situations he was correct. But I was not there long enough to make a serious attempt to work up to any proficiency.

    One amusing aspect of Dutch-Flemish mutual intelligibility, which I was reminded of by a comment by another poster:

    On Dutch television, when they are showing a Flemish programme from Belgium, they quite often use subtitles! I found that quite surprising and amusing. It would be like using subtitles for Scottish (or Geordie) TV programmes in southern England (which might occasionally be necessary actually :) ).
  36. Tjoaben New Member

    Gronings, Nederlands
    Hey everyone! I'm Dutch, speak both Dutch and Grönnegs, so let me tell you how it is :) First of all, Dutch and German are not mutual intelligible. I can imagine myself sitting in a room with a German, never heard any German in my life, and try out to make a conversation. I don't think we could understand each other. Maybe ''some'' words are recognizable but proper understanding won't happen. When we focus on the regional languages it's another story. I can make myself ''understandable'' with Grönnegs as far as ''Oldenburg''. I believe the Germans call the northern languages (or dialects if you will) Plattdüüts or something like that. Despite the fact German and Dutch are not mutual intelligible, Grönnegs and ''plattduuts?'' is. I don't know if there are other parts in the Netherlands where people can understand German (border-German) better in their own dialect/language but I can imagine it is.

    When Germans are visiting the Netherlands they used to talk in German first. We Dutch try German or switch to English. Nowadays I see much more Germans use English first. We never use German and Dutch at the same time during a conversation. I think English is the default option but sometimes we use German if the Dutch thinks he can speak German fluently (there are not many, believe me). Germans almost never speak a single word Dutch (we Dutch always think they do it on purpose) Sometimes there are extremely stupid situations where both Dutch and German can't think of the English word for something, while the word they are looking for is the same in both Dutch and stupid is that.

    German television was very popular for a long time, but things changed. Nowadays it's almost all English & Dutch (some shows are sometimes bilingual, both English and Dutch). In the old days Dutch people watched more German shows on the television, so their German was sometimes even better than their English (I have to admit that my grandmother speaks better German than I do). I also notice more and more scandinavian, mostly Danish and Swedish, docu's and programms on Dutch televisions (with Dutch subs).

    On the cultural aspect. I don't think there is a lot of exchange in culture. We Dutch are more focused on the the UK, USA and Scandinavia. I grew up in a small place near the Dutch-German border in the north of the NL and even there we had more exchanges with Denmark then the nearby Germany.

    In sum: Dutch and German are two different languages. We don't understand each other automatically. In my experience: Dutch understand more German than German understand Dutch. We Dutch learn German at school but it is not the other way around (except the border regions). The trend is more and more English. Moi! (means bye)
  37. Kajjo

    Kajjo Senior Member

    No, Dutch and German are NOT mutually intelligible. Some single words are similar, but not enough to communicate with each other. I am from Northern Germany.
  38. Roy776

    Roy776 Senior Member

    Kraków, Poland
    German & AmE
    Although I'm not the one who started this topic, I have to thank you for this very interesting response. I found it quite interesting to hear this from a Dutch point of view.
    Well, I for one (and I'm not exaggerating when I say this) understand Dutch better than most of the German dialects (Sächsisch, Bairisch, Schweizerdeutsch, Fränkisch...). Of course, now I have learned it for quite some time, but even before then I could understand it a lot better. I think I could have held a small and slow conversation and understood it well, but... I would never dare go to the Netherlands and speak German there :) I was there this year with two friends and they spoke German with everyone the entire time, while I spoke English (I didn't speak Dutch at all back then). I actually found it quite arrogant of them.
    Though, in the end my opinion won't matter much here, as my second native language is English and knowing English and German certainly helps a lot in understanding Dutch.
  39. Tjoaben New Member

    Gronings, Nederlands
    You're welcome :)
  40. Captain Lars

    Captain Lars Senior Member

    Ducatus Montensis
    Deutsch (D)
    I am from Western Germany and I assure you that I don't understand a single word of spoken Dutch. I do understand written Dutch to a very low degree. The biggest problem there is to figure out what vowel-combination is for what sound exactly. I understand Swiss German a lot better, though I have problem with that, too.

    :idea: I personally always thought that practically all the Dutch understand and speak German. My bad.

    However, I do only know of one single German that has learnt Dutch to a useful degree. Virtually no German ever learns Dutch. Also, there is no cultural exchange, as Tjoaben pointed out. There are no Dutch movies, for example, and if (Flodders, e. g.), there are of course dubbed like every film here. The Germans are completely focused on the US and UK to a degree that is beyond any limit.
  41. Tjoaben New Member

    Gronings, Nederlands
    Hehe, ahwell. I do have to make some ''nuance'' though. Most Dutch are able to understand at least some written (45%, maybe less, just a guess) and spoken (25%?) German because we have to learn it only for a brief period during schooltime. English (and Dutch) is btw always compulsory, German is not. Anyway, the real problem is actually talking back in German during a Dutch-German conversation. Only when we are 100% confident with German, it is going to be German....otherwise the back up is English and we tend to use it a lot :) It's too bad we can't understand each other in our own languages....o man, that would be sooo easy!
  42. Kajjo

    Kajjo Senior Member

    I believe the Dutch still have resentments against the German. How do the Dutch members feel about this? Is this still true or not relevant anymore?

    I remember a joke told by the netherland comedian Rudi Carrell about thirty years ago. Two guys from netherland talk to each other:

    A: In our family we all learn Latin at the moment.
    B: Why on earth do you do that?
    A: Well, we heard that in heaven they speak Latin and we want to be prepared.
    B: Hm. I see. And what if you are sent to hell?
    A: Ah, well, we all speak a little bit of German anyway.
  43. Roy776

    Roy776 Senior Member

    Kraków, Poland
    German & AmE
    Ik kan het echt niet geloven, dat zo veel Duitsers zeggen, dat ze Nederlands helemaal niet verstaan. Is het echt zo zwaar voor jullie? Ik kan het verstaan, als ze zeggen, dat ze problemen hebben met gesproken Nederlands, maar ook met geschreven Nederlands? Dit schijnt me een beetje vreemd. Het is waar, dat niet veel Duitsers Nederlands leren en ik vind het echt een jammer, want ze onze buurtjes zijn.

    Konden jullie verstaan wat ik hier heb gezegd?

    I find the thought that all Dutch speakers automatically must speak German, which unfortunately many Germans I know have, pretty arrogant. But I would find it arrogant were it to happen in any country. I would also not walk into the Czech Republic and start speaking Polish with them.

    My experience was that the Dutch actually do speak excellent English. I had no problem understanding them at all. I even met an elderly man who curiously asked us which language we were speaking (we were speaking Polish at that moment) and he talked back to us first in English and then, after we said that we're from Germany, in very good German. Although it showed he was a non-native speaker, he had absolutely no accent and he too said to me that Dutch and German are actually very close, at least for him, and that he understands it well.
    Language perception is always subjective, but I think if one puts a little effort in there, it's not so difficult for a Dutch speaker or a German speaker to understand the other.

    Ik ten minste heb veel respect voor Nederland :) Zij hebben een mooie taal en een wondermooi land, mooier dan Duitsland, naar mij mening. En somtijds ook goede muziek, Nick & Simon of Marco Borsato, v.g. :D
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2012
  44. Tjoaben New Member

    Gronings, Nederlands
    Haha, well that was ''kind of'' understandable. I sort off got it, the message was intented for other Germans right? :) Yeah, elderly are usually better with German. It also depends on the kind of exposure you had of course. Some German lessons during schooltime is very limited and not enough. We Dutch are kind of bombared with English all day long, whereas German is no where to be seen. Too bad because I also think Deutsch ist ein besonderes shöne (or schöne) Sprache :) (in Dutch it would be: Duits is een erg mooie taal)

    I believe it is definitely not relevant anymore. Yes of course, sometimes we joke around but nah, I would call it a minor form of sarcasm haha :)
  45. Roy776

    Roy776 Senior Member

    Kraków, Poland
    German & AmE
    Yes, it was supposed to express my opinion but also be a test if Germans really don't understand it. So yes, it was intended for other Germans. :) I can simply not believe that it's such a problem. Some of my best friends say they've got no problem with it at all and they never had any exposure to Dutch.
  46. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Mutual intelligibility is a vastly overrated measure of closeness of languages. Some very simply shifts can completely inhibit intuitive understanding of a very closely related language and once you have adjusted your ear you don't know any more why you initially didn't understand it. This happened to me, e.g., with Swiss German.
  47. ablativ Senior Member

    As long as we ("big Germany") describe the Dutch and the Belgian nations (60 % of the Belgian population are native Dutch speakers) by using the diminutive as "onze buurtjes" (our little [cute] neighbours) - as long as we act as if we were a great power compared to them - the problem in our bilateral relationship will go on. If we really want to get rid of our image as "arrogant ugly Germans", we should accept even middle-sized nations with proper respect. "Buurtjes" is a highly unfortunate choice of words.
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2012
  48. Roy776

    Roy776 Senior Member

    Kraków, Poland
    German & AmE
    I'm still just a learner of Dutch. If it was an impolite wording, then I'm sorry, but I thought that buurtjes is the normal word for neighbors. I didn't know that "buren" exists.
  49. Kabouterke Senior Member

    Brussels, Belgium
    English - American
    Sorry for digging this old thread up, but I think this is an interesting topic and wanted to give a perspective from a different side. I am an American and work as Dutch and English teacher in Brussels, although I lived in Maastricht for about five years. When Germans and Dutch people have to communicate with each other, they use standard language. They don't try to find some mutual common ground using dialects or anything like that. My family in Bingelrade, Netherlands speaks Limburgs (my hubby's grandma can't speak Standard Dutch although she understands it, of course!). Even though the Limburgish they speak is perfectly understandable to the German people one mile down the road, they still use standard German unless the other person speaks Limburgs. When we go to eat dinner in Germany, everyone in the family expects everyone to know enough German to order dinner. Keep in mind though that ordering dinner and getting around in a country for a day or so does not require the same level of German as working there, living there, doing business, etc. In this respect I would expect a large number of Dutch and Flemish people could speak on this level, but many would have problems once they have to start talking about more complicated topics. Even though my hubby speaks Limburgs which is even closer to German and is a conservative dialect (although it has minority status and some linguists consider it to be its own language) meaning that it retains some more sounds/structures with German, he still doesn't speak fluent German and has to think about what to say like anyone else learning the language. That doesn't mean that Limburgs and Dutch haven't given him a profoundly strong platform on which to build. There is an affinity between Dutch, German and all the dialects in the continuum, but they are still their own thing and there is no mutual intelligibility other than a number of expressions and sentences that happen to sound like each other if spoken very slowly and very clearly pronounced.

    To answer your other question... Dutch and Belgian TV is usually just a collection of channels from the UK, FR, BE, NL, DE and to a lesser extent IT, ES, etc. Dutch-language TV channels in both countries often have English/American/German programs, just subtitled in Dutch. This makes Dutch speakers in both Belgium and the Netherlands very familiar with the language, how it works, basic structures, sayings, etc. even if they don't speak the language. So yes, in principal, most Flemish and Dutch people can click on the TV and listen German at any given moment. People living on the borders have even more exposure to German as compared to people in Antwerp, Amsterdam, Gent, Utrecht, etc. They often do their grocery shopping there to take advantage of the generally cheaper prices, they sometimes have family from over the border, and vice versa. There is a lot of cross-border traffic for daily living, although you still "feel" and see the border change. The architecture is slightly different, the organization is different, signs are different, etc. And even though they are culturally, linguistically and geographically very close it is usually always the Dutch speakers who are a bit more open and willing to learning the other language than the other way around. As for Germans and the Netherlands and the Dutch/Flemish in Germany: It is expected on both sides of the border that you make an effort to learn the other language seeing you are now living there. Most of the time they are there for business or for love, so they have no choice. However, I know of some German people that live in my hubby's old neighborhood who never learned Dutch. I also knew some Germans in Maastricht that never bothered with Dutch and just spoke English for a number of years. However, I cannot imagine a Dutch/Flemish person living in a German speaking country and not learning German at least on a functional level, unless they are only there for a very limited amount of time for vacation, an internship, a temp. job or whatever. It's just a difference in linguistic culture. However, my German friends who did make the effort to learn the language learned 20x quicker than anyone else and could reach basic fluency much, much quicker and were often more flexible in the language that non-German students.

    There is also a generation difference. The older generations in the Netherlands have more experience with German and generally can speak it a bit better. The younger generations, of course, are much better at English. Most Dutch are very linguistically flexible (as well as the Flemish) and will -try- to adapt themselves to the linguistic situation they find themselves in. However, I noticed some young Dutch students at the Uni in Maastricht would get annoyed when a German person just came up to them and expected them to speak/understand German. Maybe it's a bit of inferiority syndrome, maybe just the fact that they didn't even ask if they spoke German or not before opening their mouth. I don't know. But, English is indeed seen to be a more neutral means of communication if they don't speak the other language. So, English is the preferred language for communication if Dutch/Germans don't already speak the other language, especially for people from non-border areas. I worked for a while in Leuven, Belgium and regularly had to call colleagues in Germany. We never once tried to speak German/Dutch beyond the occasional "tschüss" or "alles goed?" and we just stuck to English. The entire continent is like that, though.

    About mutual intelligibility... most of the posters on this thread have first had experience with German and are trying to figure out Dutch. For me, it was the opposite. It was my first language to reach C1 fluency in, and I often look at the German language through "Dutch eyes." Through Dutch, without ever having taken a course, I can follow a TV program, read signs, or communicate basics things with people in German if I know what to keep from Dutch (word order, genders, articles, verb tenses, basic vocab) and know what to change (cases, pronouns, some word order, and pretty much everything else). However, this just barely lets me get by (using active language production) and I can only make myself intelligible by being very conscious of the differences in carefully crafted well thought-out sentences that I usually run by my family first. When I first moved to the border area, I often went to Aachen, Germany for the day to go shopping or whatever. In the very, very beginning when I was also first learning Dutch, I just spoke Dutch to them and turned the linguistic situation on them (I thought... "if they just come barging into the Netherlands rambling in their language, why can't I do the same?"). If I spoke incredibly slowly, used a lot of gestures and threw in a German word or two, I could manage. But, I cannot stress how many stares, chuckles or rude glances I was given. It's just not done. It's not an equal relationship.

    Anyway. I rambled a lot, but this is something I find really interesting. I hope that shed some light on how border citizens deal with each other and German as seen from the other side.
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2012
  50. Kabouterke Senior Member

    Brussels, Belgium
    English - American
    This whole business about Frisian being "an exception" is a little over-exaggerated. Yes, Frisian is its own language but is more of a political distinction than anything particularly special. There are other dialects in Belgium and the Netherlands that are just as distinct as Frisian or are possibly even better candidates for being given the status of own language, like Limburgs or West Flemish, if they were only standardized. Limburgs even has aspects of tonal language. In Limburg, in both BE and NL,h the word for music note and nut are the same: noot. However, one has a rising tone, one has a falling tone. If you try to speak Limburgs and say the wrong pitch, you will be corrected or at least get a chuckle or two. And as you can imagine, this is very rare for European languages.

    So I would say, don't worry about Frisian so much as "being the exception to the rule". Yes it has a different history, but standard Dutch and Frisian have influenced each other over the centuries to such an extent that I don't really see the purpose of pointing it out in every single discussion especially when there are other languages/dialects that are just as good candidates for the status of minority language. It is an exception, but it is an exception in that it the only regional dialects/languages that managed to get standardized and get official recognition while the other dialects/regional languages only EU protection as a regional language.

Share This Page