Mutual Intelligibility between German and Dutch

Roy776

Senior Member
German & AmE
Hello everyone,

I know that this now may seem like a strange question, with a (possibly) open end, but it's been bugging me for quite some time now.
I, as a native High German Speaker, have often noticed that I can understand relatively well some everyday language of Dutch. I won't say that I understand every single word, nor that I could understand an entire text perfectly, but it's still interesting. The sound shifts both languages have gone through have moved them apart more and more, but they are still to some point mutually intelligible.

Oftentimes I get the impression that there are just archaisms (to us germans) that hinder us from understanding some things perfectly. I know for certain that Dutch uses several words, that German has already abandoned or sees as obsolete.
Some examples:

aandacht - Andacht (today: Aufmerksamkeit)
beloven - geloben (today: versprechen)
bellen - bellen (today: läuten, bellen is what the dog does)

But I also know that this happens the other way around. I only remember having read about one word, though. Krijg. Which word is used today, I do not know.

I don't know what else to say now, so I will try to end this now with what I had in mind. I have already seen a similar thread about mutual intelligbility between the Slavic Languages. Now I would like to know your opinions about mutual intelligibility between German and Dutch. Especially from Dutch native speakers. I personally suppose that to you, too, some things in German must seem archaic and strange. Especially our declensions which you have completely dropped some centuries ago.

Also, was denkt Ihr? (Dus, wat denken jullie?)
 
  • Dan2

    Senior Member
    US
    English (US)
    Are you talking about your understanding of spoken Dutch or of written Dutch? Usually one is referring to the spoken language when one talks about mutual intelligibility. However you write, "I won't say that I understand every single word, nor that I could understand an entire text perfectly"; your use of the word "text" suggests that you are talking about written Dutch.

    Also, you say you are a native speaker of English (in addition to German). Since Dutch and English share some features not present in German, isn't it possible that you understand Dutch (spoken or written) better than the average speaker of High German?
     

    Roy776

    Senior Member
    German & AmE
    I've never actually thought about that, but you may be right. Yet, I must also say that I don't know nor see the shared features between English and Dutch. I shall thereby not say Yes or No. When I read texts, I always only saw the similarities between German and Dutch.
    Lastly, yes, I was referring to written Dutch. Spoken Dutch is more often than not beyond my skills.
     

    Dan2

    Senior Member
    US
    English (US)
    I must also say that I don't know nor see the shared features between English and Dutch.
    I had in mind, for ex., that something like Dutch "Wat is dat? Dat is water." looks and sounds more like English than like (High) German.
    (I hope the Dutch is correct; I haven't (yet...) studied the language to any extent.)

    "hij", "je" and "jou" make more sense to an English speaker than to a German speaker.

    English and Dutch also share some grammar simplification not seen in German.
     

    Roy776

    Senior Member
    German & AmE
    Yes, you're right. But for example "Wat is dat?" can be found in german dialects. "Wat is dat 'n bitte?" (Was ist das denn bitte?) for example.

    The grammar simplifications are indeed not seen in German. Fortunately, if you ask me. I prefer languages with a complex case system. But that is just my humble, subjective opinion. But there are still some proverbs and fixed expressions in Dutch that make use of the archaic case system.
    Some examples:
    Koninkrijk der Nederlanden
    De heer des huizes.

    Though not used in regular speech, they're in some way still existent. To me, the similarities still seem greater between German and Dutch.
     

    Dan2

    Senior Member
    US
    English (US)
    To me, the similarities still seem greater between German and Dutch.
    I agree. My point was only that someone who has native-speaker competence in both English and High German would be expected to have a somewhat easier time with Dutch than someone with native-speaker competence only in High German. (And thus your understanding of Dutch may be better than that of the average High German speaker.)
     

    Donderdag

    Member
    Dutch (Belgian)
    Well you're right about similarities between German and Dutch, as a native Dutch speaker for me it's quite easy to understand German, especially if it's in written text. Even as a young child I was already able to read and understand most of what was written in German magazines (I lived in Germany as a young child). There's a negative side to it as well though, some Dutch people might 'think' they speak German, while they are absolutely incomprehensible to actual Germans. Example is Jean-Marie Pfaff, a famous Belgian goalkeeper who used to play for Bayern :p

    Listen to what he had to say here:...
     
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    Deeltjesversneller

    Member
    Dutch - Netherlands
    Once I spoke Dutch while Germans were with us and they thought is sounded kind of like English spoken by a toddler ;) I think German grammar is much, much more difficult than the Dutch grammar, but I don't know which language would be more difficult to pronounce for say, an English native.

    About the similarity: sure, a lot is similar, but most Dutch people are able to understand not only because the languages are very similar, but also because German is a mandatory subject in Dutch high school. I understand German very well (close to 100%) and I speak it fairly well. However, I don't know how well I would be able to understand it if I wouldn't have had it for 5 years in high school.
     

    Deeltjesversneller

    Member
    Dutch - Netherlands
    The language most similar to dutch: german.
    The language most similar to english: dutch.
    The language most similar to german: dutch.

    Or so i've heard.
    Wouldn't Afrikaans be closer to Dutch than German, being a daughter language of Dutch? I would be interested in that as well, if Germans can understand Afrikaans, or if that would be one station too far.
     

    Donderdag

    Member
    Dutch (Belgian)
    About the similarity: sure, a lot is similar, but most Dutch people are able to understand not only because the languages are very similar, but also because German is a mandatory subject in Dutch high school.
    German isn't mandatory in Belgium though, here we've already got French being mandatory since elementary school

    During 3 years I had 2 hours per week German class, but only because I studied "modern languages" in high school.
     

    Roy776

    Senior Member
    German & AmE
    Wouldn't Afrikaans be closer to Dutch than German, being a daughter language of Dutch? I would be interested in that as well, if Germans can understand Afrikaans, or if that would be one station too far.
    Well, I have not really seen much of Afrikaans, so I can't say much, but from what I've seen, it's by far not as comprehensible.

    And about this soccer player there:
    To me it sounded like he spoke German with a pretty strong dialectical accent. Comprehensible, but very strange.

    ...

    My (german) friend said to me, that I shouldn't worry, it is comprehensible. At first I sat there and understood not even one word. But after really concentrating on listening, I got the hang of what they were saying. I especially understand the moderator very well.
     
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    Timidinho

    Senior Member
    Dutch [&] Cape Verdean Creole
    Wouldn't Afrikaans be closer to Dutch than German, being a daughter language of Dutch? I would be interested in that as well, if Germans can understand Afrikaans, or if that would be one station too far.
    Hm, wouldnt know.

    I've heard many times that Frisian is more similar to English than Dutch.
    I've heard that only about Old English.
     

    Deeltjesversneller

    Member
    Dutch - Netherlands
    Well, I have not really seen much of Afrikaans, so I can't say much, but from what I've seen, it's by far not as comprehensible.

    And about this soccer player there:
    To me it sounded like he spoke German with a pretty strong dialectical accent. Comprehensible, but very strange.

    I've once been sent this link to Youtube (I hope I'm allowed to post it):

    My (german) friend said to me, that I shouldn't worry, it is comprehensible. At first I sat there and understood not even one word. But after really concentrating on listening, I got the hang of what they were saying. I especially understand the moderator very well.
    Yes that's a good example of Belgian Dutch. Even though 99% of the Dutch people can perfectly understand it, for some reason they always subtitle Belgian Dutch tv shows here in the Netherlands.
     
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    Roy776

    Senior Member
    German & AmE
    Yes that's a good example of Belgian Dutch. Even though 99% of the Dutch people can perfectly understand it, for some reason they always subtitle Belgian Dutch tv shows here in the Netherlands.
    They really do so? Well, maybe it's the same case as in Germany and its dialects. Oftentimes when a bavarian is talking on TV, they put subtitles on. Many people don't need it, others do. It always depends on the person. I, myself, don't understand a word of the bavarian dialect.
     

    Deeltjesversneller

    Member
    Dutch - Netherlands
    They really do so? Well, maybe it's the same case as in Germany and its dialects. Oftentimes when a bavarian is talking on TV, they put subtitles on. Many people don't need it, others do. It always depends on the person. I, myself, don't understand a word of the bavarian dialect.
    Yes, really true. And I think the other way around it is the same: tv shows from the Netherlands aired in Belgium are also subtitled, while (I assume) most Dutch speaking Belgians don't need it. Maybe a Vlaming can confirm this?
     

    Kabouterke

    Senior Member
    English - American
    I am not a native speaker of Dutch, but speak on a professional level.

    First, I would like to say my opinion about mutual intelligibility between German and Dutch. Yes, they are similar and you can draw the smiliarities all day long. When I lived in Dutch Limburg, I lived very close to the German border. As a foreigner, I didn't know anything about the German language before I moved to the Netherlands. Everything that I learned about the German language I learned through thinking about it first in Dutch. While it is not rapidly evident what is being said, by being able to recognize similar verbs, I could piece together German pronouns, and so it began. But, they are definitely separate languages and as a fluent (non-native) Dutch speaker I can catch like 30% of what they say, I can't follow them terribly easily.

    To answer Roy776's and Deltjesversneller's question: I don't think the high amount of subtitling has necessarily anything to do with dialects. Yes, Flemish Dutch and Netherlands Dutch can vary significantly with how the language is actually spoken between speakers (spreektaal). However, since standard langauge rules are governed by the same organization for both Netherlands and Flanders, the mass media in Flanders and Netherlands tend to differ very little. There is a imbalance though. While the language of the media doesn't different too terribly significantly to how it is spoken amongst Dutch citizens (without certain dialects/ minority languages aside), there is a big difference to how the language of the media is spoken in Belgium and how Flemish speak amongst themselves.

    For instance, I have never met one single Flaming who said "jij bent" (you are) to me. In all of the years that I have lived here, 99% of the Flemish I have met have said "gij zijt" (you are) to me. However, you will almost exclusively say "jij bent" in the media. There are some other obvious differences between the two (ui/ajuin, gij zijt/jij bent, enz.) there are a number of things that Flemish commonly say that Dutch people have no idea about. The following words can be easily heard multiple times throughout the day in Belgium, but must Dutch people don't readily understand them:

    1. Goesting (zin/trek)
    2. Verwittigen (informere / laten weten)
    3. Ginder (daar / verder op)
    4. Tot subiet (tot zo)

    Despite these differences in spoken language, the language of the media for both countries are almsot identical (with some small difference in lexicon as just stated). It is not truly necessary to subtitle Belgian and Dutch media. I was always baffled by both Belgian and Dutch media when they subtitle each other's media as I could perfectly follow it after just a year or two of studying the (standard/media) language. But yes, in general it is harder for Dutch to understand Flemish than Flemish to understand Dutch. The Flemish have been acquainted with this register since birth in their national media.


    Just to round off this discussion, I guess that subtitling could help listeners more rapidly understand. But, I have also seen many subtitled Belgian programs aired only in Belgium that are subtitled. It appears that they often do this for clairty. Often they will subtitle segments that were rapidly spoken or weren't easy to detect (such as when a person walks off screan, or someone is having a fight).

    So in short, although at times it may assist in certain confusion with lexicon or slight accent perception problems, I think both all Dutch-speaking media tends to love subtitling for reasons that do not necessarily have to do with dialect. Maybe it's just to create jobs? HAHA

    Hope that helps!
     
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    Kabouterke

    Senior Member
    English - American
    Yes, there are three genders, however modern spoken langauge only treats them like two:

    De -words = feminine/masculine (distinction between feminine and masculien words are not necessary to know to speak perfect modern Dutch. Some dialects reserve some aspects of this but it has almost been completely merged in modern standard Dutch)
    Het -words = neuter

    Den is an example of cases. Modern Dutch does not used cases much anymore, except for certain expressions that have been frozen in time:

    's avonds - (des avonds) - in the evening
    ten zuiden - in the south
    de man des huizes - man of the house
    Ten slotte - in conclusion

    These must be learned on a case by case basis and these cases cannot be "actively" used to create new expressions in the language.
     

    Roy776

    Senior Member
    German & AmE
    Well, I now have a recent example of comprehensibility. A few days ago, I watched a spanish movie with my dad. The movie is called "El Capitán Alatriste". But as he doesn't understand a single word of Spanish, I had to use subtitles. We didn't find any german ones, so I asked him if we should try to watch it with dutch subs. Well, in the end we really did try. And successfully. Although I understand Spanish fairly well, I oftentimes found myself reading the subtitles, and understanding at least 4/5th of the movie. I can show you two little phrases, as examples, which are pretty similar.

    1)
    Hij kan rekenen, lezen en schrijven, is gehoorzaam en leert snel hoewel hij ook een dromer en koppig is.
    Er kann rechnen, lesen und schreiben, ist gehorsam und lernt schnell, wenn auch er auch ein Träumer und stur ist.

    2)
    U weet dat mijn vader wilde dat hij ging studeren, maar hij wil soldaat worden.
    Ihr wisst, dass mein Vater wollte, dass er studieren ginge, aber er will Soldat werden.

    Pretty similar, I think. Of course, not everything was that well comprehensible, but it was still a lot. And my Dad said the same.
     

    Peterdg

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    Yes, there are three genders, however modern spoken langauge only treats them like two:

    De -words = feminine/masculine (distinction between feminine and masculien words are not necessary to know to speak perfect modern Dutch.
    I only partially agree with this. This is true for the articles (de/het) but not for e.g. pronouns.

    In the Netherlands you can easily hear: "De koe, hij staat in de wei". This is unthinkable in Flanders. The same happens with "zijn/haar" for which it is essential that you know the gender of the word.
     
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