75 Comments
May 27Liked by Ed West

It's fine written down, but just hearing the Dutch pronounce 'van Gogh' is enough to make you give up on the language :-)

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May 27Liked by Ed West

Even more similar to Dutch than English is Low German. And indeed the culture and architecture of the North West Germanic towns - Hamburg, Bremen and Lubeck resembles the Low Countries far more than it does Berlin or Munich. That is to say it is mercantile and nautical. This in spite of a century of German unification and even period longer Prussian dominance. Although that said the Low German language is dead. It is only by historical accidents and the legacy of the Burgundian Duchy that the Dutch did not come to be seen as part of greater Germany. Under a different set of continditions that part of Germany could have been a separate nation, or the Dutch could have been absorbed into a greater Germany.

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Ah, If only Germany had stopped at the Elbe and avoided Prussian domination.

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Konrad Adenauer pulled down the window blinds of his railway compartment in trauma, when crossing over the Elbe eastwards.

The Prussian Germany - the Giant Prussia of 1870 to 1945 - was the German equivalent of a Texan USA.

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The old Hanseatic German cities you mention were indeed mercantile.

Thus much disliked by the controversial German Chancellor of 1933-45.

We badly need some definitive histories of the North Sea and the coasts and coastal regions it has defined.

In recent centuries it has become as historically important as the Med.

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Indeed there is no definitive history. That said some of this topic can be gleaned from Jonathan Meades's documentary 'Magnetic North' - of which I was thinking whilst I wrote this.

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May 27Liked by Ed West

Many Russians have a similar reaction to the Ukrainian language. While I don’t subscribe to the “fake language” BS that is widespread in some circles, it will always sound funny to me.

Are the Dutch aware of how they sound to English-speaking people? If they are, how do they feel about it,

because Ukrainians have always been extremely annoyed with the Russian attitude even at the best of times?

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author

A language is just a dialect with an army (in this case supplied by Nato)

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Ukrainian was a distinct language before NATO got in the act.

But the various Continental languages, within the same sub-family, merge smoothly into each other. The East and West Slavic languages are part of a dialect continuum meaning you could walk from Moscow to Minsk to Kiev to Warsaw to Prague to Bratislava and not find a place where people cannot understand the spoken language of their neighbors. This is true of the Romance languages too (isolated Romanian excepted). And of German and Dutch, and the three continental North Germanic languages. And of the South Slavic languages. Stuck out on an island, English misses out on this sort of thing.

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May 27Liked by Ed West

Poles often say that the Czech language sounds "funny" to them too.

I doubt whether the Dutch care much how their language sounds to their neighbours. In my experience, they don't tend to get on their high horse about such matters of national prestige. They may even take a certain pride in their language's quirkiness.

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May 27Liked by Ed West

Apparently, Poles think that Czechs speak in diminutives, i.e. many normal Czech words sound like diminutives to Poles.

Well, I learned Czech over the past few years (after moving to Prague), and I'm currently having a serious linguistic crush on Polish. Nothing funny about it: it simply sounds gorgeous. So, I may just end up learning it. :-P To be seen. The thing with Polish is that I understand most of the words, but have trouble understanding sentences. I'd like to understand sentences. In the meanwhile, here's a lovely Polish song for everyone to enjoy:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqmGo3KFp2s

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Thanks for sharing this. Fogg has a lovely voice. What a life too. If you want something similarly exquisite and more modern, Dwa Serduszka from the film Cold War is worth a listen.

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I think the Dutch have an old enough and strong enough identity that they don't have the kind of insecurities that would make them defensive about this. It also helps that since at least WW2 they have been largely Anglophilic and the widespread knowledge of the English language there and British culture in general means they are more conscious of British hunour and irony than other places that are offended by it.

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While Dutch certainly looks similar to English, the way it's pronounced is enough for even simple sentences to confound native English speakers. 'Goed' is pronounced sonething like 'hchewd', for instance, 'fruit' like 'frout', and so on.

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Their pronouncing "fruit" like "frout" may make things harder for native English speakers, but their pronouncing "uit" like "out" makes a word like "uitgang" / "exit" easier.

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Dat klopt.

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That’s the word that struck me with its similarity to Scots—you know what ‘uitgang’ means if you know what ‘Ah’m gang oot’ means.

(Which only makes sense given the timeline of divergence from a common tongue , etc., etc.)

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Pass a bit of frout for me to eat with my piece of truit, please old chap.

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One of the markers of Scots dialects (alongside non-standard variants of English) is a greater affinity with Dutch and the wider Germanic family. Scottish students in 17th and 18th century Leiden were said to enjoy some degree of mutual intelligibility with Dutch speakers. In the same vein, the Edinburgh literary scholar David Daiches - son of a Lithuanian rabbi - claimed Yiddish speaking immigrants to early 20th century Scotland found it easier to converse in working class Scots than standard English. It’s from his biography Two Worlds that we get the observation that Goethe’s last words - “Mehr licht!” - could have been uttered in Dutch, Yiddish or Scots as well as German.

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May 27Liked by Ed West

Thanks for this great piece of writing, a nice mix of history, culture and humour. The only person I have come across to admit to tittering at the language. Happy memories of holidays with family and friends in Flemish Belgium and ordering everything mit slag. Odd to think that Holland was once a superpower and of course instrumental in toppling our king and giving us the parliamentay system we have today.

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May 27Liked by Ed West

A wonderful column.

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May 27Liked by Ed West

The Roosevelt family clearly traced their roots to the New Amsterdam Dutch:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roosevelt_family

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Yet perhaps the greatest contributor to the Dutch-New York connection is the American born son of a Scot and a Cornishwoman, Washington Irving.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diedrich_Knickerbocker

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"The Dutch had been such a presence in [Japan], in part able to smooth their way by stoking anti-Catholic fears."

I've long wondered if the Japanese grasped that the Dutch were Christians at all; they may have assumed that Catholicism and Christianity were synonymous. Dutch Calvinism must have seemed to a distant observer, with only a hazy grasp of Christian dogma and practice, to be a completely different religion.

Notoriously, when Christianity was proscribed in Japan during the Edo Period, suspected Christians were obliged to trample on an image of Christ or the Virgin Mary (a so-called "fumi-e" - literally "picture for stepping on") in order to demonstrate that they did not adhere to the faith. I suspect that the Dutch, being Protestant iconoclasts, felt that they could trample on the fumi-e in good conscience, thereby convincing the Japanese that they could not possibly be Christian.

In the later stages of Gulliver's Travels, Swift's Gulliver briefly visits Japan, where he pretends to be a shipwrecked Dutch merchant. Being in fact (one supposes), an ordinarily pious Anglican, he requests of the Emperor that '"his majesty would condescend to excuse my performing the ceremony imposed on my countrymen, of trampling upon the crucifix, because I had been thrown into his kingdom by my misfortunes, without any intention of trading." When this latter petition was interpreted to the Emperor, he seemed a little surprised; and said, "he believed I was the first of my countrymen who ever made any scruple in this point; and that he began to doubt, whether I was a real Hollander, or not; but rather suspected I must be a Christian."'

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That is interesting. I have to confess I had mixed feelings watching Silence. Obviously I'm on Team Christianity, but the Japanese also just wanted to keep their culture distinct and avoid religious conflict, and the Jesuits were basically the NGOs/State Department of the time.

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(the fum-e features in the new series Shogun)

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founding
May 27Liked by Ed West

Lives of the Saints Matter (sorry, couldn't resist)

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I think the Shogunate was well aware, too, that Japanese converts could be a Trojan horse for European colonialism.

I love Shusaku Endo's original novel. The ethical and theological debate comes across more sharply than in the film.

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I am not sure the Japanese could even concieve of Europeans colonising them at that point. That came later when they realised how defenceless they were against modern European (and American) gunboats and that percipitated the Meiji revolution.

No, I think the bigger issue was that Christianity arrived in the middle of the worst civil war in Japanese history and was associated with Daimyos on the losing side. It was thus seen as provoking civil strife - not an unreasonable conclusion when one looks at the effects that garbled versions of Christianity had in China in the 19th and early 20th century. Also, like the early Roman authorities, Christianity's insistence on exclusivity was strange and threatening. The Japanese had no concept of religion in a Western sense - Shintoist ritual was embedded in the fabric of the culture and politics and foreign imports like Buddhism and Confucianism had been more akin to what we would see as philosophies that complemented the native culture, not competed with it - noticeably it was far more influenced by the Chinese Mahāyāna Buddhism that had already adapted itself to Chinese philosophical models - that had a powerful impact on the early pre-dynastic Japanese culture - than the far more militant Theravāda branch of Sri Lank, Burma and Thailand.

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I haven't seen Silence but I read the book last month. I have to say, even as a Catholic with a Jesuit background, I found myself rooting for the locals. Although a recent trip to Japan cemented a love for the culture and its history (and I tried the ramen restaurant you recommended!).

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Which restaurant was that?

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'Dried sardines ramen gyoku' in Tokyo Station. I'm not the biggest fan of ramen but it was nice!

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Isn't Tokyo station amazing? SO many people. I felt like Crocodile Dundee walking around NY for the first time.

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founding

I'm embarrassed to admit this but I've never experienced Tokyo Station really. I passed through it on the Shinkansen on the way to Kansai. And I've only spent 4 days total in Tokyo, and that was for work. Though it's starting to look like that will (finally) change later this year, knock on wood.

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It was like a city unto itself. Probably the best indoor food market I've ever been in. Kyoto Station also has some lovely shops in it too. Just an amazing country all round.

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Rooting for Japanese paganism ? Really ?

Leaving aside all the souls now in Hell because Japan remained pagan, the contuing paganism of Japan led to its becoming part of the Axis - with all that entailed. Not least Mao's successful takeover of China.

It's unlikely that a newly-Christian Japan would have apostasised as Germany did.

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Germany and Italy were Christian countries when they formed the axis.

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May 27·edited May 27

Germany had become a neo-pagan society in the later 19th century. It was ruled by a neo-pagan with Gnostic beliefs and a history of involvement in Satanism.

Mussolini made no secret of his enthusiasm for pagan Rome and his hatred of Christianity.

Many German and Italian Christians betrayed their Christianity from nationalism or a fear of Communism.

That fear was entirely justified, but it doesn't excuse turning to fascism instead.

So Germany and Italy weren't Christian countries except notionally and culturally.

Singing a carol or eating Christmas pud doesn't make one Christian.

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Christianity is no assurance of good government-- which makes sense as "My kingdom is not of this world".

The only sense in which a nation can be Christian is the superficial cultural sense anyway. And yes, Germany and Italy were culturally Christian.

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The Japanese managed to import Buddhism and create their own highly complex Buddhist sects, and to the benefit of their own culture. But Buddhists had no political agenda, and the religion was brought to Japan by Japanese who had studied abroad in China. Catholicism came from foreigners-- the Spanish and Portuguese--who even in the 16th century had gained a reputation for wanting to seize lands and turn the population into peons.

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The Dutch as Calvinists could more easily dismiss the Japanese refusal to accept Christianity as evidence of an individual choice on the part of the Japanese and leave it there. The Catholic church is of course more concerned with the whole scale Christianisation of socities - hence the importance of events such as Clovis's baptism or Constantine's conversion. It also explains why both the British and Dutch empires were content to leave Christianisation to eccentric missionaries whereas the Spanish and Portugese enacted wholescale conversions in their colonies. Even the French were reflexively Catholic enough to try to impose the Republican faith on their charges.

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May 27Liked by Ed West

The Dutch as Calvinists would certainly not have seen the Japanese refusal to accept Christianity as evidence of an individual choice. They would have seen it as evidence that the Japanese were not among the elect. Ironically, this could have had the same effect; if salvation can only come about through grace, then there's less of an impetus for active evangelisation.

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Jun 6Liked by Ed West

one of my last overlong bouts of hysterics was on a dutch airline with the pilot's message ending every phrase with something like "yfkr". Even the timing was spot on, and diminishing returns took longer than expected.

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founding

Dutch was also one of the Charles V's native languages (the other being French), though John Julius Norwich notes that it was not considered a 'polite' language at the time. (Charles later learned passable German and grew to love Castilian).

And on the Dutch influence in America it's probably worth noting that the only President to have learned English as a second language was a Dutch speaker, namely Martin Van Buren.

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May 27Liked by Ed West

Abolitionist and ex-slave Sojourner Truth also spoke Dutch as her first language, having grown up enslaved in the Hudson Valley when New York still allowed slavery.

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Speaking of Germanic languages and Phoenicians, did you know that the Germanic languages are quite unusual compared to other Indo-European languages. They have a lot of root vocabulary that appear related to no other Indo-European language subfamily. Hence, there is a theory that there was actually extensive contact with Semitic-speaking Phoenicians early on!:

https://sjquillen.medium.com/are-germanic-languages-middle-eastern-70b5668c4cf6

https://slate.com/transcripts/SllmNkJRZ1oycnNHOFJDOERJWnJrNHdoQjZTY3RBZUtUUW4xUFZxODZEdz0=

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The several sub families of Indoeuropean all show evidence of earlier languages they assimilated. For example, about 1/3 of Ancient Greek vocabulary is appears to be non-IE.

My guess for a Germanic substrate (as prior languages influencing a later one are called) would be something related to Etruscan.

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May 27·edited May 27

The crucial episode in WW2 Holland, was Arnhem in September 1944.

The failure of the Allies to cross the Rhine there (then race across to Berlin) prolonged the War into 1945 and led also to Stalin gobbling up much more of Eastern Europe.

The defeat at Arnhem has traditionally been explained as a failure of Allied intelligence work. But we now know that the Allied plan was betrayed by a burly, half-crazy member (nicknamed King Kong).of the Dutch Resistance.

See the new book "The Traitor of Arnhem" by Robert Verkaik.

As Stalin also had an interest in the failure of Monty's brilliant Arnhem Plan, "Traitor" should perhaps be in the plural. Our own dear Anthony Blunt may well have prevented urgent warnings from the Continental Resistance getting through to British High Command.

There's no smoking gun, but the circumstantial evidence against him is fairly convincing.

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I think one of the things you're missing from the article is the Dutch love of tools. A great example being the flessenlicker to scrape the last jam out of the pot. Or the cranes and ladders they use for moving home. Unsurprising then that they lead the textile industry in the middle ages which was an enormous source of wealth. It also helps to explain the polder mentality and the amazing land reclamation which gives rise to a favourite saying. God made the world but the Dutch made the Netherlands.

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founding

'Hondenfokker is a dog breeder...'

Reminds me of a famous (though possibly apocryphal) story abt John F Kennedy having a chat with the PM of the Netherlands. The latter was a keen horse breeder and used the Dutch verb 'fok' when telling JFK about his favourite hobby: 'I fok horses'

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The anecdote is about the FM Joseph Luns, when the President said in reply: “Pardon?”, Luns replied with: “Yes, paarden.”

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founding

Lol, I forgot that part, cheers

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I got a good kick out of this post. I married into a Dutch family and learned the language as an adult. We are raising our kids in North America but speak Dutch at home so our kids don’t lose their connection to their ancestral land. It’s a funny language, yet can be more sophisticated than one would expect past the lower level of the language. Also, more difficult to master than it would appear given the similarity to English.

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