Dutch doesn’t exist

Well, really, I mean. It’s not just George van Driem who maintains, with some justification, that Dutch is a Low-German dialect. (We do have a navy, after all — even though I don’t know what it’s good for. The North Sea is a Mare Nostrum seen from the POV of the NATO anyway, and we had better get rid of the Dutch Antilles, the populace of which insists on electing certified corrupt separatist politicians.) But take a look at Dutch in past two or three centuries…

In the heady days of the Bataafse Republiek, written Dutch was a calque of French, in the sense that sentence construction and vocabulary were modelled on French. The influence is evident in authors like Rheinvis Feith. Before that, circa Hooft, Dutch was quite original, and Hooft is a lot of fun to read — but it smacks of Flemish. (The best Frenchified Dutch is found in erotica, as collected by Leonard de Vries.)

Later, after Rheinvis Feith, we arrive at the German era of Dutch. Authors like Querido or even Bomans or Belcampo wrote a Dutch that was to all purposes and semblances modelled on German. It had a kind of reinforced concrete-ness to it that one still finds in the Frankfuerter Zeitung. In the less gifted authors, for instance of non-fiction books about history or the great achievements of Dutch genius, like the Afsluitdijk, the tendency is even more apparent.

It would made a good story to say that that ended with the Second World War, but that isn’t quite true. There was a period of slow transition that started around 1900 to the modern Dutch, which, even from the best of literary authors, reads like it has been — badly — translated from English.

So then, what’s Dutch? Literary, written Dutch? I’m sure I don’t know — I’ve quit writing in Dutch since the latest spelling reform, which was too silly for words. I’ll keep to English, which hasn’t — in its written form — changed so much that texts a century old are all but unintelligible. I mean — today, I translated a little snippet of 1930’s vintage Wodehouse for Naomi and shell fell from the sofa laughing. Absolutely fell from the sofa. But the same text, translated into 1950’s Dutch leaves her cold, because it has grown too alien. She said, when I know enough English, that’s a book I’m going to really enjoy — and I bet she will. But she won’t enjoy Belcampo as much. Wanna make a bet?

Of course — I haven’t done any real research. One should establish a contemporary corpus (not forgetting vectors of influence — who read  what), choose some kind of tagging standard, compare sentence structures, do a statistical analysis, perhaps, and then write a thorough paper on the findings. But that wouldn’t be a blog entry, it would be something fit for Acta Linguistica Twincastriana and take a lot of time. So all you get are my impressionistic impressions.