28 June, 2007

Language week 2007: Flemish

I just realized that I never linked in to Srah, the person who organized language week. (Sorry!)

So today I figured I'd say a few words about Flemish. Cumulatively I've spent a third of my adult life in Flanders. (so far.) S was born there and both kids went to school there-- for a while they spoke with very thick Flemish accents.

People often ask S and B how many languages they speak. And if they think I'm not listening they say four: English, Dutch, German and Flemish.

And although I dislike the idea of them showing off I have to admit that they have a point. Coming from the States where everyone speaks more or less the same it's surprising to me how different Dutch and Flemish actually are. Especially given the fact that the land mass that comprises the Netherlands and Flanders is so small. (Of course I realize that it's now two different countries, but it wasn't always like that. Historically they belong together...)

When we moved back to Belgium in 2004 we put the kids in a local school and were surprised that it took them a while to adjust language-wise. The accent is different, a lot of words are different, and the dialects in different regions are very, very different from Dutch.

The Flemish say things like "Amaai!" and "ja, maar JA!" and "hesp" and "meiske" and "Ik ben terug weg." All of it sounds very funny to their Northern neighbors. They also use a lot of French words sprinkled in like "camion" instead of "vrachtwagen" and "Ça Va?" And they say all these things in a very quiet, polite way.

I was very lucky to have learned to speak Dutch in Belgium. The Dutch sprinkle a lot of English words throughout their speech and are a lot more lenient with people who use them. I found I could be very lazy in Holland as a beginning language student-- if I didn't know a word in Dutch I just used the English one and it was accepted. In Belgium, perhaps because French is the second language, they often wouldn't understand me. It really forced me to bone up on vocabulary and learn the proper way to say things.

I know Flemish and Dutch aren't officially considered two separate languages. But they have a lot of differences between them. I know I've got a few regular lurkers from Belgium who read this blog. Maybe you would like to weigh in on the language issue?


CC (lurking friend in Belgium) said...

I have a Dutch friend in Brussels who actually puts on a Flemish accent with her co-workers. Dutch Dutch sounds so...."rude", she says!

Africakid said...

I surely heard Flemish every day when I was two years old--my parents lived near Brussels when my father studied tropical medicine. But I can't say the words sound familiar to me now!

Goofball said...

The "amai" is actually fairly new to me. A couple of months ago I met some teachers that teach Dutch to refugees. They were talking that "amai" was the first word you should learn as it can be used in any context. You just need to adjust the intonation and you can have amazement, irritation, ....
Last weekend I was over in The Hague at a bbq and they were commenting on the Flemish "amai" as well! I never realised it was a typical Flemish thing. Now I saw that it isn't even in the Van Dale dictionnary. Amai, figure that ! ;)

I think the biggest obvious difference between Dutch and Flemish is the use of the pronoun "ge/gulder" rather than "jij/je" for you. I simply cannot use "je" all the time. It makes it sound either Dutch or very official and distant as if you are applying for a job.

But truly I don't think differences between Flemish Dutch and Dutch Dutch are bigger than American English and British English: different words, different accent, yet the same language! I remember the South-African/ Australian/British exchange students very confused in the USA over words such as eg "a rubber".

When you start taking into account our dialects, then it gets difficult. Even when they don't use true dialect vocabulary (which is unfortunately disappearing more and more) , the accent at least still tells where people live.
I confused my boss yesterday evening: a colleague left the firm and we went to buy a gift and I had to wrap it. I told my boss I needed "lakskes" and only got a big question mark on his face as response. I thought it was the general Flemish word for Scotsch tape, but apparently it's quite regional as well.
But in the Netherlands there a lot of dialects as well..try to compare someone from Groningen with somebody from Limburg.

I don't agree that Flemish has more French words than Dutch. We have them in dialect, the Dutch use them as official words. You don't see signs with "Assurantiën" in Belgium!

Anyway here's a quiz:

what's a
"zwaantje" (not the animal)
"blijven zitten" (cfr school)
"schepen" (persoon)

Betsy said...

HA! Now that's ironic! I'm procrastinating studying for my German exam by taking your Flemish quiz! (vind ik echt leuk! :-) )

"kobbenet": cabinet? geen flauw idee
"aftrekker": iets waarmee je je ramen schoonmaakt, maar in het Nederlands heeft aftrekken een HEEL ANDERE (gore) BETEKENIS!
"kuisen": schoonmaken
"charcuterie": vleeswaren (hoezo geen Franse woorden daartussen?)
"stoefer": ???
"autostopper" die remmen?
"zwaantje" (not the animal): heeft het niet iets met schoonmaakmiddelen te maken?
"blijven zitten" (cfr school): als iemand het schooljaar moet herhalen
"vijs": vies? ;-)
"schepen" (persoon): een vriend van ons was op de raad van schepen in Steenokkerzeel als ik me goed herinner.

Brit Sung Kyung Kim said...

I'll write a post in Korean next language week ;)

gotta make you see this - go watch you "the queen of video clips for laughs" - still remember those crazy disco dance moves from the Finnish band and that crazy man with golden boots doing ..yeah whatever he was doing

Goofball said...

The answers:

"kobbenet": spiderweb...kobbe is a spider in some dialects

"aftrekker": iets waarmee je je ramen schoonmaakt, maar in het Nederlands heeft aftrekken een HEEL ANDERE (gore) BETEKENIS! => YES... it's also what you use to open a bottle (not corks).
I had a lot of fun in The Hague when I had guests, offering them a beer and then asking very nonchalantly whether they needed an "aftrekker" :p. Haha priceless to see their faces.

"kuisen": schoonmaken YES

"charcuterie": vleeswaren (hoezo geen Franse woorden daartussen?)
YES (and yes on the French words, ,just saying the Dutch have them too)

"stoefer": someone who brags. Stoefen means to brag

"autostopper" = Lifter

"zwaantje" (not the animal): motorised police/rijkswachter

"blijven zitten" (cfr school): als iemand het schooljaar moet herhalen: YES

"vijs": a screw

"schepen" (persoon): een vriend van ons was op de raad van schepen in Steenokkerzeel als ik me goed herinner. YES

Anonymous said...

dutch and flemmisch are the same language. You can without a doubt detect the same differents between, Irish English, British English or American Inglish, but no one would say that they speak Australian in Australia.... Same for Spanish, French or Portuguese. Do no understand why we keep looking for differences when we understand eachother read eachothers newspapers etc.

Betsy said...

??? Did you not read my post? Of course I recognize that they are the same language. My point was that it then surprised me that there are so many differences. Take it from someone who first learned one and then had a surprising amount of trouble adjusting to the other!

And no, I don't go around saying I speak "American English", but even after having had considerable exposure to "British English" over the years I can tell you that I still sometimes have to turn on the subtitles of some British films just to make sure that I don't miss anything!

You all may read each other's newspapers, but a (formal) written language is very different from a spoken one, and that's exactly the point I was trying to make in this post..