One of the challenges of living in Holland is not just having to learn Dutch. On no, that would be too easy. You have to learn another language too, and it’s official. Dinglish is a requirement for anyone coming to live in the Netherlands. It’s taken me a few years to pick it up, as it’s quite difficult and rather confusing. Indeed, much of the time it does sound rather like English, but don’t be fooled – it genuinely is a different language, and the rules, pitfalls and traps are many. However, nearly everyone speaks Dinglish as a standard form of communication in business, and it really is very handy because it replaces the need to learn any other language properly.
The trouble is, though, I’ve become so good at it now that I even speak it on occasions when I should definitely be using standard English. After all, that is what I’m paid to do when I’m teaching….
My first encounter with Dinglish was when a friend approached me and asked with total innocence if I could fill in her backside. I paused, took a deep breath and was about to utter some scathing response when I realised with a flash of insight that she was referring to the reverse side of a form she was clutching in her hands. Relieved that I had escaped a serious breach of courtesy, I burst out laughing.
This was, of course, the wrong thing to do.
My friend looked wounded. What, she wanted to know, was wrong with her question? Nothing, I soothed. It was just that I thought she had been speaking English, and that we don’t talk about the backside in such a context.
Another example of Dinglish that had me rooted to the floor was when a student said proudly to me one day “Oh yes, miss, when it comes to boys, I always get my sin.” My eyebrows lifted only a fraction, I swear, but I couldn’t help the “ Oh …really..!” that popped out before I could stop it. Fortunately, I had the restraint to ask her exactly what she meant before I put my other foot in my mouth too. You can imagine the chuckles when I found out that mijn zin in Dutch means ‘my way’, and that in Dinglish she had just been telling me what a determined lass she was.
Without writing my own text book on the subject, there are so many of these tricky translation problems it would be impossible to list them all, but another of my favourites came up in a conversation with a fellow dog lover. We were talking about training our canine friends one day when she told me earnestly “Yes, Val, you must be very consequently with your dog”. It took me some time to realise that the meaning of this was ‘consistent’ which is consequent in Dutch, but the extra ‘ly’ is Dinglish. Bearing in mind that in Nederlands , there is no separate form to distinguish an adjective from an adverb, ending both in Dinglish with ‘ly’ is a safe bet and solves the problem of having to decide which form to use. Simple, but rather mystifying for the beginner. As a result, you often hear things like “the economically situation” and “a fully automatically machine”, not to mention “he had a highly regard for her”!
But, as with all good stories, the best has to come last, and here I refer to a little book on quotable Dinglish quotes, written by a former Dutch diplomat who has spent his life collecting exceptional Dinglish faux pas. He describes his absolute favourite as the phrase issued from the lips of a newly appointed MP who said in a speech at a glittering dinner for intermational guests: “I am the first minister for the inside and I am having my first period”. The poor woman never did understand why all the guests promptly choked on their drinks and had to be treated for shock. If, on the other hand, she had known that binnen in Dutch can be translated as ‘interior’ and ‘internal’ as well as ‘inside’, and that the English word for periode is in fact ‘term’, then she may have saved herself and her audience quite some distress, not to mention hospital bills.
Needless to say, though, another minister went one better. In response to a particularly generous gesture or gift (I forget which), he boomed: “I thank you all from the bottom of my heart....... and from my wife’s bottom too!”