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View Full Version : How might a Dutch-speaking person mispronounce English?



L.C. Blackwell
06-11-2018, 04:06 AM
The character is a Dutch naval officer in 1746: he impersonates a poor Dutch sailor while working undercover for the British government. In fact, he speaks excellent English, but pretends to speak it very poorly.

I'm not trying for too much phonetic spelling here, but I'd like a few differences, perhaps along the lines of substituting "v" for "w" that would be authentic to the situation. Because he is acting a part, and the English don't know any better, I could theoretically have him speak in a ridiculous way that has no linguistic consistency at all, but: because he is a secondary character without a POV, and the reader has no idea that his act is a fake for most of the book, I don't want to be accused of poking fun at Dutch people, or of gifting him with an implausible manner of speech. Thanks for any suggestions or experiences!

Al X.
06-11-2018, 07:32 PM
My experience with Dutch people is that they tend to speak good and proper English but with a UK dialect and a Germanic accent. They generally do not mispronounce things. Same with South Africans, who will speak with more of a guttural tone and will occasionally throw in some Afrikaan words and phrases.

Clairels
06-11-2018, 07:50 PM
I spent two months onboard a boat with mainly Dutch people, who all spoke excellent English. But the first thing that comes to mind is the distinct way they pronounce the double "o" in some English words. For example, "look" becomes "Luke," "took" becomes "tuque," and so forth.

Isilya
06-11-2018, 08:30 PM
I have dutch family. The thing I notice the most is their use of 'the' with certain nouns. It seems to happen the most with destination names.
Instead of "Adelaide Street" it's "the Adelaide Street" as in 'I'm going over to the Adelaide Street.' 'I'm going to take the Adelaide to the highway.'
Sometimes restaurants that are names often end up with a 'the' as well. Denny's becomes The Denny's even when were speaking about a generic one.

novicewriter
06-11-2018, 09:24 PM
I've heard and read studies of modern Dutch people, how they're listed as being the most proficient at English, compared to other countries. However, you said your novel is set in 1746, and I don't know whether the Dutch were very skilled at it back then. Perhaps there might be some mention, online, whether most of the population knew English during that time period or not. I read that only the most recent generations had compulsory English classes at the schools they'd attended and read a few tourists mention that, when they'd visited the Netherlands and tried asking for directions, they found the younger generation were more proficient at English than older, Dutch people, especially in smaller towns, compared to people living in larger cities.

I was surprised to come across spelling mistakes from several young Dutch teens, online, after reading articles about how good the Dutch were at it; I'm sure I remember them saying that their English speaking skills were better than their writing skills. So, yes; they might be very good at speaking it, but still struggle a little with writing English.

neandermagnon
06-11-2018, 09:36 PM
Afrikaans is descended from 18th century Dutch - according to Wikipedia, from the South Dutch vernacular, and was originally known as "Cape Dutch" - it wouldn't have existed as a separate language when your story was set. So maybe when speaking English it might sound a bit like how Afrikaans speakers sound when speaking English. Languages evolve and 18th century Dutch won't be exactly like modern Dutch. Same as 18th century English wasn't the same as English today. Also according to Wikipedia, the amount of actual linguistic difference between Dutch and Afrikaans is the same as the amount of difference between standard British English/RP and Southern USA dialects. I have no idea why Afrikaans is considered a separate language rather than a dialect of Dutch though.

Every Dutch person I've met speaks English better than I do and I'm English.

blacbird
06-11-2018, 10:13 PM
Be very very very wary of using "irregular" spelling to indicate a phonetic accent. Maybe a word here or there, but no more than that. I know Irvine Welsh got away with it in Trainspotting, but I found that book unreadable after about five pages (life is too short). Word choice is a much better way to indicate a non-native English speaker, but even that, in the middle of the 18th century, is not going to be like it is today. And while the Netherlands today probably hosts the most English-speaking populace of any nation in which English is not the first language, I doubt that it was that way in 1746. I would just make it obvious that the speakers were Dutch, and render the dialogue in English normal for the time. Lots and lots and lots of historical novels do exactly this kind of thing. As do translations.

caw

L.C. Blackwell
06-12-2018, 04:07 AM
Thanks, everyone! Some helpful comments, and things to consider here. I appreciate ya'll. :)

Friendly Frog
06-13-2018, 10:16 PM
Also according to Wikipedia, the amount of actual linguistic difference between Dutch and Afrikaans is the same as the amount of difference between standard British English/RP and Southern USA dialects. I have no idea why Afrikaans is considered a separate language rather than a dialect of Dutch though.
From what I have heard from Afrikaans, I would also deem it another language, rather than a Dutch dialect. There seem to be some signicant grammatical differences as far as I can tell, like verb conjugation. But then, I'm not an expert on Afrikaans.


I'm not trying for too much phonetic spelling here, but I'd like a few differences, perhaps along the lines of substituting "v" for "w" that would be authentic to the situation. Because he is acting a part, and the English don't know any better, I could theoretically have him speak in a ridiculous way that has no linguistic consistency at all, but: because he is a secondary character without a POV, and the reader has no idea that his act is a fake for most of the book, I don't want to be accused of poking fun at Dutch people, or of gifting him with an implausible manner of speech. Thanks for any suggestions or experiences!
I'm not familiar with 18th century Dutch, but modern Dutch has both 'v' and 'w', and mixing them up sounds more German than Dutch to my ear.

Other things that might work is changing the word order, especially the place of the verb often tends to be different in (modern) Dutch than in English. You could always use a few Dutch words throughout, especially swear words if he's a sailor.

L.C. Blackwell
06-14-2018, 06:39 PM
I'm not familiar with 18th century Dutch, but modern Dutch has both 'v' and 'w', and mixing them up sounds more German than Dutch to my ear.

Yes, I was wondering about that.




Other things that might work is changing the word order, especially the place of the verb often tends to be different in (modern) Dutch than in English. You could always use a few Dutch words throughout, especially swear words if he's a sailor.

That may help. (Not the swear words, though, lol!) Probably what I really need is a good bi-lingual textbook and dictionary that will help me get a feel for the grammar. With so much online nowadays, I'll be interested to see if it's possible to find any older language textbooks, pre-1900s. I was sort of stunned this week when I cracked open my falling-apart 1912 standard English dictionary and found an abridged dictionary of Lowland Scots in the back of it--a sort of last-of-the-Victorians relic.

L.C. Blackwell
06-14-2018, 06:48 PM
Oh, squeak! Look what I found! :snoopy:

A Practical Grammar of the Dutch Language, by Baldwin Janson, Professor of the Dutch, German, and French Languages, to Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of York. (1803) (https://archive.org/details/apracticalgramm00jansgoog)

Thanks again for all the help!

Norman Mjadwesch
06-17-2018, 05:57 AM
My mother's side of the family is Dutch. One day when I was small, my grandparents had some visitors from Holland and I told them that I knew some of their words: "Hot ver dommer." That is the phonetic pronunciation of god verdamme (i.e. 'god damn', Opa's favourite exclamation). Apparently, religion-based profanity was the worst form of swearing for that generation, at least within my family's sphere. The pronunciation of G is much like the Spanish J, which closely resembles H, but with an extra roll of the tongue (think 'Jalapeno'). Anyway, what I remember most about that day was the startled expressions of the people I had blasphemed in front of LOL.

L.C. Blackwell
06-17-2018, 09:18 PM
Anyway, what I remember most about that day was the startled expressions of the people I had blasphemed in front of LOL.

:e2thud:Ooops.

Scarabia
07-22-2018, 09:28 AM
My grandfather and Grandmother were from Holland and they emhpasized each syllable . My grandmother would say "Match-ew" instead of Matthew when speaking to my cousin.
Mostly a very similar accent to German speaking English but much subtler. Syllables are well defined and everything pronounced very properly.
I would say I've heard a lot of Danish people speak English similarly to my grandparents. You could find similar accents in Nordic countries.

Cath
07-29-2018, 02:50 AM
A very large part of language is not in the accent, but in the word selection and order. A non-native speaker would use language properly, without the shortcuts we take when we grow up learning and playing with it.

Friendly Frog
07-30-2018, 12:18 PM
My grandfather and Grandmother were from Holland and they emhpasized each syllable . My grandmother would say "Match-ew" instead of Matthew when speaking to my cousin.
Mostly a very similar accent to German speaking English but much subtler. Syllables are well defined and everything pronounced very properly.
Now that you mention it. Dutch has fewer silent letters than English. Almost every letter in writing is said in speech. That may have something to do with it.