Monday, April 30, 2018


The official language of Suriname is Dutch. However, an English-based creole is widely spoken in the country. To understand why, we need a little history. In the seventeenth century, as European countries began to colonize the Caribbean, the English traded in this area of South America, establishing sugar plantations worked by slaves from different parts of the world. An English-based creole emerged among them which became known as Sranantongo. During the Second Anglo-Dutch War, a Dutch fleet captured Suriname and the Dutch were allowed to keep it by the Treaty of Breda in 1667 (the English had to settle for Nieuw Amsterdam, which became New York!). Sranantongo continued to be used on the sugar plantations during Dutch rule, but through language contact it gradually incorporated many Dutch loanwords. According to the Dutch etymologist, Nicoline van der Sijs, Sranantongo now includes some 2,400 loanwords, such as sukrupatu ('sugar pot' Dutch suikerpot) and postkantoor (post office, the same in Dutch). Although not an official language of Suriname, in 1987 the orthography of Sranantongo was officially authorized.

Further reading and additional resources:

Nicoline van der Sijs, Nederlandse Woorden Wereldwijd (The Hague: SDU, 2010), pp. 120-121.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Dwile flonking

Tonight (28/04/2018, 20:00) on Channel Four in the UK there is a programme on Tudor Norwich, which recognizes the contribution that Dutch and Flemish immigrants or Strangers made to the city's economic, cultural and social life. So the subject of today's blog is a word of Dutch origin that is used in varieties of English in and around Norwich and elsewhere in East Anglia. That word is 'dwile'. This comes from the Dutch 'dweil' meaning floorcloth or rag. It is not known when dwile was first used in these varieties of English, but according to the Oxford English Dictionary it was certainly in use by the early nineteenth century. It is best known beyond East Anglia in the combination 'dwile flonking', which represents the best of English eccentricity. This is a game involving a team of players forming a circle and jumping up and down as their opponent stands in the middle using a stick to throw wet dwiles. There is even a world championship, held last year at the Dog Inn, Ludham, Norfolk.

Further reading on Dutch loanwords in English:
Christopher Joby, The Dutch Language in Britain (1550-1702). Leiden: Brill, 1550.
Nicoline van der Sijs, Cookies, Coleslaw and Stoops. Amsterdam: AUP, 2009.
Peter Trudgill, 'The role of Dutch in the development of East Anglian English,' Taal & Tongval, 65 (1), 2013, pp. 11-22.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Tokyo Jan

The first Dutch ship to reach Japan was De Liefde (Love). It was shipwrecked off the island of Kyushu in 1600. The surviving crewmembers were not allowed to leave Japan. One of them, Jan Joosten van Lodensteyn (1556-1623), eventually moved to Tokyo where he became a merchant and advisor to the shogun, the Japanese military ruler. In due course, the area of Tokyo where he lived was given a Japanese version of Jan Joosten's name, Yaesu八重洲 (Jan Joosten -> Yayosu -> Yaesu). This area would later become home to Tokyo Central Station and so a number of toponyms in and around the station include this Japanese version of Jan Joosten's name to this day, for example, Yaesu kitaguchi 八重洲 北口i.e  Yaesu North Entrance. 

Further reading: Christopher Joby, ‘Dutch in Seventeenth-Century Japan: A Social History’. Dutch Crossing.  Published online: 26 Feb. 2017.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York

Next year we celebrate the 300th anniversary of the publication of Daniel Defoe's novel about the adventurer Robinson Crusoe. But where did the name Crusoe come from? The answer is that it probably comes from a friend of Defoe whose family had emigrated to England from Flanders. Let me explain. In the sixteenth century, there was a lot of religious and economic turmoil in Flanders. Jan and Jane Cruso of Hondschoote, now in northern France, were among the thousands of Dutch-speaking Flemish who escaped to England. They settled in Norwich and had four children, one of whom was Timothy. He moved to London, and his son, Timothy, also had a son called Timothy. In 1675 he attended Charles Morton’s Dissenters’ Academy in Newington Green. Among his fellow students was Daniel Defoe. It is thought that Defoe took the name of his hero from that of his friend, Timothy Cruso, who could trace his roots to the Dutch-speaking town of Hondschoote. It's fair to say that even today the name Crusoe is well and truly established in the popular imagination. 

Further reading: 
‘Classical and early modern sources of the poetry of Jan Cruso of Norwich (1592-fl. 1655),’ International Journal of the Classical Tradition, 21/2, July 2014, pp. 89-120. 

‘Dutch poetry in early modern Norfolk’, Dutch Crossing, 38(2), July 2014, pp. 189-203. 

Monday, April 23, 2018

The land of the long white cloud

One of my regrets is not to be have been in New Zealand, although there is clearly little I could do about it! My sister was born there, but my parents returned to the UK before I was born. English is of course the principal language in New Zealand, but the name comes from Dutch. In the seventeenth century, an employee of the Dutch East India Company, Abel Tasman, was charged with exploring islands to the south of the Dutch East Indies. He gave one of these islands the name Nieuw (New) Holland. This would eventually become Australia. On his first voyage in 1642 he reached islands we now call New Zealand. Cartographers gave them the Latin name Nova Zeelandia, after the Dutch province of Zeeland ('Sealand'). This was eventually anglicized to New Zealand. Tasman's name is memorialized in Tasmania, which he discovered and the Tasman Sea, which separates Australia from New Zealand. The Maori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, which can be translated 'Land of the long white cloud'.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The future is bright....

With the possible exception of green and Ireland, no country is more closely associated with one colour than Holland and orange. But why? The answer lies not in Holland but in southern France, in the town of Orange near Avignon. This was originally a Roman settlement whose name is thought to have derived from a local Celtic deity. In the Middle Ages, Orange became a principality, which in the sixteenth century was inherited by William of Nassau-Dillenburg, better known as William the Silent, leader of the Dutch Revolt. He changed the family name to Orange-Nassau and although this originally had nothing to do with the colour or the fruit, the colour gradually became associated with the Princes of Orange-Nassau and the country itself. The close association between the Dutch and orange has given us Orange County in New York State, the Orange Free State in South Africa and the Orange Order in Northern Ireland. The Dutch football team is known as Oranje and on King's Day, April 27th, Holland will be a sea of orange ... and beer!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The best things in life are free...

The expansion of the Dutch commercial empire from the seventeenth century onwards meant that the Dutch language was spoken in many parts of the world. So, why did it not become a world language, like Portuguese, Spanish and English? One reason is that there were already Languages of Wider Communication (LWC) in use when the Dutch arrived and they used these to communicate with local people. In the East Indies, Portuguese and Malay were already established as LWCs. A form of Malay, Bahasa Indonesia, eventually became the dominant language in the archipelago, but in the process incorporated plenty of Dutch words. On a hot day, you'll rush to the kulkas (fridge from the Dutch koelkast) and when driving in Jakarta you'll be glad to see this sign for free parking from the Dutch parkeren and gratis. And make sure you park correctly, otherwise the polisi may have a word!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Who's the Boss?

Words often take on a life of their own and end up far away from where they started. A good example is the word 'boss'. According to the authoritative Dutch dictionary, Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal, this word began life as 'baso' a personal Germanic man's name. It was used in West Flanders from the late thirteenth century as 'baes' or base' and spread to other varieties of Neder-duytsch or Dutch. Nicoline van der Sijs tells us that it was borrowed by American English in the 17th century for a master or foreman and it has subsequently spread to other varieties of English. But of course, it did not stop there. Japanese has bosu (ボス) and in varieties of Italian 'il boss' refers to a Mafia leader.

Bruce Springsteen aka 'The Boss'

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

What do a Polish nobleman, Hilary Mantel and the Dutch Centre in London have in common?

The answer is Austin Friars, the site of the Dutch church in London, near Liverpool St. Station. In the reign of Henry VIII, the arch-fixer Thomas Cromwell had his house in Austin Friars. It occasionally gets a mention in Hilary Mantel's novel, Wolf Hall. In the reign of his son, Edward VI, the many Dutch in London were given their own church at Austin Friars. The first superintendent of the church was a Polish nobleman, Jan Łaski or Johannes Alasco. He knew Latin and Low German, but is unlikely to have known much if any Dutch. When Edward's half-sister Mary came to the throne he and other leaders of the Dutch church were forced to leave England. Worship resumed in 1559 and continues to this day, although the original Gothic church was destroyed in the Second World War. Below is a picture of the new Dutch church at Austin Friars. This is home to the Dutch Centre in London and holds regular services in Dutch

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Just one cookie!

Who knew that a character from Sesame Street, the Cookie Monster, owes part of his name to the Dutch word for biscuit. As the Dutch etymologist, Nicoline van Sijs, has shown in her wonderful book, Cookies, Coleslaw and Stoops (available in Dutch as Yankees, Cookies en Dollars), Dutch has had a big influence on the vocabulary of American English. Cookie derives from the Dutch koekje meaning 'small cake' and came to America in the seventeenth century when the Dutch occupied New York (then Nieuw Amsterdam) and the surrounding area. It is recorded in an American English text as early as 1703 and has since taken on a range of meanings including the cookies we accept online. Other languages have adopted the word as a result of the influence of American English. In Korean they say 쿠키 (k'uk'i). But remember, when in Holland only take one cookie with your coffee!

Znaleziony obraz

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Another fine mesu

A dentist's chair in Seoul, South Korea, is probably the last place I'd expect to find the influence of Dutch on other languages, but that's precisely where I discovered that even in Korean there are words that can be traced back to Dutch. As the dentist prepared to work on my teeth, he asked his colleague for a mesu (메스 in hangeul), i.e. a scalpel. This word, it turns out, had made the journey across the sea from Japan, where mesuメス, also means scalpel or surgeon's knife. This, in turn, is a loanword from Dutch, introduced into Japanese as a result of language contact during the Tokugawa period (1603-1868), for much of which the Dutch were the only Europeans allowed to enter the country.

Znalezione obrazy dla zapytania scalpel image

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Plain language

In Norwich, we don't refer to open spaces in the city as 'squares' as they do elsewhere in England, but as 'plains'. Why? There is a strong possibility that this is a result of the influence of the Dutch Strangers who lived in Norwich in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. The Dutch word for 'square' is plein. In Norwich there are several examples of this, such as 'Bank Plain', 'St. Andrew's Plain' and 'St. Mary's Plain'. 'Plain' is also used in other towns in Norfolk, such as Great Yarmouth and Sheringham, where you can stand in 'Lifeboat Plain'.