Saturday, July 21, 2018

Strangers Hall in Norwich

In the middle of Norwich is the wonderful Strangers Hall museum which is located in a majestic townhouse, first built some 600 years ago. The museum takes its name from the Dutch, Flemish and Walloon immigrants or Strangers who came to Norwich in the sixteenth century to escape the religious and economic turmoil in the Low Countries that was the prelude to the Eighty Years War. However, there was always a question mark over whether Strangers actually lived in the house … until now. Thanks to the work of Alastair Duke and latterly myself, we have established with a fair degree of certainty that they did live there. The evidence comes in the form of a letter that one of the Strangers wrote in Flemish to relatives back in Flanders. He describes the house in which he was staying in a manner which fits its layout in the sixteenth century. Furthermore, he mentions the High Street, the former name of the road on which the house stands and he says that the owner was Master Thomas – this I realized one day was Thomas Sotherton, a leading citizen of Norwich who owned the house when the letter was written. The letter only survives in a transcription tucked away in a relatively obscure mid-nineteenth century Dutch journal, but this example perhaps shows how such a letter can be of use for historical research and tell us about the world we live in today.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

'The Dutch craze' and strawberries in Tokugawa Japan

The presence of Dutch merchants and physicians, inter alia, in Tokugawa Japan led to a range of consequences for the Japanese language, which could hardly have been foreseen when the first Dutch ship, De Liefde, ran aground on the coast of Usuki in Bungo Province (now Usuki City, Oita Prefecture) on the eastern coast of Kyushu in April 1600. One consequence of language contact between Dutch and Japanese was a number of changes and additions to Japanese grammar, which will be the subject of future blogs. It also resulted in additions to the Japanese lexicon, sometimes in the form of whole words, such as the Japanese for coffee, but in other cases it resulted in new words which were part Japanese, part non-Japanese. One example of this is words beginning with 'ran' (蘭). This in fact derives from the second syllable of the Japanese rendering of the Portuguese word for 'Holland' 'Oranda', the Portuguese having arrived in Japan some fifty years earlier. Perhaps the best known example of this is rangaku (蘭学), the study of Dutch books, or more generally of Western books imported into Japan by the Dutch. Gaku (学)  means 'study' or 'learning' in Japanese. Japanese nobles who dedicated themselves to studying the Dutch language and Dutch learning, i.e. rangaku earned the name ranpeki (蘭癖) (lit. ‘those with the Dutch craze’). Sometimes, new words in Japanese were formed using oranda. This was often the case for new varieties of flowers and vegetables that the Dutch introduced. For example, the Japanese for the variety of strawberry Fragaria x ananassa is oranda-ichigoオランダいちご. As I have written before in this blog, Dutch may not be a world language, but it has certainly influenced many other languages in a variety of, sometimes unexpected, ways.

Further reading:  Frits Vos, ‘Dutch Influences on the Japanese Language (With an Appendix on Dutch Words in Korean)’, East Asian History 39, 2014, pp. 153-180.
Chris Joby, 'Dutch in Eighteenth-Century Japan', Dutch Crossing, DOI: 10.1080/03096564.2017.1383643

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Why Dutch is called, er, Dutch

Having taught Dutch in several countries, I've often been asked why Dutch is called, er, Dutch - by Anglophones. After all, the reasoning goes, we call the language of France, French, England, English and Italy, Italian. So why is the language spoken in Netherlands, or Holland as it is sometimes called, not Netherlandish, or Hollandish, but .. Dutch. According to the OED, it goes back to the Middle Dutch term, dutsch, rendered in the authoritative Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal as duutsc. This was used to refer to the spectrum of language varieties spoken in the Low Countries and Germany. It is a cognate of Deutsch, the German word for 'German' still in use today, which originally meant 'the language of the people' in contrast to Latin. 
In Tudor England, the Anglicized form 'Dutch' was still used to denote language varieties from Germany and the Low Countries. When the Scottish emissary Sir James Melville visited Queen Elizabeth he observed that her 'Dutch' was 'not gud', but we do not know if he was referring to the language of Germany or the Low Countries. Some English-speakers made a contrast between High Dutch, i.e. German and Low Dutch, i.e. Dutch. We find this distinction in the diary of Robert Hooke, who learnt Low Dutch to read the works and letters of Dutch scientists, but also acquired books in High Dutch. The shift towards applying 'Dutch' to languages varieties of the Low Countries gained an impetus with the political independence of the United Provinces. 
Today, like English, Dutch has several varieties. The two principal varieties in the Low Countries are Netherlands Dutch (Nederlands-Nederlands) and Belgian Dutch (Belgisch-Nederlands), although these include many sub-varieties. Other varieties include Suriname Dutch and Caribbean Dutch  . Indeed, along with Peter Burke, it might be better to talk of 'Dutches' rather than Dutch. 

Further reading: 
Roland Willemyns, Dutch: Biography of a Language. Oxford: OUP, 2013. 
Peter Burke, Towards a Social History of Early Modern Dutch. Amsterdam: AUP, 2005.
Christopher Joby, The Dutch Language in Britain (1550-1702). Leiden: Brill, 2015.