The Linguist

The Linguist 57,3 – June/July 2018

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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22 The Linguist Vol/57 No/3 2018 FEATURES F or two years after my graduation, I worked as a Teaching Assistant at the University of Leuven, teaching Dutch to native speakers. My courses covered writing skills in several journalistic and professional genres. Every now and then I came across an interesting piece of language: a funny expression, an interesting mistake, a fascinating language process. These observations led to a bimonthly column in the Dutch language journal Over Taal. My final column caused me quite some trouble. For the first time since I started writing down my linguistic thoughts, I couldn't think of anything to talk about. Maybe the warm summer months had something to do with it; the cafés of Leuven were far more inviting than the prospect of a long writing session in a sweltering room. I asked my fellow teaching assistants for advice, to no avail. Then suddenly, my language-hating fiancé walks in and offers the much-needed inspiration. Like a true deus ex machina, he says (in Dutch, except for the last word): "This English obsession is getting quite crazy, don't you think? Today I read something in the paper about fake." Although fake news has become a fixed expression in Dutch, there is no reason to use the word 'fake' in any other context, as we have a Dutch word for that already. Why, then, do native Dutch speakers use English words so often in situations where there is a perfectly adequate Dutch alternative? Some non-English speakers, particularly among Dutch and Flemish people, absolutely hate anglicisation; others think it's an enrichment. To me, anglicisation is an intrinsic part of Dutch that is neither always useful nor always annoying. I get irritated when I hear some slick marketing guy talk about his 'assets' or 'milestones' – or, even worse, when I hear parents brag about their 'kids'. (What's wrong with kinderen?) On the other hand, I'm not averse to using an English word every now and then, and since my circle of friends is international, it's not strange for us to mix English words or sentences with Dutch, or even to have entire conversations in English. I'll be the last to judge if you spice up your Dutch – or any other language – with some English. But what I do find interesting is the motives behind this anglicisation. When and why do people use English words, even though it's not their mother tongue? And maybe even more interesting, why do some English words and phrases bother us while others don't? English à gogo Borrowing words from other languages isn't new. Ever since languages were born, they have been exchanging words. Latin was once a great source of inspiration for Dutch. A few centuries later, French took over. People were outraged that all those foreign influences would end up killing the Dutch language. Yet today Dutch is still alive and kicking. There are many reasons to use English words as a non-native speaker – some rational, others more emotional. The first is pretty obvious: people invent things. And rightfully so, or the world would rapidly come to an end. For those new things, people need new words. Most of the time, those words are taken from the language area from which the invention springs. For many inventions in IT, that language area is English. For example, 'email' and 'internet' are established words in Dutch. But computer science isn't the only field that likes to borrow from English. Tennis words like 'backhand' and 'forehand' are hard to translate into Dutch, and my boxing teacher likes to talk about 'crosses' and 'hooks' when she is explaining how I can make the punchbag's life miserable. A second reason is that an English word is sometimes more easy or established than its Dutch equivalent. The word multitasken, for example, does not have a concise Dutch counterpart. You could say 'doing multiple things at once', but that explanation is rather lengthy and doesn't quite mean the same thing. Another example is siblings. People from the Netherlands make a fair attempt at a Dutch alternative with the word brussen (a contraction of broers en zussen; 'brothers and sisters'), but it never really entered the everyday language of Belgium. A third reason is that English culture has great influence in the Dutch language area. We all watch Game of Thrones and Orange is the New Black in the original English versions, and we go crazy for Kendrick and Beyoncé. In countries such as France that English cultural influence is less strong. The loi Toubon (1996) states that at least 40% of all records played on French radio channels must be French, while movies are often dubbed into French. Sara Van Daele asks why so many English words are readily absorbed into Dutch while others seem to grate To English or not to English?

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