Language focus | 04.02.2010

Is English invading the Dutch language?

Due to increasing immigration and the ever global nature of commerce and media, the rise and widespread use of foreign languages in the Netherlands and Dutch-speaking part of Belgium has been noticeable for decades, and it is not surprising that it is the English language which takes credit for the bulk of loan words currently used in Dutch.

After the Second World War, the “American way of life”, embodied by its music, films and literature, became an example for the rest of the world. The language became the lingua franca of many international organisations, as well as the industrial and scientific world. It is a compulsory item on schools’ curriculum and is consistently used in new technologies, such as IT. In short, English has become a high-status global language, which naturally filters through into other languages such as Dutch.

However, this does not mean that English words that have managed to break into the Dutch language are there to stay forever. Research by Dutch linguists Marinel Gerritsen and Frank Jansen – titled ‘Welk Engels idioom kan met succes worden bestreden?’ (Which English idiom can be successfully beaten?) – has shown that around one third of all English loan words in dictionaries die a silent death after a couple of years, which emphasises the strength of spoken language: if the word in question is not popular anymore, it is quickly discarded from someone’s oral vocabulary.

Many English words are therefore linked to new concepts, ideas, trends and technologies: e-mail, spam, ‘hacken’ (hacking), ‘gamen’, or concepts from the business world that are left untranslated. Due to the dominance of American media on European television screens, many Dutch people have started to incorporate English words in order to boost their image, which can be seen best in the Dutch teenage culture – where it is ‘cool’ to use English, but is also noticeable on Dutch television, where television programmes will often have English names: Life and Cooking, So You Wannabe a Popstar, Holland’s Got Talent.

Due to globalisation, English is penetrating into the curriculum of most Higher Educational studies. A lot of English course material is already being used in Dutch courses and at least 50% of Dutch Universities at Masters Degree level are taught in the English language.

Recent years have seen much attention to English as a teaching subject in secondary and even primary schools. In June 2008, The Dutch Educational Council even controversially proposed to start teaching English at nursery school, thus preparing children better from an early age onwards.

Whether the influence of English, or any foreign language for that matter, leads to a degeneration of the native language is a contested topic between linguists, but it is certain that it is the general public who decides if a loan word is accepted or discarded once the ‘coolness’ factor disappears.

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