Saturday, February 6, 2010

Mijn Nederlands Taalessen

Mijn Nederlands taalessen gaan wel. De klas gebeurd vroeg om maandag en woensday 's ochtends. Er zit 10-12 mensen in de klas.

It's funny. In my three years here I haven't manged to figure out the grammar, and while my understanding of the language is pretty decent, I still bungle speaking and all but the simplest writing. The vocab isn't that hard. I still do get words mixed up, but that's because, I think, I pay attention to stems and prefixes and suffixes, and so words that look similar get assigned similar meanings and then I get confused. Dutch grammar, on the other hand, is one huge-ass long rule list of rules and an even longer list of exceptions. But construction-wise, it's not that different from English (at least, compared to Spanish), so my lack of language is more from lack of practice than anything else. I work in an academic setting, so most people around me speak English, and I know enough simple Dutch to get around the ones that don't.

From what I understand, there is a panel of linguists that convene every few years to discuss what's "real" Dutch and what's not. I would imagine that these people make their living scanning the newspapers with a red pen in their hand, circling words that they didn't know existed, checking up with Van Dale (the dictionary of the Dutch language, complete with "het" and "de" in front of their nouns) and then making a list of noncompliant text examples. Then they convene and "tsk" over how much of other languages are polluting the purity of their beloved Nederlands but go about deciding which words get added to the language anyway.

Watching languages evolve is, I think, one of the more fascinating non-scientific pursuits--one that is a good deal more satisfying than, say, elaborating on the Bhuddist influence on Chaucer. You have to take into account the history, the influences, the ideas that wanted expression. Bill Bryson does a cursory job in Made in America but the English language practically begs to be abused, and if you're an American, you don't (according to Bryson's depiction of the fussy British) have the reverence for the sanctity of the language.

I wouldn't say that the Dutch are worried about the proliferation of English congnates in their language. The Dutch are very pragmatic people: a computer is a computer, and to call it by any other name would be a waste of breath. But they do want people who live in the country to know how to speak Dutch, and the individual steden (new vocab word, woohoo!) arrange language courses for newcomers that are free of charge, if you can prove that you have residence and can't pay for it. Many of the universities also give language lessons, and you can arrange for private tutoring if that suits you better, as well.

I do not understand people who pack their bags, move halfway around the world, and expect to continue living as if they were still back home. Who refuse to learn the language (or, in the case of Pakistani men in England, to let their wives learn the language, the better beat them into submission), refuse to learn about the culture, refuse to integrate--and then they wonder WHY they are so unhappy? I don't understand why people think it's society's job to integrate people who clearly want to spend their lives wallowing in misery. If they want to drown in their own despair, then let them! But for the ones who do want to learn the language, learn enough about their adopted culture to get along, at least, to get a job and work and earn a living and be happy--then they shouldn't be prevented from doing so.

This is actually a fairly big issue in the Netherlands. There are a fair number of immigrants living in the Netherlands--I think at last count some 10% of the populace was foreign-born. Who's responsible for integrating all of these noobs to the country, etc, and how can we make sure that none of these are suicide bombers, and so on. There aren't any easy answers--there never are, to these kinds of questions.

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