H.L. Mencken > The American Language > Appendix > 2. Non-English Dialects in America > 8. Dutch
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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956).  The American Language.  1921.
 
8. Dutch
 
The Dutch language exists in two forms in the United States, both differentiated from the original Dutch of Holland by the influence of American-English. The first is the so-called Jersey, or Bergen County Dutch, which is spoken by the descendants of seventeenth century Dutch settlers in Bergen and Passaic counties, New Jersey. In New York, as everyone knows, Dutch completely disappeared many years ago, but in these Jersey counties it still survives, though apparently obsolescent, and is spoken by many persons who are not of Dutch blood, including a few negroes. The second variety of Americanized Dutch is spoken by more recent immigrants, chiefly in Michigan. There is little if any communication between the two dialects.   1
  An excellent short study of Jersey Dutch was published by Dr. J. Dyneley Prince in 1910; 30 it remains the only one in print. The dialect, says Dr. Prince, “was originally the South Holland or Flemish language, which, in the course of centuries (ca. 1630-1880), became mixed with and partially influenced by English, having bor rowed also from the Mindi (Lenâpe-Delaware) Indian language a few animal and plant names. This Dutch has suffered little or nothing from modern Holland or Flemish immigration, although Paterson (the county seat of Passaic County) has at present a large Netherlands population. The old county people hold themselves strictly aloof from these foreigners, and say, when they are questioned as to the difference between the idioms: ‘Onze tal äz lex däuts en hoelliz äs Holläns; kwait dääfrent’ (our language is low Dutch and theirs is Holland Dutch; quite different). An intelligent Fleming or South Hollander with a knowledge of English can make shift at following a conversation in this Americanized Dutch, but the converse is not true.”   2
  As usual, contact with English has worn off the original inflections, and the definite and indefinite articles, de and en, are uniform for all genders. The case-endings have nearly all disappeared, in the comparison of adjectives the superlative affix has decayed from -st to -s, the person-endings in the conjugation of verbs have fallen off, and the pronouns have been much simplified. The vocabulary shows many signs of English influence. A large number of words in daily use have been borrowed bodily, e. g., bottle, town, railroad, cider, smoke, potato, match, good-bye. Others have been borrowed with changes, e.g., säns (since), määm (ma’m), belange (belong), boddere (bother), bääznäs (business), orek (earache). In still other cases the drag of English is apparent, as in blaubääse, a literal translation of blueberry (the standard Dutch word is heidebes), in mep’lbom (=mapletree; Dutch, ahoornboom), and in njeuspampir (=newspaper; Dutch, nieuwsblad). A few English archaisms are preserved in the dialect; for example, the use of gentry as a plural for gentleman.   3
  The Dutch spoken by the colonists from Holland in Michigan has been very extensively modified by American influences, both in vocabulary and in grammar. As in Jersey Dutch and in South African Dutch there has been a decay of inflections, and the neuter article het has been absorbed by the masculine-feminine article de. Says Prof. Henry J. G. Van Andel, of the chair of Dutch history, literature and art in Calvin College at Grand Rapids: “Almost all the American names of common objects, e. g., stove, mail, carpet, bookcase, kitchen, store, post-office, hose, dress, pantry, porch, buggy, picture, newspaper, ad, road, headline, particularly when they differ considerably from the Dutch terms, have been taken into the everyday vocabulary. This is also true of a great many verbs and adjectives, e. g., to move (moeven), to dig (diggen), to shop (shoppen), to drive (dryven: a meaning different from the standard Dutch one), slow, fast, easy, pink, etc. The religious language has remained pure, but even here purity has only a relative meaning, for the constructions employed are often English.” This corrupted vulgate is called Yankee-Dutch by the Hollanders of Michigan, and, like Pennsylvania German, it has begun to produce a literature, chiefly humorous in character. A little book of sketches by Dirk Nieland, called “Yankee-Dutch,” 31 contains some amusing specimens, e. g., piezelmietje (=pleased to meet you), and ‘You want’n ander kop koffie.” From an anonymous piece kindly supplied by Dr. John J. Hiemenga, president of Calvin College, I extract the following:
 
’t Had tamelijk ferm gesneeuwd de laatste twee dagen, zoodat de farmers toch nog een sleeride konden krijgen in het bijna vervlogen jaar. Vooral de young folks hunkerden naar een cutter-ride. Bijna allerwege in den omtrek van de Star Corners waren de cutters dan ook voor den dag gehaald en nagezien, want alles moest natuurlijk in running-order zijn. De dust moest er afgeveegd, hier en daar een bur wat aangetight, de kussens een weinig opgefixt, en de bells vooral nauwkeurig onderzocht.
Dit was hedenmiddag ook Frits zijn job geweest, met het doel hedenavond zijn eerste ride in de mooie cutter can Klaas Ekkel, biji wien hij als winterknecht diende, te nemen. Hij begon dan ook al vroeg met de chores, molk in a hurry en was daarmee dus tijdig klaar. ’t Supper werd even vlug verorberd, zoodat Frits om half-zeven al in de barn was, om Florie op te hichen.
Trotsch op haar nieuw harness en schallende bellen, draaft Florie gezwind enfier daarheen. Hier en daar waar een oude railfence de sneeuw opving, zoodat de road bijna geheel opgeblokt is, gaat of rakelings langs de andere fence of over de fields. Wel zijn er van daag een paar teams langs gegaan, doch de sneeuw en de wind hebben hun tracks geheel opgecoverd, zoodat Frits zijn eigen pad maar moet maken.
Dat’t vinnig koud is voelt hij niet, dank zij zijn dikke furcoat. Voelt hij de koude echter niet, hooren deed hij haar wel. War knarst en giert die sneeuw onder de runners! Ook de milliarden fonkelende sneeuwkelkjes, die met evenveel kleuren het licht der halve maan weerkaatsen, getuigen van de koude. Frits geniet dit schoone kleurenspel en verzinkt weldra in diep gepeins. Plotseling schrikt hij op.
“Hello, Frits, going to the store?”
“Ja, Henry, als je er in jumpen wilt, kan je zoover meerijden, maar ’t is haast te veel troebel voor ’t geld.”
Henry wil ook kunnen zeggen, dat hij van een cutter-ride gehad heeft en stapt dus in. Nog enkele rods en ze zijn bij de stables achter de kerk, waar ze ’t paard stallen en nu naar de store. Zoo ’n country-store is de lievelingsplek van de meeste jongens uit den omtrek, als ’s avonds het werk aan kant is. Enkele loafers maken zoo’n store hun home. Heel gezelling is men’s avonds soms bij elkaar. Is her een onnoozele bloed aanwezig, dan heeft men wat fun met hem. Stories hoort men er bij de wholesale. Twijfelt Jan er aan of Piet wel een barrel met salt kan tillen, dan noopt een “I’ll bet you the cigars” hem om te zwijgen of te wedden. Voor cigars, peanuts en candy wordt er dan ook heel wat geld gespend…
 
   4
  This curious dialect promises to be short of life. On the one hand the leaders among the colonists strive to make them use a pure Dutch and on the other hand the younger members, particularly those born in America, abandon both good and bad Dutch for English. I am informed by various observers in Grand Rapids and its vicinity that there seems to be but small prospect that Yankee-Dutch will survive as long as Pennsylvania German. 32   5
Note 30.  The Jersey Dutch Dialect, Dialect Notes, vol. iii, pp. 459 ff. [back]
Note 31.  Yankee-Dutch, humoristische schetsen uit het Hollandsch-Amerikaansche volksleven; Grand Rapids, Mich., 1919. [back]
Note 32.  I am intebted to Prof. B. K. Kuiper, to Mr. H. H. D. Langereis, to Mr. D. J. Van Riemsdyck, of the Eerdmans-Sevensma Co., the Dutch publishers of Grand Rapids, and to Dr. Paul H. De Kruif, of the Rockefeller Institute, for aid and suggestions. [back]

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