Skip to content

Edinburgh 2004 Report

By Jan Arriëns

Dunglish – Dunglish? Er… fouled up English, perhaps? Or, because this is a translation magazine, you might just think it has something to do with languages and guess that it’s some dubious hybrid of Dutch and English.

Which it is, but one that comes in two guises. First of all, it refers to the way that English has penetrated not just colloquial Dutch, but also the written language. The sort of thing the French get so upset about, and which has its German counterpart in Denglisch. But there is also a second, more insidious variant, which is when the Dutch put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, in English.

It was this second variant which the Dutch Network Workshop held in Edinburgh at the end of June looked at in particular. Many Dutch-English translators find they are increasingly being asked to revise English texts written by Dutch native-speakers. We all marvel at how well the Dutch speak English, but writing it is a different matter. We then have a tapestry in which the backing shows through – and it is Dutch.

Analysing this is extraordinarily fruitful, not just for revising texts but also when it comes to translation. It gives us a glimpse into the engine-room of the Dutch language and lets us peer into the mind of the author. It brings home the different way in which the Dutch approach the task of writing. They like short snappy sentences. Sometimes without verbs. Which we would link up in English.

And we learned about frontal overload. So, if you have to construct a sentence in English with subordinate clauses and would normally get all the less important stuff out of the way first before coming up with the pay-off at the end, the Dutch do it the other way around.

This genuinely fascinating subject was introduced by Joy-Burrough-Boenisch, author of the seminal Righting English that’s gone Dutch, a second, revised edition of which has just been published. Punctuation, paragraph structure, abbreviations (the Dutch love inventing their own in English, f.i. a.o. – okay, okay, I’ll translate: for example, among other things) and similar sounding words that get confused (“false friends”, like eventually or consequent) were all given an airing.

All this is very much more than a matter of mild amusement. Where such texts are launched on the unwitting public unrevised – as they often are – the result can be mystification rather than enlightenment. Even the experienced translator or revisor can sometimes be left at a loss when English is hijacked by a foreigner. And when it comes to speech, the native speaker may automatically correct the mistakes he or she hears, but a Dutch person and, say, a Thai both speaking their own varieties of English may end up in a mutually unintelligible undergrowth.

Apart from working on Dunglish texts and translations into Dutch in small groups, the Workshop listened to a most instructive lecture by Esther Meijers of the University of Aberdeen on “Scotto-Dutch Intellectual Exchange, 1680-1730”. Esther looked at the highly developed contacts between the two Protestant countries at this time, when so many Scots studied in the Netherlands as to make that country virtually the sixth Scottish university.

The setting at the foot of Arthur’s Seat, the piper in full regalia who unexpectedly appeared to lead us into dinner, the ceilidh afterwards and the superb organisation by Julian Ross all combined to make this a particularly memorable and worthwhile workshop.

[Back to Edinburgh 2004 Workshop page]