Dutch & Flemish – Equal but not the Same

5 02 2016

Flemish Dutch

Spoken mainly in Netherlands and Belgium by about 23 million people worldwide, Dutch is an important target language for marketing. Reaching into this combined global market with your products and services opens your business up to a GDP of over 1 trillion USD.

But not all Dutch is exactly the same. For example, Flemish Dutch is a variant that is spoken by 5.5 million people in Flanders, a region of Belgium that includes the provinces of West and East Flanders, Brussels, Flemish Brabant, Antwerp and Limburg. There are hundreds of words used in Flemish Dutch that are not used in Netherlands Dutch, and pronunciations and word order are also not always identical.

As an example, there is a formality maintained in Flemish in more instances than in Netherlands Dutch. While such characteristics may be more apparent in spoken Dutch than in the written form, the best practice for reaching Belgian Dutch markets is to have translations reviewed and edited by a Flemish translator.

One reason to take care in handling the differences is the long-standing sense the Flemish have had that the Dutch they use is considered inferior. The main Dutch dictionary, Van Dale, for instance has in the past referred to Flemish words and pronunciations as if they were deviations from the “correct” Netherlands Dutch forms. This is changing.

The Dutch Union, referred to as the “Taalunie”, was established in 1980 by the Treaty Concerning the Dutch Language Union, which stipulates that the participating countries “will set joint policy with respect to the Dutch language.” Their publication most commonly called the Green Book is an official dictionary-style guide to the spelling, plural forms and grammatical use of words, most recently revised and released in October of 2015.

But just to be sure of getting the right spellings and usage for your particular audience, you might want your translator to refer also to the “White Book,” created by Dutch mainstream media because of their objections to aspects of the Green Book. Both are in use for Flemish dialects as well as Netherlands Dutch, and while the differences are mostly subtle, they are often quite noticeable to those who care.

Skrivanek has a branch in Belgium where Dutch linguists of both Belgium and Netherlands can assist you in the right choice of tone for your translated materials.

J. McShulskis

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One response

9 02 2016
petroebersohn

Afrikaans, one of South Africa’s official languages, is also quite similar to the Dutch spoken in The Netherlands and Belgium. Jan van Riebeeck and his party from the Netherlands, were the first whites to move to the southern part of Africa to start a place where ships could rest and “fuel up” on fresh food and water.

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