Dunglish: Wikis


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Dunglish on a door in Port Zélande. Note that all three languages have errors, "Paarden Uitdeelplaats" for example should have been "Paardenuitdeelplaats" and is in fact an example of the influence of English on Dutch.

Dunglish is a portmanteau of Dutch and English, a name for Dutch English. The word is often used pejoratively to refer to the mistakes native Dutch speakers make when speaking English. They are closely related Germanic languages. English instruction in the Netherlands begins in elementary school, and Dutch-speaking Belgians are usually taught English from the age of twelve. In addition, like all foreign-language movies, English-spoken movies are subtitled instead of dubbed in the Netherlands and in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium.

The Dutch word for the poorest form of Dunglish is Steenkolenengels ("Coal English"). This term goes back to the early twentieth century when Dutch port workers used a rudimentary form of English to communicate with the personnel of English coal ships.

Errors occur mainly in pronunciation, word order and the meaning of words. Former Dutch ambassador and prime minister Dries van Agt supposedly once said "I can stand my little man" (ik kan mijn mannetje staan, a Dutch idiom meaning roughly "I can stand up for myself"). Another example of inappropriate English was uttered by the former leader of the Dutch liberal party, Frits Bolkestein. When talking about economic prospects he repeatedly referred to them as "golden showers", apparently unaware of the term's sexual connotation.

Two American counterparts to Dunglish were once common: Jersey Dutch, a pidgin Dutch spoken in parts of northeastern New Jersey, which was part of the province of New Netherland in the 17th century. In the Midwest, a separate pidgin Dutch was used by immigrants who came from the Netherlands in the 19th century, primarily in Western Michigan where the largest group of Dutch immigrants in the U.S. lived.

Jersey Dutch apparently had quite a long life despite the Dutch disappearing as colonizers early on, and was reputed to have lasted into the 20th century. Yankee Dutch persists to this day, with a few speakers still living, although the likelihood of the pidgin surviving much past the next five to ten years is unlikely. The persistence of both pidgins was attributed to the use of Dutch in church services. It was the anti-German sentiment of World War I that was probably the biggest force in the demise of both pidgins, as the language was mistaken for German by those from outside the communities where the pidgins were spoken.


Common errors


Incorrect meaning of words

Errors often occur because of the false friend or false cognate possibility: words are incorrectly translated for understandable reasons. Examples are:

  • Former prime-minister Joop den Uyl once remarked that "the Dutch are a nation of undertakers". The Dutch verb ondernemen is literally the English undertake (as onder is under and nemen is take). The noun ondernemer is thus literally undertaker, however the idiomatic English usage is instead the French loanword entrepreneur. (Dutch uses the more specific begrafenisondernemer for a funeral director.)
  • The Dutch verb solliciteren means to apply for a job, which can lead to an embarrassing situation if someone claims that they have come to solicit.
  • The word eventueel in Dutch means possibly (like eventuel in French) and not eventually, which is uiteindelijk in Dutch. This mistake caused a row between the Scottish and Belgian football associations when the Belgian football association invited delegates from various associations over for the "eventual qualification of the Belgian national football team" before the play-offs against Scotland started. While the Scottish federation accused the Belgians of sheer arrogance, the Belgian association had actually meant to hold the drink after a "possible qualification".

Word order

Some Dutch speakers may use Dutch syntax inappropriately when using English, creating errors such as What mean you? instead of What do you mean?

This is because English and Dutch do not follow exactly the same word order. English has a SVO word order, but Dutch has this word order only partially having a V2 word order. Used with modal auxiliaries, Dutch perfect participles are placed at the end of a phrase. In subordinate clauses, the modal auxiliary follows the perfect participle.

English employs periphrastic constructions involving the verb to do for forming questions, a rare feature crosslinguistically. Dutch does not use this construction, but instead utilizes a VSO word order, inverting the subject and verb.

Verb conjugation

English and Dutch are both West Germanic, with many cognate verbs with identical or nearly identical meanings. This similarity between verbs may cause speakers of Dutch to conjugate English verbs according to Dutch grammar.

  • We kisse(n) her. (Dutch kussen means and is cognate with English to kiss. In Dutch grammar, verbs with plural subjects take a form identical to the infinitive, which in most cases has an en suffix.)
  • What do you now? for What are you doing? (In Dutch, Wat doe je nu?)
  • How goes it now? for How are you doing now? (The phrase is used particularly after someone has had a bad spell. A similarly constructed phrase is found in Shakespeare, carrying a slightly different meaning, which underlines the even closer similarities between English and Dutch historically.)

Errors in pronunciation

  • Words like third and the are commonly mispronounced by Dutch speakers as turd and duh.
  • Many Dutch speakers from the Netherlands have trouble distinguishing between bat, bad, bet and bed.
  • Some pronounce the word idea (in Dutch: idee) without the ending sound, making "Do you have an idea?" and "Do you have an ID?" sound the same.
  • A professor, specialized in agricultural history, stressed the importance of "weed" production in 20th century Holland on an international symposium - although his slides indicated that he was referring to "wheat".


Certain Dutch users have a tendency to overtranslate Dutch terms causing a literal, sometimes incomprehensible, translation of the Dutch term into English. For example the English and Dutch know the famous Amsterdam church as the Westerkerk. The term "Western Church" used to help English tourists locate this tourist attraction can cause more confusion than necessary. (However, English users have readily adopted "Dam Square" instead of "Dam", the original form of this Amsterdam open space.)

For the Dutch, the preponderance of the American English variety over the British English variety can cause other overtranslation issues. Whereas the Dutch and British both use the same word lift, the Dutch, to a British user will helpfully suggest using the elevator. A flat means the same thing in British English and Dutch but most Dutch will suggest 'apartment' as the English form.

Other examples

"Welcome in Amsterdam"
Should be: "Welcome to Amsterdam" (in Dutch: "Welkom in Amsterdam")
"That can"
Instead of: "that's possible", "sure" or "of course" (in Dutch: "Dat kan")
"Thank you for your reaction"
Instead of: "Thank you for your reply" (in Dutch: "Bedankt voor uw reactie")
"I hate you all very welcome"
Instead of: "I welcome you all" (in Dutch: "Ik heet u allen zeer welkom")
"She told me that you are a good kok"
Should be: "She told me that you are a good cook" (in Dutch: "Zij vertelde me dat je een goede kok bent")
"They hardly worked...."
Should be: "They have been working hard" (in Dutch: "Ze hebben hard gewerkt")
"Gas out of our bottom"
Should be: "Gas from our soil/ground" (in Dutch: "Gas uit onze bodem")
"I learn you..."
Should be "I will teach you..." (in Dutch: "Ik leer je...")
"I fuck horses"
Should be "I breed horses" (in Dutch: "Ik fok paarden")
"I first have to look the cat out of the tree."
Should be "I have to wait and see which way the cat jumps" (in Dutch: "Ik moet eerst de kat uit de boom kijken")
Arthur Numan to the British press after his transfer from PSV to Glasgow Rangers. (Supposedly)
"How late is it?"
Should be "What time is it?" (in Dutch: "Hoe laat is het?").
"What is there on the hand?"
Should be "What is going on?" (in Dutch: "Wat is er aan de hand?").
"Go your gang."
Should be "Do your thing" (in Dutch: "Ga je gang").
"I am a bit in the war."
Should be "I am a little bit confused" (in Dutch: "Ik ben een beetje in de war").
"I passed the brook."
Should be "I tried on the trousers" (in Dutch: "Ik paste de broek").
"Put your mobiles out."
Should be "Turn off your mobile phones" (in Dutch: "Zet je mobieltjes uit").
"I always make craft of the unit circle."
Should be "I always use the unit circle." (in Dutch: "Ik maak altijd gebruik van de eenheidscirkel").
"When I'm walking over this line..."
Should be "When I'm following this line..." (with finger) (in Dutch: "Wanneer ik over deze lijn loop").
"I'm sitting on this line."
Should be "I am on this line [when pointing at a line]" (in Dutch: "Ik zit op deze lijn").
"I want you out of it."
(when sending someone out of the classroom) (in Dutch: "Ik wil je uit het klaslokaal.").
"Are you shore of this?"
Should be spelled "Are you sure of this?" (confusion because of the pronunciation) (in Dutch: "Ben je hier zeker van?")
"Are you taking me in the mailing?"
Should be: "Are you kidding me?" (in Dutch: "Neem je mij in de maling?")
"Let but sit"
Should be: "Never mind" (in Dutch: "Laat maar zitten")
"I always get my sin"
Should be: I always get what I want (in Dutch: "Ik krijg altijd mijn zin")
"This time I see it through my fingers"
Should be: "This time I will turn a blind eye" (in Dutch "Dit keer zal het door de vingers zien")

Jocular reverse use

One can also observe the opposite of Dunglish: the pseudo-stupid literal borrowing of English terms in Dutch. Usually, the speaker doing this will be well aware of his error and wanting to achieve a comical effect, somewhat like a pun. The most famous example of this may be:

"Worst-Kaas scenario"
Refers to "worst case scenario" (literally: "sausage-cheese scenario"). This expression uses the Dutch words that most closely resemble their English counterparts. Amusingly, they are snacks, often served together alongside drinks (at a "borrel"), so that the term worst-kaas scenario may well be used to describe a situation in which snacks are or will have to be served. E.g. "If we continue to drink beers at this rate, this may well develop into a worst-kaas scenario..." - at which the addressed person should normally respond by ordering snacks without further ado.

Worst Teacher Award

There is an ongoing debate in many Dutch universities on whether, given the increasing number of foreign exchange students, classes should be taught in English rather than Dutch. A common counterargument is that a significant number of professors are not fluent enough to teach classes in English at a university level. In this light, the Student Union (VSSD) of Delft University of Technology has established the "Worst Teacher Award", given yearly to the most heinous mistake in English made by a professor. Since 'worst' is the Dutch word for 'sausage', the prize awarded is a large sausage. Some examples:

Don't let them eat the cheese off your bread. (Jacques Berenbak)
Dutch: Laat je de kaas niet van het brood eten.
Meaning: Don't lose your competitive edge.
You have to screw up the number.
Dutch: Je moet de waarde opschroeven.
Meaning: You have to increase the number.
This college goes over ramps.
Dutch: Dit college gaat over rampen.
Meaning: This lecture is about disasters.
I tried to lead you around the garden.
Dutch: Ik probeerde je om de tuin te leiden.
Meaning: I tried to deceive you.
I have an equation picked from the sky
Dutch: Ik heb een vergelijking uit de lucht gegrepen.
Meaning: I took a random equation.
You have to meet this with your lat
Dutch: Je moet dit meten met je lat.
Meaning : You have to measure this with your ruler.
Be very aware if you look to this graph
Dutch: Let goed op als je naar deze grafiek kijkt
Meaning: Pay attention when looking at this graph

See also


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




Dutch + English

Proper noun




Wikipedia has an article on:


  1. English as misspoken by Dutch people.



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