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History

You’ll be surprised to hear that your problems with Dutch word order and pronunciation were in fact caused by the development of the English language.

After the withdrawal of the Romans in the 5th century, the Celtic king Vortigern entered into an agreement with a few Germanic mercenaries and asked them to help him drive out the Scots and the Picts. But after doing so the continental tribes decided to stay. From the 5th century onwards, English and Dutch were basically dialects of the same language, which explains why they share a basic Germanic vocabulary. Many Dutch words will look familiar to you because they are similar (cf. drink = drinken, sleep = slapen, sun = zon, moon = maan, land = land, father = vader etc.).

If nothing drastic had happened in history since then, we would still be speaking more or less the same language. So what happened?

In 1066 the French invaded Britain and the Duke of Normandy, became King William I. For nearly two hundred years after this invasion, French remained the official language among the upper classes in England. Although English remained the language of the masses, only in the 14th century English won its way back into universal use, but, by then had drastically changed and grown apart from the Dutch language. This transformation of the English language included: loss of grammatical gender, of endings on adjectives and nouns, and of inflections (cases) as well as an enormous influx of French words on the one hand and the disappearance of many native Old English words on the other.

Many Old English words that disappeared from English, however, still exist in Dutch: lichama = lichaam (body), gefaer = gevaar (danger), cnapa = knaap (boy), gesynt = gezond (healthy).

In the 15th century we encounter a phenomenon in the English language that linguistics call “the great vowel shift”. This vowel shift is in fact responsible for this strange use of vowel symbols in English spelling: the aa sound from father changed to ee from name, the ee sound from mate changed to ie from meet, the i sound from bit turned into ai from knight. Obviously these are the sounds that English speakers have problems with in Dutch, not because they can’t pronounce them, but because the English spelling doesn’t reflect the pronunciation anymore.

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