Slang

Maybe you don’t immediately realise this, but slang or dialect is about the only remaining regional/local tradition that is left in our modern age. It is also rapidly fading away. I was so fortunate to be raised in a small in village and in a family that still spoke (speaks) the local dialect. On elementary school we of course did speak “general civilized Dutch”, because you had to be able to speak it, especially when you would go to work in a city. Actually, dialect was already looked upon with ‘a skew eye’ as we say and many parents no longer taught their children the local language. Of course this was also due to the fact that many people who work in Eindhoven (and may have come from anywhere in the Netherlands), wanted to live outside the city and ended up in ‘my region’. But then again, as soon as we had to go to secondary school in a small town up north where people from the whole region came, you were considered ‘backward’ or ‘loutish’ (our word “boers” refers to “boer” or “farmer”). This became even worse when study took place in (in my case) Eindhoven and especially people who moved outside ‘our dialectical family area’ to study.

In this regard I am a bit of a chauvinist, since when you hear me talking, it is quite obvious where my roots lay. At work I of course try to be at least a bit ‘civilized’, but still I have a grave accent. If I pay a lot attention to my talking, I of course am very well able to speak “general civilized Dutch”, but it costs me more effort than just talking in ‘my natural language’. I do have to admit, that after having lived in Eindhoven for about seven years and thus having left behind the village of my birth and having worked in larger organisations, the slang ‘wears out’. I don’t hear it talking much, I have to avoid speaking it myself often (a colleague from another part of the country may not even understand what I say, let alone a costumer), so in thruth my language becomes ‘Brabantian light’. In a way this is a very pityfull development. My generation is most likely the last to use dialects and many of my age, don’t even know the dialects anymore, simply because their parents didn’t speak it.

There we have two points. When I look at my family, they all more or less lived in the same area for their whole lives, for generations even. My grandparents didn’t even (often) leave the area, so they were surrounded with the same people most of their lives. My parents’ generation grew up with TV, trains, cars and airoplanes. Also the major move towards the big cities or even entirely different parts of the Netherlands (or the world) began (and my family was late with this, being a farmers family). It was mostly my parents generation who moved for example from the province of Limburg to Amsterdam to work there, from the province of Friesland to Rotterdam. Old (farmers) customs and also the local dialects were left behind, since they were no longer helpfull or even desirable in the new hometowns. The few people that did remain in the areas of their origin (such as my parents) and kept the dialect alive (such as my family as a whole) are the only and few links with the local past and then it is my generation in even smaller numbers who should have to keep the flame alive. With family living away and abroad, and myself having a girlfriend from an entirely different part of the country, how should this happen?

Our local dialect

I have to tell you something about our local dialect, that probably goes for most slangs. I am from a small village south of Eindhoven. My parents are from the same village (father) and another one further south (mother) and have moved about a bit in their lives. My grandparents are from the same region. Their children (my uncles and aunts) scattered around a bit, but not too far. Within our family it is already very obvious that the dialect differs from village to village. Not that they are entirely different languages, but there are different words and especially different pronounciations. A married couple that comes from two different villages (which happens often) have two kinds of dialects. Then they may even live in another village and the children are ‘subject to’ three different variations of a dialect. Then what is ‘the dialect’ of the village they live in? Consequentally one has to make a choice of preference between the variations which may result in something ‘new’.

Is this a problem? Yes and no. Languages develop, this is a simple fact. On the other hand, from a ‘traditional point of view’ or even a purist point of view, the dialect of one village should still be as it was two generations ago. It is (even for me) recognisable from what village (or area) a certain person comes, but for how long yet?

Our dialect is similar in an area going from about the ‘border’ with the province of Limburg, up north towards Eindhoven, south to the Belgian border and west to about, say, Tilburg. To the south the Belgian speak Flemish (each in their local variant of course), to the east, Limburgian (in their local variants), to the north a quite different kind of Brabantian and the same to the west. On ‘our area’ the words and pronounciations may be not 100% the same, but the people easily understand eachother and there is not much surprise about different kinds of expressions. Other Brabantian dialects are understandable but obviously different. Limburgian is an entirely different thing alltogether, but of course there is a ‘transition area’. Flemish is easier to follow for me than real Limburgian. Maybe because parts of Flanders used to be part of the greater duchy of Brabant.

Deterioration and recovery

Like I said, for a long time, it was ‘not done’ to speak in dialect, since one had to speak “general civilized Dutch”, also in Dutch-speaking Belgium by the way. I think that this development went accordingly the ‘suppression’ of a feeling of (regional) nationalism that has remained for a long time after WWII. You had to be civilized and speak proper Dutch, because you may go to work in a large city or even the ‘Randstad’ (the industrial and urbanized area along the coastline).

A couple of years ago, the theme of the ‘week of the book’ suddenly was national history and since then it is again ‘allowed’ to study national history, talk about it and be proud of it (upto a certain degree). In the wake of this development also the more regional feeling of nationalism (or “regionalism”) came up. All the sudden there were ‘Brabantian dictionaries’, a contest for the most beautiful word in Brabant (which became the ‘pan-Brabantian’ goodbye greeting “houdoe” (pronounce as “how do” in English)), writers started to write in dialect and plays were spoken in dialect. Suddenly people could be proud of the language of their childhood again. The part “civilized” in “general civilized Dutch” was dropped, because dialect was no longer regarded uncivilized.

Brabantian in writing

Our dialect never has been a written language, I think the same goes for many dialects. Usually a text would be in “general Dutch”, but read in slang. Only with the pre-fasting-feast of “Carnaval”, in which local traditions have always played a big role, texts were written in dialect. But there have never been ‘rules’ for how to write certain of our strange pronounciations, especially when you know that the next village pronounces the same word just a little bit different

Recently I ran into a book Brabantse Dorpsverhalen (Brabantian village stories) which contains spelling instructions for the Brabantian language. The book is by C.A. Verkuylen and from 1993. Too bad that Verkuylen doesn’t say much from the ‘Eindhoven variant’ of Brabantian and most of the words he gives in his glossary would be quite different here. The tone seems to be set though. More recent publications such as Zeik op unne Riek (which I am not going to translate) and Brabants Mooiste Woord (Brabants Most Beautiful Word, 2005) and especially the ‘dialect writers’ that suddenly came to surface had to think about how to write what is said in dialect. This mostly came to intonation notations with a great many accents to give an idea how a word sounded. This often results in an overscholarly approach and too fanatical attempts to write down what is heard. For example, “the village” is “het dorp” in “general Dutch”, Verkuylen makes this in “törp”, while in my opinion it might have better been “ut dörp”. We may combine the words into something sounding like “törp”, but I think we at least say “t’dörp” (for those curious, the “ö” sounds like “u” in “butter”).

Another problem that I have is that suddenly dialects are divided by province, so we have “Frisian”, “Limburgian”, “Brabantian”, etc. Like I said, dialects differ from village to village, with ‘family-relations’ in an area and maybe, perhaps etymologically, the dialects roughly go together by province. I would still prefer a more regional approach.

The loss of a tradition

I started this article with the notion that dialect seems to be one of the last traditions that dies out. Since most people live (or at least work) in cities, the farmers-mentality has almost entirely died out. People forgot myths, symbols, traditions, customs, festivities, habbits and eventually even the language. “Folklorists” try to preserve a part of all this, symbolists another, Asatruar another and “dialect writers” yet another. I plea for a more comprehensive approach. Find out where such elements connect and you may come to the conclusion that that may be the prechristian faith that has remained so long alive under a Christian veil. The elements cannot be seen apart from eachother and therefor should be studied together. Try to find out what is still there of the area where you grew up in, ask you parents what they remember, find old and new literature about the variety of subjects and especially, be not afraid of what other people may think of you with these intererests of yours, because when we totally neglect regional history, dialect may at last really be the last element of local history to die out. To have things put in books and papers is not enough either, that is fosilized history. These things have to be lived, spoken, experienced and mostly: preserved and taught to the generations to come.

Example

I like to give a short piece text in roughly the way I would say it, in “general Dutch” and English, just so you all get an idea of what the starting point for these musings was.

Op de hêij tussu Irsel, Dùezel en Knêgsel ziedu bekant èlluku donkeru nâácht du gloeiende gedoante van unnu mens.
Ze zeggu, dè toen de Engelsu hier gelegerd waoru, îin van die soldôatu doar begroavu wer. Van toen af oan hit du gloeiige veul mensu de doadschrik oangejôagd. Du verschêèning wort mistal dun "gloeiige Engelsman" genoemt.
Op de hei tussen Eersel, Duizel en Knegsel, zie je bijna iedere donkere avond de gloeiende gedaante van een mens.
Men zegt, dat toen de Engelsen hier gelegerd waren, een van die soldaten daar begraven werd. Sindsdien heeft de gloeiiige veel mensen de doodschrik aangejaagd. De verschijning wordt meestal "de gloeiiige Engelsman" genoemd.
On the heathers between Eersel, Duizel and Knegsel you will see the glowing shape of a man almost every dark night.
It is said, that when the English were encamped here, one of the soldiers was buried there. Ever since, the glower has given death frights to many people. The presence is usually called "the glowing Englishman".

The books that I mentioned weren’t of much use, so I tried to give an idea of how it would sound when I spoke the text. This is not very easy though! A ^ above a letter stretches the sound, ‘ makes the sound higher, a ` lower.
-11/10/06-

One comment

  1. I grew up in the state of Michigan, USA, and a lot of settlers there came from Germany and Netherlands. Also England and France. Now I live in the state of New Mexico, USA, about 1,300 miles from Michigan. Back home, we say ‘it’s snowing out’ but I don’t know why we say ‘out’ or ‘outside’, obviously, it’s not snowing inside, ha ha. Same thing for rain, or cold. Here in New Mexico, they just say ‘it’s raining.’ I understand some of your phrases better than some of the phrases used here. People here don’t associate Thor with the weather at all. So, please keep some of your old words and phrases, I hope they don’t die out. Thanks.

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