Things I learned about the Netherlands

In the Netherlands, people often introduce themselves with just their first names. Yet they seem to be unusually reluctant to write first names in full – the most commonly seen form in professional settings is the initial(s) of the first name(s) together with the full last name, such as H. Vossen or C.J.B. Jansen. When filling in your personal details on a form, you are not usually asked for your voornamen, but only for your voorletters. A measure against gender discrimination? In any case, as N. once observed, it leads to situations where you meet someone at an event, later get a list of participants but have no chance of finding him or her back because the only thing you know – the first name – does not appear on the list. And don’t think any of the initials will be the actual initial of the first name you heard: that is often a short form, e.g. Lex or Sander corresponds to the initial A – for Alexander.

The ability of the Dutch population to communicate in English is among the highest in Europe. Of course, Dutch English has its own characteristics. For example, the Dutch language has some terms that seem like internationalisms to many Dutch speakers, so they assume they will be understood in English as well. For example, they divide university subjects into the alfa branch (humanities), the beta branch (STEM) and the gamma branch (social sciences). Another example is the word horeca which is an abbreviation of hotel, restaurant, café and commonly used in Dutch when speaking about the catering industry. Another pet observation of mine: Dutch speakers tend to overuse the static passive in English (where it’s uncommon), e.g. the game is chosen instead of the game has been chosen or the game was chosen. This seems to be due to the fact that a form of zijn (“to be”) plus past participle is in Dutch the most common form to express the passive in the past: het spel is gekozen, even in situations where e.g. German would avoid the corresponding form, which would be classified as static passive. May we thus say that Dutch has a static passive and uses it a lot? Or should we say that the passive auxiliary worden EDIT: geworden is usually dropped in the perfect tense?

As a final interesting piece of information, note that precipitation is so unpredictable here that people have little use for your traditional weather forecast. Rather, you use a live satellite cloud map in order to wedge your bicycle ride home from work into the gap between two showers.

2 Gedanken zu „Things I learned about the Netherlands

  1. David

    „May we thus say that Dutch has a static passive and uses it a lot? Or should we say that the passive auxiliary worden is usually dropped in the perfect tense?“

    There are linguistic forces that propose viewing the German static passive as a copula-adjective construction, and not entirely without reason, since the participle can take the adjectival derivational prefix „un-“

    (1) Diese Bücher sind noch ungelesen

    One might argue, of course, that (1) is a copula-adjective construction whil „Diese Bücher sind gelesen“ is not, but why should one? While, interestingly, the prefix can also appear in the presence of a „von“ phrase,

    (2) Diese Landschaft ist von Menschen bisher völlig unberührt geblieben.

    the coocurrence of „un-“ and a „von“ phrase is also possible in the attributive use.

    (3) Diese von Menschen bisher völlig unberührte Landschaft

    In contrast, the dynamic passive doesn’t allow for „un“-derviation at all, even where it might arguably make sense

    (4) *Das LSR wird von der Regierung niemals unbeschlossen werden
    (5) *Dieses Fenster darf niemals ungeöffnet werden

    So an interesting question seems to be whether similar contrasts exist in Dutch. If adding „worden“ should block adjectival derivation where it is otherwise possible, the form without it can hardly be explained by ellipsis.

    Another argument against the ellipsis-theory, which has also been proposed for German, is due to Tilman Höhle. It may not be applicable to Dutch at all. For many speakers, the static passive can form a perfect.

    (6) Die Zeitungen sind ausverkauft gewesen

    But adding „worden“ is not possible at all in this case:

    (7) *Die Zeitungen sind ausverkauft worden gewesen

    Also, there is a semantic (or very strong pragmatic, who knows) difference between the static passive and the dynamic passive’s perfect:

    (8) Ich bin rasiert
    (9) Ich bin rasiert worden

    While (8) is perfectly fine if I shaved myself, (9) would be highly ‚marked‘ in this case. Trying this one on Dutch might again be very interesting.

  2. Kilian Evang Beitragsautor

    So an interesting question seems to be whether similar contrasts exist in Dutch. If adding “worden” should block adjectival derivation where it is otherwise possible, the form without it can hardly be explained by ellipsis.

    It is indeed easy to find such a contrast in Dutch, e.g.:

    (10) Hij is gekozen.
    (11) Hij is ongekozen.
    (12) Hij is gekozen geworden.
    (13) *Hij is ongekozen geworden.

    But if we add zojuist (“just now”), the contrast disappears:

    (14) Hij is zojuist gekozen.
    (15) *Hij is zojuist ongekozen.
    (16) Hij is zojuist gekozen geworden.
    (17) *Hij is zojuist ongekozen geworden.

    I would explain this as follows:

    (10) is ambiguous between a static and a dynamic reading (whereas the corresponding German form Er is gewählt can only be static).

    Adding on- forces the static reading because on- has a static meaning (like German un- but unlike English un- which also has a dynamic meaning and seems to have inspired examples 4-5).

    Adding geworden forces the dynamic reading. So does adding a point-in-time adverb such as zojuist. So they are both incompatible with on-.

    This is compatible with assuming two different constructions underlying the ambiguous (10): one that corresponds to the German static passive and one that is related to the construction with geworden as in (12) by mere ellipsis. The only structural difference between German and Dutch here would then be the possibility of that ellipsis (and indeed a strong preference for it – (12) and (16) are probably pretty “marked” for most speakers).

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