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Schoon Vlaams: Dutch vs. Flemish Posted by on Nov 18, 2016 in Dutch Language

Dutch is usually associated with the Dutch. That makes sense, not everybody knows that Dutch is also an official language of Suriname and Belgium. Is Dutch the same everywhere? No, each country has its own variety. Let’s have a closer look at the Dutch spoken in Belgium.

What’s it called?

First, some terminology. Dutch is spoken in a part of Belgium called Vlaanderen (roughly the northern half, bordering the North Sea and the Netherlands). Therefore, the language spoken there is sometimes called Vlaams (Flemish). To complicate matters, it is also called Belgisch Nederlands (Belgian Dutch) and Zuid-Nederlands (Southern Dutch). Belgian, on the other hand, is not a language. It does not exist. There are only Belgian varieties of Dutch, French and German.

So what is Flemish? Because Flemish is not considered a language but a language variety, it is difficult to say exactly what it is and what it isn’t. When people use the term, they could be talking about the Dutch spoken in Flanders, tussentaal or the Flemish dialects. Tussentaal is not quite standard Dutch but not as localized as dialects either (Wikipedia describes it as the “supra-regional, semi-standardized colloquial form”). The examples of Flemish in this post are all standard Dutch in Belgium.

The differences

The biggest difference between Flemish and Dutch is the pronunciation. Although they can understand each other just fine, you may hear the Dutch say that Flemish just sounds softer. In addition, quite a few words have different meaning in Flanders, or they may use another word to refer to the same thing. Some examples:

schoon

When the Flemish say that something is schoon, they mean it is pretty or beautiful. In the Netherlands, something that is schoon is just clean.

patat

In the Netherlands, you’ll get a portion of fries when you order patat. In Flanders, patat is a dialect word for potato. If you want to eat fries in Flanders, which you definitely should, ask for frietjes.frietjes

kleedje

Don’t eat too many fries, or you won’t fit into your kleedje. In Flanders that is, where it means a short dress. In the Netherlands, a kleedje is an area rug.

jam

Back to food. A Dutch person puts jam on his bread, a Flemish person eats confituur. Both mean- you got it- jam. Why do the Flemish need a longer word? Flemish has been in much closer contact with French and still uses more French words, like confiture. Another example of this tendency is the grilled cheese. Both countries serve it with ham, but in the Netherlands, it is called a tosti, whereas in Flanders, it’s called a croque monsieur. Just so you know, a croque madame is a grilled cheese with an egg on top.

bank

As in English, bank has multiple means in Dutch. It can be a financial institution, but it can also refer to a bench. In the Netherlands, it can also be a sofa, but not in Flanders. The Flemish watch TV from their zetel.

Onto verbs. In the Netherlands, if you want to use your debit card, you ask the cashier if you can pinnen. In Flanders, they don’t pin. They simply say met de bankkaart betalen (to pay using your “bank card”).

poepen

You should probably refrain from saying poepen. It’s pretty vulgar in both language varieties, but in the Netherlands it refers to something you do in the bathroom, whilst in Flanders it refers something you usually do in the bedroom.

lopen

Need to catch the bus? In Flanders, running is called lopen, in the Netherlands it is called rennen. If a Dutch person says lopen, they mean to walk. In Flanders, to walk is stappen, in the Netherlands that means to go out. You’re still with me?

This list is far from exhaustive. In a recent Prisma dictionary edition, around 3,500 words were marked “Flemish Dutch” and 4,500 words “Netherlands Dutch”. What are some of the differences that you’ve noticed?

 

About the Guest Author: Jessica is a linguist, a communicator and intern at bab.la. She loves language, nail polish and her sisters. She is on a mission to make government and administration more accessible by simplifying their language.

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Comments:

  1. Peter Simon:

    A few weeks ago I came across ‘aal’ in a translation I had to do and, of course, ‘eel’ did not fit. I looked up several paper and on-line dictionaries but none said anything else. I asked a neighbour but she did not even know this meaning, and started cleverly looking it up on Google, of course, with no result.

    I later found out from Kramers Woordenboek Nederlands (an exceptional work as it also provides near-synonyms to most words) that in ZNL (i.e., Vlaams) it means ‘mestvocht’. I can recommend this paper dictionary to everybody interested in Vlaams because they will find ZNL there.

    I’ve also found out lately that mijnwoordenboek.nl also has this meaning, though not mentioning that it’s dialect. I suppose the big Van Dale also contains Vlaams, but you have to subscribe to it on-line, otherwise the paper edition has a steep price, as all Dutch books have.

    • Jan:

      @Peter Simon Aal is also known as beer ( pronounced somewhat as the ‘a’ in see you later ), meaning moist menure. A ‘beer’ is also a bear and ‘aal’ is an eel. Funnily enough, ale is a beer in english… 🙂

      So it all comes down to beer, animals and menure…

  2. Anon:

    Afrikaans word for walk is “loop” . Run is “hardloop”

    I’ve just realised that Afrikaans also has “stap” as a word for walk. I can’t explain the grammer rules well, but there are situations where one would prefer to use one word over the other.

  3. Jan:

    And don’t forget “botten”.

    When a Flemish person is looking for his “botten”, he can’t find his boots. A Dutch person looking for his “botten” would be in trouble, because he can’t find his bones…

  4. tony:

    If you see any subtitled TV programmes from Flemish TV, the number of French words, as well as the accent distinguish it from Dutch. Although to fully test this theory I need to watch the Tour de France on Dutch, Flemish. French and British TV to see who after the French use most French words.
    The other clue is the pronunciation on pop music radio stations, the Dutch DJs are better than the Flemish who are better than the French 🙂 Which of course is the ranking of the number of French words and the pronunciation of Willy William – Mi gente – Enfin !