Marianne Orchard muses on the pernickety niggles of being coherent when speaking Dutch or English... or both at once
There’s a wok restaurant with an all-you-can-eat buffet in the next village. The kids love it. It has sushi alongside stuffed eggs alongside huzarensalade alongside loempia’s alongside chicken nuggets alongside babi pangang alongside chips alongside soesjes alongside chocolate fondue alongside lychees alongside ice cream. It’s a Chinese restaurant that caters to Dutch tastes. It’s safe exotic without being too apart, as my mother-in-law would call it. So it’s a Dutch version of Chinese, which means that, in contrast to British Chinese, babi pangang is a standard part of the buffet. The main thing is that there is no meat-and-two-veggery and not a boerenkool in sight.
And I think this is a good light in which to see the version of English that often crops up in the Netherlands, which we native speakers like to laugh at, because it isn’t the English we speak.
You know the kind of things; Albert Heijn’s now discontinued Euro Shopper line is a classic at them – ‘Puff pastry with meat filling’ for saucijzenbroodjes, when sausage rolls would be what the British native speaker would say; ‘Short cake biscuits’ for spritsen, when the British native speaker would say Viennese swirls (and the Austrian in turn would probably say something else); and ‘rusks’ for beschuit.
And there’s the insistence, HEMA is a particular offender, in using the term ‘Old Dutch’ when it doesn’t have any significance to native English speakers because we don’t know – and if we do know it’s a sign we’ve been living here too long – that it’s a literal translation of Oud Hollands and for a Dutch person invokes nostalgic images of when life was simpler, when we were less druk, when we wore newspaper trousers and clogs, and when we counted our blessings.
But these products aren’t aimed at the native speaker of English, so it’s none of our business whether it means anything to us because that’s not the point. It’s just like the Chinese restaurant isn’t aimed at Chinese people. It’s about giving a feeling of something being exotic but exotic within reason, exotic that we can understand.
It’s within these kaders that we should attempt to understand that old Dutch Eurovision entry, ‘Birds’ by Anouk. The whole time I was thinking ‘huh, I don’t get why she’s singing about birds falling from the roofs’, even if I disregarded the niggle that surely they can’t fall down the rooftops but should be falling from the rooftops. They could fall down the roofs but not down the rooftops, but that wouldn’t scan in the song.
This was just a pernickety niggle compared with the bigger one of what’s going on with all those birds? My husband solved that conundrum by saying in one of those voices that imply that what he is saying is obvious, ‘It’s a saying: vogels vallen dood van het dak. You say it if it’s really hot. Then it’s so hot that the vogels vallen dood van het dak.’
However, now I’ve looked up the lyrics to the song it still doesn’t make much sense to me. But maybe there are whole layers of meaning that a native speaker of Dutch would understand just as they would understand why you need stuffed eggs and huzarensalade with your sushi.
We had rookworst recently. It wasn’t just any rookworst but an ambachtelijke rookworst. As an ambacht is a trade or craft, it would have been a pleasant surprise if Sir Ambachtelijke Rookworst of the Poiesz had been wearing a codpiece and carrying a gourd in true tradesperson fashion (in my anachronistic view of medieval fashion).
But let’s step away from talk of sausages and codpieces before it all degenerates into something unseemly and instead turn our attention to the word ambachtelijk. As I said already, ambachtelijk comes from ambacht, as in trade or craft. So it has the same meaning as the English artisan, as in an artisan bakery. However, it has reached a point in its evolution where if it is being used about rookworst sold in a supermarket we can be sure it doesn’t hold much meaning but is being used instead to convey an emotion.
Ambachtelijk can therefore signify a product that has been handmade by a skilled tradesperson. But it can equally signify one that has been carefully developed in an industrial process to resemble a product that has been made by hand by a skilled tradesperson. Or it can signify any old crap that the marketing department thinks will sell better with its addition.
Our ambachtelijke rookworst ended up looking less than ambachtelijk after it exploded in the pan because I forgot to prick it. Which is symbolic of the word ambachtelijk because it has become so full of meaning that it has exploded and now means nothing.
I thought this post could do with some musical accompaniment from the 1980s. So here it is: Words by F.R. David. And, how apt, words not coming easily is the focus of this post. Because they don’t. Come easily. Words, that is. In conversation anyway. Writing is a different kettle of fish because it gives me time to think and revise and think and revise and leave things to stew for a bit. With conversations, though, I find that if I’m speaking English, Dutch words (and the occasional German word, but this is very rare) will jump in and try to clothe my thoughts – a bad metaphor perhaps because it makes it sound as if my thoughts are obscene when they’re probably not obscene enough.
It’s the same if I’m speaking Dutch, but this time it’s the English (and occasional German) words that are doing the decent thing. What I’ve concluded is that when I speak Dutch I’m pretending to be someone who speaks only Dutch and when I’m speaking English I’m pretending to be someone who speaks only English when really I’m someone who speaks both languages and needs both of them to come out with anything coherent.
So if we look at the process, a thought forms and it wants to be clothed in some words. Like in that sinister Amazon warehouse in the UK where the workers are treated like robots, the order arrives and the message goes out to the workers that some words need to be picked.
The system and drones in my brain, however, are a lot crapper than the Amazon system. So the order comes in and the workers scurry off without bothering to check whether the product needs to be in Dutch, English or, on rare occasions, German. They scramble and come up with anything in either language that looks like it might just do, often producing a word that doesn’t match the original request anyway. And this is OK if I’m talking to someone like me who functions in both languages, because I can then say things like, ‘Yeah it was the avondvierdaagse last week and it wasn’t too vreselijk and was actually quite gezellig but we’ve got a verjaardag this weekend and that’s going to be really doomy and all oh lekker kopje koffie-ish…’
So we actually have our own language, which is neither Dutch nor English but both. And it’s a lot easier to speak than Dutch or English separately. I don’t know how polyglots do it.◄
The SENSE Jubilee Conference was a wonderful success. If you would like to gain an idea of what the next SENSE conference is likely to be, download a special publication that commemorates this important event: eSense 25th Jubilee Souvenir
SENSE aims to provide useful and entertaining content of interest to English-language professionals in the international SENSE community. SENSE has replaced its quarterly ezine eSense with a regular blog and monthly newsletters.
Back issues are available to read online or download.
SENSE publishes a quarterly house magazine called eSense. It aims to provide useful and entertaining content of interest to language professionals in the SENSE community at large while promoting the work and activities of the Society and its members.
Please feel free to download a copy of our digital magazine and share the link to the pdf with your friends, followers and business relations.
Extra download: pdf eSense 25th Jubilee Souvenir_2015 (1.90 MB)
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English continues to be used more and more in professional life in the Netherlands. It is the language of business, the language of academia, and the international language of communication in general. An ever-increasing number of people want to use English at a high level, but they also want to be seen as real users, with their own way of saying things. SENSE members play various important roles in mediating between the writers and readers of English. Crucially, whether it be in our role as editor, translator or tutor, we are seen as gatekeepers of the language. It is our job to determine what counts as good English and what not.
But as a lingua franca, English is changing. So should we stick to our guns and ensure that every report we edit comes across as a piece of native speaker writing? Should we use the full richness of our vocabulary and syntactic repertoire when translating a website for an international readership? And should we continue to put a red line through <If the experiment would be replicated> in every PhD candidate’s first draft?
In other words, what is the best way to perform our gatekeeping role? Should we become more relaxed in that role, or is it important that we do everything we can to ensure that standards do not slip? Is there perhaps a way to continue to stress the importance of correctness and clarity while at the same time recognizing that the English used by Dutch speakers may have its own features, and that the readability of a text is more important than the wonders of the idiom?
Mike Hannay - panel leader
Mike Hannay - Professor of English language and Director of Studies at the Arts Faculty of the VU University Amsterdam. He is specialized in the relationship between sentence and text: how can you organize the information in a sentence so that you improve the coherence of the text? He is particularly interested in differences between English and Dutch. Mike incorporates insights from new linguistic research into advanced training programmes in writing, translating and text editing. Over the last 15 years he has given a range of invited courses and workshops in the Benelux, Germany, Spain and Brazil, including workshops for the translation departments of the European Commission.
Alison Edwards - received her PhD at the University of Cambridge, focusing on the sociolinguistics of English in the Netherlands. She has a Master’s degree in Applied Linguistics and undergraduate degrees in both German Studies and Journalism. Alison has lived and worked as a researcher, writer, editor and translator in various countries, including Australia, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK.
Susan Hunt - Inspired by the principles of the UK-based Plain English campaign PLAIN ENGLISH, Susan set up her own translation agency in 1987 to provide English language services in the widest sense to businesses and organisations in the Netherlands whose activities are dedicated to an international audience.
Tony Parr - Tony Parr has extensive experience as translator (freelance and in-house) and as teacher of translation, principally at the National College of Translation in Maastricht. He is co-author of Handboek voor de Vertaler Nederlands-Engels and, operating under the name of Teamwork [http://www.teamwork-vertaalworkshops.nl], has been organising short courses, workshops and conferences for language professionals in the Netherlands since 1993.
Laura Rupp - Senior Lecturer in English Language and Linguistics of the VU University Amsterdam. Previously, Laura was Lecturer English Language and Linguistics in the Department of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Essex, where she also received her PhD. Current research: Language Variation and Change and Global English. She also is involved in an international research project regarding English as an international language in higher education.
Posters are intended to get people’s attention. To present a short, simple message, they combine a strong image (such as a moustachioed officer pointing straight at the viewer) with a short text (“Your Country Needs You”). In principle, scientific poster sessions borrow from this tradition, aiming to present the essence of a complex idea quickly and accessibly. In practice, many posters fail, and all too few are read, a fact conference organisers now seem to recognise. To improve communication – and possibly to increase networking – many sessions now include a poster walk, in which successive scientists present their poster in a three-minute talk. But if you’re a junior scientist working in your second or third language in a setting without native-speaking inputs, how easy is it to give such a talk? You certainly won’t get the guidelines you need from a conventional poster, which is too cumbersome: wordy and poorly designed. And there’s no way you can make an overloaded scientific-sounding sentence trip off the tongue! In recent work with PhD students at Erasmus University Medical Centre, I have developed a set of style and design guidelines that seems to work surprisingly well. I will outline it briefly, providing a handout. One of my students has kindly agreed to demonstrate how she puts these guidelines into practice. Time allowing, we will also summarise the responses of PhD supervisors to this approach.
David Alexander has been living in the Netherlands for nearly 41 years, where he has worked in various commercial and academic settings as a translator, language editor and language-skills trainer. This presentation reflects 14 years of experience as teacher and co-ordinator of the course in English Biomedical Writing and Communication at Erasmus University Medical Centre, Rotterdam.
That the editing of texts written by students and academic faculty is a topic of great interest to SENSE members became clear from the record number of 73 SENSE members who attended the society’s meeting in February 2014. Then, two speakers from Essex University explained the background to Essex University’s policy and guidelines on the editing of student texts and presented findings of their research on their university’s “proofreaders” (the people who do this editing). Now, this one-hour session will focus on the situation in the Netherlands. The panellists will be the SENSE members who proposed setting up SENSE’s special interest group UniSIG for editors working for clients in academia: Camilla Brokking, Jackie Senior, Curtis Barrett and Joy Burrough-Boenisch (chair). Each panellist will give a short presentation, after which there will be a discussion, with opportunity for questions and comments from the audience. Camilla, whose academic clients are primarily from Australian universities, will speak on the ethics of editing student texts. Jackie will speak from the perspective of an in-house editor in a top university department with a large group of international researchers. Curtis, who combines freelance editing for PhD candidates and faculty with teaching scientific English at several Dutch universities, will speak on university departments’ funding for editorial services. Joy, who also freelances for Dutch PhD candidates and faculty and teaches scientific English, will highlight features of SENSE’s guidelines for thesis editing.
Camilla Brokking has been editing for academic clients for 17 years, in fields including business law, humanities, civil engineering and life sciences. She has a degree in biological sciences and an MA in American Studies. The majority of her clients come from Australian universities, and include students from South-East Asia, the Middle East and Africa. She is mindful of the interplay between producing simple, clear English, retaining the author’s voice, and maintaining ethical boundaries in editing student writing. In 2013 she proposed that SENSE establish guidelines for editing student theses and helped set up the working group that developed these guidelines.
Jackie Senior is a founder and honorary member of SENSE and has served twice on its executive committee. She works as an editor and webmaster for an ambitious research department (Dept. of Genetics, University of Groningen/UMCG). Nowadays she works mostly on biomedical texts but she started as a geologist (in the oil and gas boom), worked in investment banking (during the internet bubble), and moved to the genetics group in the 1990s (human genome era). She has been editing and translating for over 40 years but, with the Dutch retirement age becoming a moveable feast, is exploring options for later
Curtis Barrett received his PhD in neuroscience in 2001. After a distinguished career as an academic researcher at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Stanford University, and Leiden University Medical Center, Curtis changed gears and became a full-time language consultant for scientists and clinical researchers. Curtis has edited hundreds of manuscripts, dissertations, and grant proposals for academic clients. In addition, Curtis teaches academic and scientific writing and presenting to Master’s and doctoral students at universities throughout Europe, and he is regularly invited to speak at student-organised events. Curtis is the owner of English Editing Solutions and the current Programme Secretary for SENSE.
Joy Burrough-Boenisch is a founder and honorary member of SENSE, who edits for Dutch scientists and academics, specialising in environmental and earth science. She has two degrees in geography and a doctorate in applied linguistics. Her thesis was on Dutch scientific English. She also teaches academic and scientific English and trains language professionals in the Netherlands and abroad (including at the European Commission) via workshops and webinars. Her publications include chapters in the EASE Science Editors’ Handbook and in Supporting Research Writing: Roles and challenges in multilingual setting (ed. Valerie Matarese) and her book Righting English that’s gone Dutch.
Robert, David & Barbara met through the Nederlands Kamerkoor and have sung together for about 30 years. They will tell us about their singing history and how they have used the experience they built up over the years in their other existence as translators.
The Sense of Singing has been prompted bythe BBC series 'The Choir' and an article in the Health section of the ITI website.
Singing is good for you
Members of the audience who are or have been a member of a choir will know singing is good for you. Singing technique can provide therapy and health benefits in other areas. It helps teachers and speakers with breathing, voice production, posture, stage presence, and not least stage fright. There will be a broad explanation of singing technique and its wider application, and a discussion on stage fright and ways to tackle it.
Everybody can gain a sense of achievement, even pride, from singing and it is a social activity - whilst translating is very often a solitary one. Singing also offers opportunities for networking.
Singing is not purely intellectual. Not only is active singing beneficial but listening to vocal music can also inspire and relax. By its nature, vocal music has an extra dimension when compared to instrumental. It can be magical, but the differences between professionals and amateurs in both singing and translation mean it may not always be magical...
We will explore the parallels between singing and translation. Linguistic and singing ability seem to be linked as many professional singers are good at languages, and some are also translators. We will examine the need for interpretation both in singing by interpreting text through music, and in translation by the choice of 'best' word or phrase. Both skills rely on the parallels between learning a language and learning music.
Can everyone sing?
Barring physical handicap or injury, most people can sing, but many assume they can’t – or don’t wish to! An important issue is pitch. We’ll attempt to explain how it works, and discuss perfect pitch. David may hold a simple ear test with the audience’s help.
The Sense of Singing will include some audience participation: a simple, well-known canon, like Frère Jacques, hopefully in several different languages at once! This should cause merriment and we will discuss how it affected the audience.Then as a reward, the Sense of Singing will be rounded off by a professional musical finale.
About the facilitators
David Barick was born in Detroit, Michigan, USA and came to the Netherlands in 1979 to pursue a career as a classical singer. He realized this ambition by appearing as a soloist with many leading orchestras and ensembles, and was a long-time member of the Netherlands Chamber Choir. While thus occupied, he began to pursue his other passion, languages, by giving private English lessons. After his retirement from performing a number of years ago, it was a logical step for him to turn these language activities into a full-time occupation. He works both as a translator and a teacher in various areas of English: academic writing, business English and conversation. He is a devoted polyglot who can converse in eight languages and is working on several others. When not occupied with language matters, you might very well find him in the kitchen making his fresh pasta, which is created entirely by hand— no pasta machines used.
Robert Coupe read Modern Languages at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was a choral scholar. He then worked for some years for Shell in London. He moved to Holland to take up a post as tenor in the Nederlands Kamerkoor, where he sang for over 30 years, combining it with many and varied solo engagements. Quite early on during this period he was approached to do translation work, and for many years was the regular translator for his employer, the NKK. Other bodies for whom he has translated include the Early Music Festival Utrecht, the Huelgas Ensemble, the Haarlem Choral Biennale and Stichting ArtZuid. Robert also provides English coaching to the Netherlands Radio Choir.
The American soprano Barbara Borden has lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1981. As well as being a member of the Nederlands Kamerkoor for over 30 years, she has also sung with numerous other vocal ensembles and has appeared regularly as a soloist in the Netherlands and elsewhere. She has contributed to over 60 CD recordings, one of which received a Grammy nomination in 2006. Since leaving the Nederlands Kamerkoor in 2013, Barbara has been exploring her talents in other areas. She plans to set up her own business offering a unique combination of personal services including pet care, translating and proofreading, professional organizing and (last but not least!) singing for special occasions.
For about the past four years, I have been using an adjustable-height desk and walking on a treadmill for much of my working day. In this talk, I will share my experiences and discuss the benefits of a treadmill desk, the history of the trend, practical issues, reasonable and unreasonable expectations, online information sources, and the brands and models available in the Netherlands. I now use a treadmill designed for placement under a desk, but I started out by modifying an inexpensive, general-purpose home treadmill so that I could use it under my desk; I’ll discuss the relative pros and cons of these two options. Information on benefits will be drawn from books by James Levine, MD (Mayo Clinic/Arizona State University) and other researchers: they include not only better health but also increased energy and concentration and a better, more stable mood throughout the day. The possible impact of walking on mental health will also be discussed. Material from a New Yorker article on treadmill desking by Susan Orlean (author of The Orchid Thief) and the humorous essay “Arse-bestos” by science fiction writer Neal Stephenson will be presented. I will touch on the issue of compatibility with speech recognition and other ergonomic aids and briefly compare treadmill desks with under-desk exercise bicycles, and possibly with other alternatives.
The main purpose of my presentation is to provide some insight into the knowledge and skills required for good posture and movement during the working day through raising awareness of habitual posture, movement and behaviour. I will start the session with a PowerPoint presentation during which I will tell the audience something about posture, ergonomics and movement while working at the computer. The concept of good posture will be supported by anatomical images and I will spend a few minutes giving a short explanation of the relevant anatomy of pelvis and vertebrae and muscles. I will talk about the physical risks associated with computer work, i.e. complaints of arm, neck or shoulder (CANS) and lower back pain, and provide some insight into associated psychosocial factors. This will be followed by suggestions about ways to prevent and relieve this type of disorder. I will briefly discuss the concept of ‘change management’ which involves adapting to new posture and movement strategies, and illustrate this using the ‘State of Change Model' in which the phases of adjusting to a new habit are clarified. The presentation will be concluded by a practical session during which we will practice a few simple exercises together.
In conclusion, the take home message for the audience is that in order to achieve long-term changes in behaviour it is necessary to practice active sitting and do exercises during the working day. In other words – stop sitting on the problem!
“Sitting is the new smoking”. Most of us have heard this by now, but many of us are still condemned to working at a desk, sitting in a chair. This short workshop will allow participants to do some simple yoga exercises to counteract the destructive effects of sitting, from their seats, or more accurately getting out of their seats in a “pretend” office environment. It will not require special clothing or equipment, but on the contrary is geared to an office setting where people may be wearing non-optimal clothing and have limited space and nosy colleagues. In addition, we will use objects like the chair and desk as aids.
1. It involves the breath, which helps reduce/avoid stress.
2. It aids circulation to cut-off areas
3. It strengthens muscles weakened by sitting and other bad habits, and stretches tight ones.
Participants will be taken through a number of poses that help shoulders, neck, back, hips, “core” (abdomen and sides) and legs.
David McKay is the sole proprietor of Open Book Translation, a Dutch-English translation company specializing in literary works, books and articles on the arts, humanities, and social sciences, and texts for museums and the cultural sector. He is now working with the literary translator Ina Rilke on a new translation of Max Havelaar for the NYRB Classics series. His translation of the Flemish novel War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans will soon be published by Harvill Secker/Random House.
Leonie Porton, was born in Uithoorn, the Netherlands in 1991. In 2014 she gained a BSc from the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (HvA). She is now working at the Medical Training Centre in Mijdrecht and at Oefentherapie Boskoop as an exercise therapist, ergonomic consultant, personal trainer, group instructor and fitness expert. Her areas of expertise include the treatment and prevention of work-related complaints and behavioral change. The therapeutic goals that she promotes include empowerment of the patient to claim ownership of their complaint and to provide insight into bad habits with the aim of preventing illness. In her spare time you will find Leonie in the gym. Although specialised in sport she is always on the look out for innovation and new challenges in her field of work. Since 2014 she has been the face of the FLITZZ project, a virtual and online exercise program for patients to prevent complications during hospitalization.
American-born Anne Hodgkinson has been a translator/editor since about 1998. She discovered the physical and mental benefits of yoga about fifteen years ago, and got a yoga teaching certificate in 2012. Somewhat high-strung by nature, she finds the physicality and social interaction of yoga teaching the perfect antidote to working alone at a desk.