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Flemish vs Dutch - Differences

  Tags: Flemish | Dutch | Difficulty
 Language Learning Forum : Specific Languages Post Reply
14 messages over 2 pages: 1 2  Next >>
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 Message 1 of 14
12 September 2010 at 6:39am | IP Logged 
The other day I discovered that one of my friends from the university is roommates and friends with a Belgian guy who happened to grow up in America, but is fluent in Flemish. Since I had studied Dutch over the summer and achieved a fairly intermediate written/reading level of comprehension, I thought that this guy could help give me the perfect opportunity to practice the spoken/listening aspects of language learning. I really did not practice these areas too much during my studies, since I did not have any Dutch speakers to practice with. Now since I am back in the university and I have met the Flemish guy (who is willing to give me Dutch practice for an hour a week minimum), I really want to take this opportunity.

My only problem is that my first few instances of speaking with the man did not go so well. His accent is very hard for me to understand, since most of the listening practice I did was with speakers/singers from the Netherlands.

Can anyone point me to some resources, or give me a basic synopsis, of the major differences between Dutch and the Flemish variation? If there are some minor pronunciation differences or grammar differences, I think that by knowing the differences, it would make it much easier for me to adjust to his way of speaking.
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 Message 2 of 14
12 September 2010 at 11:00am | IP Logged 
This article lists some of the differences between Dutch in the Netherlands, Suriname and Flanders and this is a dictionary of Flemish words that aren't used in the Netherlands.

I think the differences between Dutch and Flemish are comparable to the differences between American English and British English; the pronunciation is obviously different and some of the vocabulary is different but if you take a clear and neutral variant of both, they can easily understand each other. Flemish has a lot of rural dialects that are very hard to understand but I've read that people can usually switch to a more standard accent with people who don't speak the dialect. Unlike in English, the written language is pretty much the same so you don't need to worry about learning different spellings (nothing like color-colour).
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 Message 3 of 14
12 September 2010 at 10:42pm | IP Logged 
I disagree with ReneeMona when she says that Flemish and Dutch are comparable to British vs. American English. They are a lot more different from each other than that, both linguistically and culturally/politically.

In Flanders, there is an important line to draw between Flemish and Algemeen Belgisch Nederlands (Standard Belgian Dutch). I expect ReneeMona is actually talking about the latter, and everything she has said about it is correct: it is true that all Flemish people under the age of, say, 70 (and many who are older) can be expected to speak it, and that it only differs from Dutch in accent, prosody, occasionally pronunciation and vocabulary, and very rarely grammar. Linguistically, yes, these two are comparable to British vs. American English, and if your Belgian friend is aware that you are studying Dutch and not Flemish specifically, that is probably what he will speak to you.

Actual Flemish is not recognised as a language. It is a lot more different from Dutch than Algemeen Belgisch Nederlands: it has its own grammar, its own pronunciation, and its own, mostly everyday vocabulary. Obviously, in all of these aspects it remains very closely related to Dutch - I'm not going to claim it's like the difference between German and English - but they are still far enough apart that I have never met a Dutch person who was able to understand me while I was speaking Flemish. (Again, in Algemeen Belgisch Nederlands, we understand each other perfectly well.)

In Flanders, a majority of people learn Flemish first. This is the language we speak for the rest of our lives with friends and family. Emphasis on speak: there is no written Flemish. We learn to read and write in Algemeen Belgisch Nederlands (Dutch, to all extents and purposes). Anything vaguely Flemish is considered a "dialect" form, a "regionalism" to be substituted with the proper Dutch word or construction.

From an early age, we are taught that speaking Flemish makes us sound uneducated and uncivilised, that it is a dialect, a regional variant of Dutch, as though the Netherlands were somehow less of a "region" than Flanders is, as though Dutch were somehow a mother language that Flemish was born from. (In truth, of course, they are the same language, which developed differently during a period of separation when Flanders was occupied by the French. The Netherlands were more economically successful during this period, and that, I assume, is why their variant came to be considered a language, whereas ours is apparently a "dialect" spoken by poor, uneducated classes.) Algemeen Belgisch Nederlands is the language of writing and public speaking. Someone who speaks Flemish in official situations will be perceived as uneducated and not too bright.

As Flemish is not written, there is no Flemish-language literature today that I know of - imagine, for a moment, having no literature in your native language - although there are of course Flemish writers, who write in Algemeen Belgisch Nederlands. Because Flemish is seen as an inferior language spoken by uneducated speakers, many middle-class families have started speaking Algemeen Belgisch Nederlands to young children, resulting in younger generations speaking what we call "tussentaal" - a mix between Flemish and Algemeen Belgisch Nederlands.

On those occasions where Dutch people come into contact with the language as spoken in Belgium, it is usually Algemeen Belgisch Nederlands, the language of writing and public speech (e.g. news, most television series). This is what most Dutch people think of when they think of "Flemish" or are asked to compare Dutch and Flemish, and that's what ReneeMona must have based her reply on.

Everyday speech, though, what I speak to my spouse in, my friends, parents and relatives, and most strangers in an informal context, is Flemish. I am not okay with seeing it called a "dialect," because I have been told my whole life it is somehow inferior to the language Dutch people speak to their friends and families, and "rural" is a bit of a mystery to me, as only small parts of Flanders could be described as rural anymore - although "rural" carries the same connotations of "uneducated" and "lower-class" that Flemish does, yes.
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 Message 4 of 14
13 September 2010 at 1:28am | IP Logged 
blauw, I'm sorry if I came off as condescending towards Flemish and I'm sorry that you've been told that your language is in some way inferior, which of course it isn't.

When I compared Dutch and Flemish, I was indeed basing my opinion on the Standard Belgian Dutch that I am familiar with. I know there are many different dialects within Flemish but I chose not to go into detail about those because I don't know enough about them. I described them as 'rural' because whenever I've been to major cities in Flanders I've heard people speak more or less the Flemish I am used to so I assumed that the more diverse dialects were spoken outside of the bigger cities. I didn't mean to suggest that I consider their speakers to be less educated or lower-class.

As for the comparison to the difference between American English and British English, I argued that like with Flemish and Dutch speakers of a standard version (Say General American and RP) will have little trouble understanding each other. However, the differences between some accents spoken in the Southern states and Glaswegian are already much bigger and the latter is probably as incomprehensible to me as some forms of Flemish are.

Edited by ReneeMona on 13 September 2010 at 1:34am

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 Message 5 of 14
13 September 2010 at 8:07pm | IP Logged 
Although I do not speak Dutch or Flemish I can pick up on the accents.I think the Flemish
have a soft mellow type of accent like what I've heard when I was on holiday in Brussels.
The Dutch accent in the south of the Netherlands is somewhat similar to the Flemish
accent in BE but a little bit stronger.

In contrast in the North of NL in Amsterdam the Dutch accents are very strong and
expressive and they sometimes they speak Dunglish a mixture of Dutch and English.I
noticed that when I was visiting Amsterdam.

Edited by stout on 13 September 2010 at 8:09pm

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 Message 6 of 14
25 September 2010 at 9:14pm | IP Logged 
Does anyone know of any resources for learning Flemish? My grandparents are from Flanders and I think they would be ecstatic to know that one of their grandchildren could speak it. There aren't any books that I know of, and blauw's comments that Flemish isn't really a written language doesn't give me a lot of hope. Can I start with Dutch and "switch" at a certain point? Or does that not help me at all?
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 Message 7 of 14
01 December 2011 at 3:25am | IP Logged 
All books focus on the Netherlands Dutch. Even if we assume the grammar is the same (which is not*), there are numerous differences in pronunciation and vocabulary.

*The Flemish use words like gij, ge, u, uw a lot (I hear it on Belgian satellite tv, in sitcoms and tv shows)
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 Message 8 of 14
14 March 2014 at 4:27pm | IP Logged 
Camundonguinho wrote:
All books focus on the Netherlands Dutch. Even if we assume the
grammar is the same (which is not*), there are numerous differences in pronunciation and

*The Flemish use words like gij, ge, u, uw a lot (I hear it on Belgian satellite tv, in
sitcoms and tv shows)

U/uw are standard Dutch - ge/gij are used in Brabantian dialects in the Netherlands as

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