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Title: Dunglish  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Chinglish, Denglisch, Forms of English, Vinish, Macaronic language
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Dunglish on a stable door in Port Zélande. All three languages have errors. "Paarden Uitdeelplaats" for example should have been "Paardenuitdeelplaats". The English line is an over-literal translation of the German text, in which "distribution" is translated as "Ausgabe". The German line should have been "Pferdeausgabeplatz".

Dunglish (portmanteau of Dutch and English), better known in the Netherlands as steenkolenengels (literally: "charcoal-English"), is a popular term for mistakes native Dutch speakers make when trying to speak English. The term's usage is loosely connected to that of other English language corruptions, such as Engrish.

English instruction in the Netherlands begins in elementary school or secondary school, and Dutch-speaking Belgians are usually taught English from the age of twelve. In addition, like all foreign-language movies, English-spoken movies are subtitled rather than being dubbed in the Netherlands and in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium.

The Dutch word for the poorest form of Dunglish, Steenkolenengels ("Coal English"), goes back to the early twentieth century when Dutch port workers used a rudimentary form of English to communicate with the personnel of English coal ships.

Errors occur mainly in pronunciation, word order and the meaning of words. Former Dutch ambassador and prime minister Dries van Agt supposedly once said "I can stand my little man" (translation of ik kan mijn mannetje staan, a Dutch idiom meaning roughly "I can stand up for myself"). The former leader of the Dutch Liberal Party, Frits Bolkestein, repeatedly referred to economic prospects as "golden showers", unaware of the term's sexual connotation.[1]


  • Incorrect meaning of words 1
  • Word order 2
  • Compound nouns written as one word 3
  • Verb conjugation 4
  • Errors in pronunciation 5
  • Other clues 6
  • Use in media 7
  • Literature 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10

Incorrect meaning of words

Errors often occur because of the false friend or false cognate possibility: words are incorrectly translated for understandable reasons. Examples are:

  • Former prime minister Joop den Uyl once remarked that "the Dutch are a nation of undertakers". The Dutch verb ondernemen is literally the English undertake (as onder is under, and nemen is take). The noun ondernemer is thus literally undertaker; however the idiomatic English usage is instead the French loanword entrepreneur.[1] (Dutch uses the more specific begrafenisondernemer for a funeral director.)
  • Former prime minister Pieter Sjoerds Gerbrandy had a meeting with Winston Churchill in London. Gerbrandy entered the room and shook Churchill's hand, saying: "Good-day!" Churchill responded: "This is the shortest meeting I have ever had". Gerbrandy had looked up the English translation of goedendag, which in Dutch is often used as a formal greeting, yet "good day" is most often used as valediction in Britain (as opposed to "good morning" or "good afternoon").
  • During the Second World War, Churchill said to Gerbrandy while the two were standing on a balcony: "Spring is in the air". Gerbrandy's response was: "Why should I?" Gerbrandy thought Churchill told him: "Spring 'ns in de lucht", which translates into English as "jump into the air".
  • The Dutch word "actueel" means "current" (whereas "actual" in English means "genuine"). A Dutch person unfamiliar with the English word might therefore be confused if he or she were asked about the "actual time" an appointment was supposed to start.
  • The Dutch verb solliciteren means to apply for a job, which can lead to an embarrassing situation if someone claims that they have come to solicit.
  • The word eventueel in Dutch means potentially (like éventuel in French, eventuell in German, eventual in Spanish, eventuale in Italian, eventual in Portuguese, eventuell in Swedish) and not eventually, which is uiteindelijk in Dutch. This mistake caused a row between the Scottish and Belgian football associations when the Belgian football association invited delegates from various associations over for the "eventual qualification of the Belgian national football team" before the play-offs against Scotland started. While the Scottish federation accused the Belgians of sheer arrogance, the Belgian association had actually meant to hold the drink after a "possible qualification".[1]

Word order

Two typical Dutch mistakes in English - wrong order for noun adjuncts ("meeting point caves" instead of "Meeting point for caves" or "Cave meeting point") and compound nouns written as one word ("meetingpoint")

Some Dutch speakers may use Dutch syntax inappropriately when using English, creating errors such as What mean you? instead of What do you mean?

This is because English and Dutch do not follow exactly the same word order. English has a SVO word order, but Dutch has this word order only partially having a V2 word order. Used with modal auxiliaries, Dutch perfect participles are placed at the end of a phrase.

English employs periphrastic constructions involving the verb to do for forming questions, a rare feature crosslinguistically. Dutch does not use this construction, but instead utilizes a VSO word order, inverting the subject and verb.

Noun adjuncts such as "Schiphol" in the phrase "Schiphol Meeting Point", the modifying noun comes before the other noun. In Dutch this is the reverse, and thus a common mistake that Dutch speakers make in English.

Compound nouns written as one word

Dutch compound noun error in English "boardingpass" instead of "boarding pass", as seen on KLM sign at Schiphol Airport, 2013

In English, only certain compound nouns (such as "schoolteacher") can be written as one word, whereas in Dutch the default is to write compound nouns as a single word.[2] This is witnessed in errors in English texts on signs – at Schiphol Airport alone one can see signs for "meetingpoint", "boardingpass" and "traintickets". In some cases the English compound noun spelled as two words in English has been officially absorbed by the Dutch language - as is the case with creditcard (credit card) and jetlag (jet lag).

Verb conjugation

English and Dutch are both West Germanic languages, with many cognate verbs with identical or nearly identical meanings. This similarity between verbs may cause speakers of Dutch to conjugate English verbs according to Dutch grammar.

  • We kisse(n) her. (Dutch kussen means and is cognate with English to kiss. In Dutch grammar, verbs with plural subjects take a form identical to the infinitive, which in most cases has an en suffix.)
  • What do you now? for What are you doing right now? (In Dutch, Wat doe je nu?)
  • How goes it now? for How are you doing now? (The phrase is used particularly after someone has had a bad spell. A similarly constructed phrase is found in Shakespeare, carrying a slightly different meaning, which underlines the even closer similarities between English and Dutch historically.)

Errors in pronunciation

  • Words like third and the are commonly mispronounced by Dutch speakers as turd and duh, replacing the dental fricative consonants that are not present in Dutch with dental plosives, the nearest equivalent.
  • Many Dutch speakers have trouble distinguishing between bat, bad, bet and bed or between back, bag, beck and beg for that reason. This is because Dutch devoices obstruents at the end of a word, and also because Dutch does not distinguish between [æ] and [ɛ].
  • Some pronounce the word idea (in Dutch: idee) without the ending sound, making "Do you have an idea?" and "Do you have an ID?" sound the same.

Other clues

  • Using greetings (often abbreviated to grtz) to end an email or an SMS as a literal translation of (met vriendelijke) groeten (reinforced by German (mit freundlichen) Grüßen) - in English however a greeting is usually to describe the start of an exchange and it is odd to use it at the end. Note also that greeting is generally used in English only to describe the act of welcoming someone into your house, usage in text as a form of salutation is restricted to Christmas cards (Season's Greetings) and would always be used at the start (never at the end).
  • Using possessive forms like that is the Lamborghini of Patrick instead of the use of an mondegreens.
  • Excessive and incorrect use of the apostrophe particularly when using acronyms in the plural form. Note, however, that this is quite common in many countries, especially in America.

Use in media


Dutch author Maarten H. Rijkens has written two books on the subject for Dutch readers: "I always get my sin" and "We always get our sin too".[4]

A matter that could cause confusion is the pronunciation of oo and oe, which are reversed in Dutch compared to English, like foe or school. (Exception : Shoe and schoen are the same sound and meaning)A trick to learn this for Dutch kids is the joke: Two tickets to the Loo too!

See also


  1. ^ a b c White, C.; Boucke, L. (2011). The Undutchables. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Nijgh and Van Ditmar.  
  2. ^ "Colloquial Dutch: A Complete Language Course, Bruce Donaldson, p.171". 2012-11-27. Retrieved 2013-12-10. 
  3. ^ "'"Eneco commercial - 'From the wind, we can not live. 2009-11-11. Retrieved 2013-12-10. 
  4. ^ Maarten H. Rijkens (Author) (2006-01-01). ""I always get my sin"". Retrieved 2013-12-10. 
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