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There are of course all kinds of Dutch characters in plays: from
educated Dutchmen and -women who have lived abroad for many years and
who can be expected to speak with just a mild accent, to comedy or boorish
characters with a limited knowledge of English and speaking with a strong
accent. In between is a large group who know English fairly well,
but mostly from reading
or watching movies and television: they have a large English vocabulary and know
about English grammar, but may still have a strong accent.
A character could also vary his accent within the role, during the play, to show emotion, confusion, or losing or gaining self-confidence.
In America and England, foreign names are usually pronounced in the English way, but in Holland we try to say foreign names, especially from familiar languages like German (and Yiddish), French and Italian, and also English according to the original languages, and that's a habit hard to break.
Saying names this way may add to your character's authenticity. I have to make a very conscious effort to say names in the English way, and often I say them 'automatically' in the original way. There's a grocery store here called Piazza, which I say as pee-ah-tzah, and the first time I heard a neighbor about it (I think he said something like pie-adze-uh) I wondered what he was talking about.
I would recommend to avoid names for Dutch characters with sounds that are difficult for actors, like Dutch EI/IJ and SCH, EU and 'long U.' When an actor playing a Dutchman cannot say his own name correctly credibility is lost.
Bob said send her a card
Bob said send her a card 2 (at my 'mild' best)
Watch your head!
V and Z at the end of words -
In Dutch, there are no V or Z sounds at the end of a word.
Dutchmen will avoid those sounds at the end of English words too, and
say F or S instead.
Have you heard?
There is no sound like English TH in Dutch, it will mostly be said as
D, sometimes as S.
I think, therefore I am 2
Dat is de question 2
De Rolling Stones
|red||fame||a brake||rat||(I) save||price||fries||(girls'
Dutch word order is not always the same as in English, and
prepositions that look the same in English and Dutch may be used in
different places, and verbs and expressions often have different
The English expression 'Married with n children' is funny to Dutch ears.
He is married with the daughter of the queen
Dutch grammar is different from English grammar, there is for
instance no possessive in Dutch in phrases like "A friend of my
father's" or "A book of his."
He is a friend of me
He was a friend of me
I read a book of him
The friends of my father
Writers creating Dutch characters speaking broken English
could consult these paragraphs about where Dutch word order
is different from English:
secondary verbs to the end of the line
questions and commands
in some kind of lines the verb comes before the subject
in subordinate clauses, the complement is between verb and object
in some sentences with 'that,' the working verb is at the end of the line
I really like Gene Wolfe's 'Solar Cycle,' I've read all the books twice, but as a Dutchman I was a bit disappointed by the nonsense word order of the Dutch characters (and by their weird and/or wrong names.)
It's not very likely that simple Dutch characters know words like
'impetuous' or 'acquaintance.' Ideally, words like that should be
replaced with words that look and sound similar in Dutch and
English, but that a native speaker of English might not use in that
sense, because it does not mean exactly the same:
impetuous girl -> impulsive girl
business acquaintance -> business relation
He was a business relation of me
Dutch doesn't use 'of' in 'units' and Dutch rarely uses 'for' in
duration statements. You could have a Dutch character with limited
command of English say things like
"a bottle wine" or
"I was a week in London"
"I lay (stayed) a week in bed"
The words in Dutch for units may also not be literal translations of the words in English - for instance, Dutch usually says tientallen jaren ('decades') and NOT 'dozens' of years
On my 'cognates' page you can hear me say about a hundred English words (with Dutch and German counterparts.)
In the movie 'Miracle on 34th Street' a little Dutch girl is brought
to Santa Claus; he is told she doesn't speak English. Not a problem
for polyglot Santa - but then the Dutch in the audience will notice
the little girl's thick American accent: it's not credible that she
shouldn't speak English. For the Dutch any illusion of reality is
shattered. No, Virginia
Kris Kringle, on the other hand, could speak Dutch in any accent (Arctic?) The Dutch lines
I've been asked for Dutch accent tips by actors playing Anne Frank's
horrible ordeal, but I've told them it would be wrong and detract from the play
if the actors would try to speak English with Dutch accents. We've all
movies with German soldiers speaking English with a German accent
to each other - when you think of it that doesn't seem right.
In plays or movies, I think Dutchmen (or any non-native speakers of English) should only speak English with a Dutch (or their own country's) accent when in the reality that is depicted they would speak English, like when talking to Americans or English people or others who don't speak Dutch. I think it would be best for actors to speak a class- and region-neutral 'newscaster' English when playing foreigners speaking their own language - but, thinking it over, when they speak to English-speakers they should adopt an accent? Doesn't seem right either.
Chorus for an Unwritten Song
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Copyright © Marco Schuffelen 2010.
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Don't be a dief (thief) - dievegge (female thief) - diefstal (theft) - stelen (to steal) - heler (dealer in stolen goods) - hear Dutch - 2