"No Rows Chose," So Code Blows

I was going to use this topic title for a question in the Inform forum, but I figured the problem out myself before I had a chance to use it.

So, how are you guys doing?

How do Ancient Greek frogs hook up their VCRs?

With a brekekekex koax coaxial cable.

Gosh! This forum has got class! In Sweden anyone who can spell “Nietzsche” will pass as educated.

I believe that for native speakers of English, the real test is whether they can spell “Tolkien”.

But if we’re looking for names difficult to spell, yours (and other names from your part of the world, such as Broekhuis) rank pretty high for me.

The man really had a name that matches his novels perfectly; it could just as well be Sindarin.

Ah, but the trick is simple. Dutch has a couple of diphthongs, and once you recognise them, those mysterious names will look a lot more logical. They are: ui, oe, ei, ie, eu, au, ou and ij. (Though the latter is not, strictly speaking, a diphthong. In fact, for a linguist, several of them are not diphthongs.) To everyone’s delight, “ou” and “au” are pronounced identically, and so are “ei” and “ij”. Learning when to use which might well be the hardest part of Dutch spelling.

Dutch used to be a fantastic language for stringing vowels together, everyone’s favourite word being “koeieuier”, “cow’s udder”. And perhaps a little less impressive, with the ‘trema’ on the “e”, but still cool, was “kraaieëieren”, “eggs of crows”.

Unfortunately, due to a recent change in the official spelling, these words are now “koeienuier” and “kraaieneieren”.

At least we still have the consonant strings of “angstschreeuw” (“scream of fear”) and the somewhat dubious “zachtstschrijdende” (“who steps most softly”).

You’ve got change-of-spelling too? Here in Portugal we’ve been forced to start spelling in Brazilian Portuguese, which has pissed a lot of people - it’s like English people being forced to write in American, and vice/versa.

Incidently… how DO you pronounce your last name? Is it “Geesbers”, with a hard G?

Camoens is turning in his grave.

The recording is a bit soft (so you might need to tun up the volume), but you can hear me pronouncing my name here. I have found it exceedingly difficult to explain in writing how to pronounce the “ij”. In the phonetic alphabet, it is apparently “ɛi”.

You ought to put that recording in your signature. :unamused: Thanks, I am duly enlightened. Sounds like your "G"s borrow from the Spanish “J” (as in “mujer”) and from the German “ch” (as in “ich”). Or maybe they all borrowed it from you. Aren’t you glad you loaned it to so many people.

Isn’t that the trick behind most spelling, though? Once you understand how a language works, only a few words in that language remains tricky to spell. “Nietzsche” isn’t so tricky if you have German figured out.

I’ve completely mispronounced “Gijsbers”. Not that I’ve ever actually tried to pronounce it, but I’ve read your name a lot in these parts of the Internet. :wink: (Dutch is a fun language. In wind and brass band playing, there are eight great studies that many love, called “Acht Klankstudies”. Since I learned how to pronounce that, it’s a source of childlike joy to me every time I play them.)

Fun with languages? Playing Scrabble when you’re speaker of a language that allows compunds. Like, German. Donau­dampfschiffahrts­elektrizitäten­hauptbetriebswerk­bauunterbeamten­gesellschaft. 79 letters, and it could still be extended (“lower danube” instead of “danube” etc.).

Love that – I don’t think Swedish compunds ever result in more than six or seven consonants in a row: svenskspråkig" (“Swedish speaking”) or “längstskrattande” (“laughing the longest”).

Unless that language happens to French – or Chinese.

Well – there’s always English. The spelling-to-pronounciation direction is worse, but the pronounciation-to-spelling direction is pretty bad as well. :wink:

Yes, it’s a fun language. But we need two or three truly world-class authors before I would recommend random people to learn Dutch…

Yep, Dutch works like that as well. Unfortunately, the Scrabble board is only 15 spaces in either direction, so you can’t get any further than “diepzeeaquarium” (deep sea aquarium) at three times triple word value. (This would be possible if the line already contained “iep” (“elm”), “qua” and two more loose letters, i.e., the “e” at position six or seven and either of the letters at positions 13 and 14. I think it would give you 351 points.)

André Brink writes at least partly in Afrikaans, right? And Coetzee… er, translates. And van der Post… again, oh dear. Erasm… no. I’m beginning to see a pattern here.

Coetzee isn’t even a native speaker of Afrikaans, actually; he was raised in an English-speaking family. And of course, Afrikaans is not exactly Dutch.

Our best writer of fiction (according to the great authority known as Victor Gijsbers) is Louis Couperus, who deserves to be much better known than he is outside the Dutch-speaking world. Yet, although I admire Couperus, I cannot claim that he is as good as the greatest writers in English, French, German, Russian, Italian or Spanish. Our best writer of non-fiction is probably Johan Huizinga, whose book “Homo Ludens” comes up now and again in discussions about games; his magnum opus is probably “Herfsttij der Middeleeuwen”, translated as “The Waning of the Middle Ages” and “The Autumn of the Middle Ages”. And there are other good authors – but, again, they don’t really add up to one of the great national literatures of Europe.

Over the past few decades, Dutch novelists have been especially interested in writing quasi-autobiographical books about supremely unhappy and loveless people who get into all kinds of degrading, sad, and rancid situations. The appeal of this genre has never been clear to me.

P. S.
I found a free version of the English translation of one of Couperus’s best books, “Van oude mensen, de dingen, die voorbijgaan…” (“Of old people, the things, that pass away…”). Unfortunately, the translation appears to be awful; and awful in a way that you can only recognise by comparison to the original. I would therefore be very wary before picking up a translation of Couperus.

Rereading my post, I suspect that “Afrikaans is not exactly Dutch” might give the wrong impression to people who know neither language. Afrikaans really is not Dutch. Here is an example taken from Wikipedia:

English: “If it rains, this umbrella will protect you.”
Dutch: “Als het regent, zal deze paraplu je beschermen.”
Afrikaans: “As dit reën, sal dié sambreel jou beskerm.”

A lot of the differences are fairly shallow – changes in spelling, loss of Dutch grammatical structure in Afrikaans – but there are also many differences in vocabulary. E.g., I would not have been able to understand this Afrikaans sentence, because I had no idea that “sambreel” was “paraplu” (and I’m not sure I would have puzzled out “reën”).

Ah, okay. I’d been under the impression that they were, if a bit more distinct than a strong dialect, at least mutually intelligible (about the same level as Haitian Creole to French. Which is to say, if you knew French well enough to appreciate style, you’d be able to appreciate creole, albeit a bit more slowly and with a dictionary on-hand for some of the vocab.)

I’m not in a position to make a comparison between the Dutch-Afrikaans relation and the French-Creole relation, I’m afraid. Someone who speaks Dutch well will be able to understand the gist of an Afrikaans text, but will also fail to understand quite a bit. I suspect most of that could be solved by getting accustomed to just a few major differences between the languages, so learning to read Afrikaans with some ease might only be a matter of weeks or even days – I don’t know. I’ve never spoken to someone who has tried to learn Afrikaans, so don’t take me as an authority. :slight_smile:

Well, this went a lot better than I expected!

Can you elaborate on the “loss of Dutch grammatical structure”?