March 2007

Dutch Pronunciation

Oh, there was a wonderful moment this noon.

Rafaël is visiting Amsterdam for a couple of days and staying with Rina, and they decided to take advantage of this opportunity and Skype me on her computer, which she has set to speaker mode. So I got to talk to both of them at once.

During the conversation, I was using as much Dutch as possible since I’m in major language study mode now, and besides, I managed to entertain them with a few of my creative coinages. But that’s not why I’m writing.

I have bragged a bit here and there about having finally more or less mastered a couple of the difficult Dutch phonemes, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. At one point, my pronunciation of a word was so egregious that for the first time in the conversation, they both interrupted to correct me.

Luckily, they didn’t speak exactly simultaneously, so I was able to hear quite clearly that, Rafaël being from way over on the eastern border and Rina from Amsterdam in the west, they were saying the offending word very, very differently.

So then I was off the hook because they turned on each other.

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A Taxonomy of Motor Vehicles

On a recent trip to southern California, I whiled away those hours on I-5 in the Central Valley by examining the names of the other vehicles. I found the connotations in these names highly entertaining, but lest I be accused of casting stones from a vulnerable location, I’ll admit that the name of my own vehicle, the Prius, suggests nothing to me more than it does insect genitalia.

And OK, I’m throwing in a few not yet seen, but you can pick the real ones.

Aviator, Bombardier, Commander, Gunner, Mariner, Navigator, Pilot.

Cavalcade, Excursion, Expedition, Iliad, Odyssey, Quest, Saga.

Caliber, Crossfire, Cartridge, Gatling, Magnum, Nitro, Revolver.

Braggadocio, Bravada, Elan, Poise, Verve.

Decoupage, Entourage, Frottage, Sabotage, Sportage.

Armada, Carrier, Cruiser, Cutter, Destroyer, Fleet, Galleon.

Avalanche, Lahar, Rockslide, Torrent, Tsunami.

Chinook, Foehn, Hurricane, Mistral, Sirocco, Tornado, Typhoon, Zephyr.

Denali, Niagra, Rainier, Sequoia, Sierra, Tahoe, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Yukon.

Cinnabar, Cobalt, Mauve, Puce, Sienna, Taupe.

Jupiter, Mercury, Neptune, Saturn, Titan, Uranus.

Arrow, Dart, Javelin, Kris, Lance, Scimitar, Spear, Tomahawk.

Barracuda, Orca, Pike, Shark, Sting Ray, Trout.

Bushwhacker, Deerslayer, Explorer, Forester, Mountaineer, Pathfinder, Ranger, Raider, Trailblazer.

Apache, Cherokee, Comanche, Karankawa, Mohican, Sioux.

Highlander, Inlander, Lowlander, Outlander, Uplander.

Bruiser, Crusader, Crusher, Eviscerator, Shredder.

Inquisitor, Interrogator, Investigator, Terminator.

And OK, while I was down there I took a few pics I liked. Here’s an early morning flower bed shot in front of the public library:


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Since May will be my fifth visit to Amsterdam, I’m trying to do some serious language study so as not to embarrass myself quite so much this time with my lack of command of the language.

I’m sitting here peeling lots of outer leaves off some Brussels sprouts that I had forgotten in the bottom of the refrigerator while they got rather tired. I didn’t live on tulip bulbs in the winter of ’44 like Rina did, but my parents were both from poor families, and they sure didn’t believe in letting food go to waste, which rubbed off on me and my sister.

While I’m prepping the sprouts, I’ve got Donaldson’s Dutch: A Comprehensive Grammar open to the chapter on verbs, and I’m looking at the ablaut series charts, tearing my hair out because I noticed something perplexing: Instead of three columns of words like in English (sing, sang, sung/ thrive, throve, thriven/ seethe, sod, sodden, etc. for the infinitive, past, and past participle), there are four columns, and I just spent half an hour combing back and forth in the chapter trying to figure out what they represented because Donaldson doesn’t mention this in the neighborhood of the charts.

Finally, I spot in his discussion of the formation of the imperfect that the student had to memorize the singular and plural forms because the plurals are sometimes irregular, so obviously the extra column is for the imperfect plural. Grrrrr. Yet another needless complication in Rina’s language.

But while I’m speaking of Donaldson, OK, he’s a pedagogue, but he does have a sense of humor. Well, I hope he’s intentionally being funny when he writes, regarding Dutch v’s and f’s: “The distinction is a difficult one for foreigners to make and not one worth trying to make: by pronouncing all v’s as f’s you will sound perfectly (northern) Dutch, whereas by trying to make the distinction there is a good chance that your v will sound like an English v, and this must be avoided at all costs.” (Italics mine)

So now I can go back to peeling and trimming Brussels sprouts with one eye on my book while I chant, from series III: delven delfde delfden gedolven/ drinken dronk dronken gedronken/ dingen dong dongen gedongen.

And yes, drinken is drink and delven is delve, but to keep me from getting cocky, dingen means compete.

And not to change the subject, but here’s some Victorian dentals I like over on Scott Street:


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