DUTCH VS. FLEMISH: two different languages?!

Nout wondering what are the differences between Dutch and Flemish

The two standardized variations of Dutch, namely Dutch as spoken in the Netherlands (so-called “Nederlands-Nederlands”) and Flanders (“Belgisch Nederlands”) have been oft-discussed, mythologized and exaggerated. In a previous article and video, I covered the differences between the two for beginners in which my conclusion was that the beginners . This time, we’ll be taking a deeper dive into the differences between the two variations for more advanced learners.

Vocabulary Differences

The vocabulary differences between the two variations is what most people think about when they’re talking about the differences between Flemish and Dutch. However, as you can see from the list below, the differences are mainly relevant for higher level student with more specific vocabulary. It would also very rarely lead to serious problems in communication as anyone who doesn’t only speak their local dialect would understand you either way. (*) It’s the kind of subtle differences that would highly improve your odds of sounding less exotic and being integrated if you use the correct variation. (**)

NEDERLANDSVLAAMSENGELS
de sinaasappelde appelsienthe orange (fruit)
jus d’orangesinaasappelsap / appelsiensaporange juice
patatfrietenFrench fries
de ijskastde koelkastfridge
de zwagerde schoonbroerbrother-in-law
schrikkenverschietento be startled
de jamde confituurthe jam
het bonnetjede rekeningthe check / the bill
het tasjehet zakjethe bag
mooischoonbeautiful

Colloquialisms

Language is identity and you would sound very foreign or strange indeed if you were to use these colloquialisms in the wrong region.

NEDERLANDSVLAAMSENGELS
doei / doegdag / ciao / byebyebye
hartstikkeenormenormously, incredibly
hoe gaat ie?hoe is ‘t? alles goed?how are you?
toppiesuper!great!
leuk / amusantplezantfun!
noumwawell…

Pronunciation

The main, most noticable difference between the two variations is without a doubt to be found in the pronuncation. Most noticably in Dutch, there is a tendency to make certain long vowels and combined vowels into diphthongs in which a change in position of the mouth, lips, tongue is required to pronounce a single vowel: “e” gains a slight “j” toward the end, so it’s much closer to the English “ay” as pronounced in the word “day”. “o” gains a slight “w” towards the end so it’s much closer to the way that the “o” would be pronounced in English.

The combined vowels “ou” is pronounced slightly harsher as “aw” whereas the “ui” ends in a “w” sound: “[ əw]”. The “ei / ij” is also harsher. For a concrete overview of differences in pronuncation, check out the video below.

Cultural difference: informality

Culturally speaking, there’s no doubt that Flanders and the Netherlands are two very different regions indeed. The music, television, movies, the gap between Flanders and the Netherlands remains substantial with mostly literature being a significant exception to the rule where Dutch and Flemish authors are appreciated and read in both Flanders and the Netherlands. In the last 10-15 years of so, there have been some significant crossover successes though.

That also means that the way that the language used, is significantly different: the Netherlands has a generally informal culture (the so-called sociological phenomenon of informalisation) which means that the usage of the personal pronoun “u” has all but been eradicated. In Flanders however, the usage of “u” has held its ground.

Diminutives

There is a general tendency to use more diminutives in Dutch which generally is related to the Dutch so-called “untranslatable” word “gezellig/heid” which depending on the context can mean “nice”, “cozy”, “lovely”, “sociable”, among other meanings. This is why in Dutch, you would be a lot more likely to utter a sentence like:

“We zitten op het terrasje in het zonnetje en we drinken een heerlijk wijntje.”

Gezellig hé!

(*) Without wanting to get into deep, but this is all of course in theory. This is all from the perspective of you wanting to study the standardized variation of Dutch from that specific region in order to understand news(papers), books and take exams. However, this is not an indication of the likeliness of a specific word or expression being actually used on the streets. In local conversation which very much depends on place, words and social context although there is a case to be made that generally, the differences will vary more substantially in dialect-heavy Flanders than the Netherlands, but even then. This leads to another discussion about the often huge gap between Dutch as it is spoken locally vs. the standardized variations of it which I will dedicate a separate blog post to at some point in the future.

(**) The examples given below, are some of the most prominent ones but if you need more (and there are plenty), don’t be shy to check out the Wikipedia page. Also check out this Flemish dictionary: http://www.vlaamswoordenboek.be

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top