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Holland Park Press

A World of Difference

28 February 2011 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar

Things expressed in English sound more dramatic than in Dutch. This is caused by the greater use of intonation and word stress within a typical English sentence compared to the Dutch. When speaking English the Dutch feel they are overdoing it, as if they are taking part in a play.

Drama is bound up in the English language and so when acting you can almost speak as you do at home. Therefore it may well be that to English ears plays in English sound quite natural whereas drama in Dutch sounds artificial to the Dutch. The Dutch language is simply too flat, just like the country.

I don’t know if you are familiar with Richard Quest, the economics reporter for CNN. He hails from Liverpool. When he comes on, I lower the volume on my TV.

There is more drama in English than in Dutch but for Richard Quest each stock market downturn represents a Shakespearian tragedy. If you are watching CNN in your hotel room, the moment Richard Quest appears the neighbours will think you are listening to a speech by Gaddafi.

You may ask whether Dutch speech is refined. The answer is no: to add emphasis, the Dutch add volume not intonation. Sometimes I think this is because the Dutch have to shout over stormy weather. You could say Richard Quest speaks English at a Dutch volume.

Generally, I perceive that the English are more their own person than the Dutch, and this shines through the language. The greater use of intonation and word stress within a single sentence creates greater diversity between English voices.

Soon carnival is upon us. It is celebrated extensively in the catholic southern half of the Netherlands. It lasts for three days and is striking is that everyone behaves similarly. A well known ingredient is the polonaise where you grab a person's shoulders from behind and follow each other to form a long snake.

The same can happen at concerts by Andre Rieu, the Dutch king of the waltz. Even in the Dutch protestant north no celebration is complete without a polonaise. I sometimes dream about it and wake soaked through.

In Dutch, the last night of carnival is called Vastenavond, Lent’s Eve. The English call it Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day. For all it is the evening before Lent. I am under the impression that in England this is not celebrated in the same way across the board. Maybe this is typically English: to have a unique celebration.

Case in point: in the Olney Pancake Race which has taken place on Shrove Tuesday since 1445, women from Olney in Buckinghamshire run from the market square to St Peter & St Paul's church complete with pinafore, head scarf and frying pan with pancake. The winner gets a kiss from the verger. I am now contemplating becoming a verger in Olney.

This is the day on which ‘Hurling the Silver Ball’ takes place in St. Columb Major in Cornwall. During the late afternoon a ball is thrown into the crowd in the market square. This leads to a scrum between Townsmen and Countrymen, though they just throw the ball at each other. Some are allowed to touch the ball for good luck or fertility. It is an hour before the game itself begins. The team whose player first throws or carries the ball across the parish boundary has won.

You can find these types of activities up and down the United Kingdom all year round. Another example is the Man versus Horse Marathon in Llanwrtyd Wells in Wales. This village also hosts the yearly World Bog Snorkelling Championship.

Derbyshire is home to the World Toe Wrestling Championship and in May, if you are that way inclined, you can chase a cheese down a hill (Cooper’s Hill, Brockworth, Gloucestershire). To finish let’s not forget to mention the Cotswold Olimpick Games which have featured shin kicking since 1612.

In the light of this variety in local customs it is not surprising that the UK is home to many dialects. Diversity is the trademark, even within a single sentence.

© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press

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