“Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, such a lovely movie with the great Audrey Hepburn! Most people are still surprised to know that Audrey was actually born in Brussels, Belgium and lived for some years in The Netherlands.
Did she speak Belgian and Dutch then? Actually, Audrey spoke Dutch with a Dutch accent. However, she didn’t speak Belgian as that is not actually a language.
Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French and German. In the Northern part of Belgium, Flanders, the population speaks Dutch. Most of the times that variant of Dutch is called Flemish.
Is there a difference between Dutch and Flemish?
In theory there is none. There is no such thing as the Flemish language or dialect, and there is no one overall dialect spoken in Belgium, or The Netherlands.
Like German, Dutch is a dialect-continuum. Generic Dutch (Algemeen Nederlands) is the standardized language in both the Netherlands and Flanders. As a matter of fact, standard Dutch grammar and spelling are decided on by the Nederlandse Taalunie (Dutch Language Union, DLU) across the states of Belgium, the Netherlands and, since 2004, Surinam. The DLU is a trinational organization that has stimulated cooperation in the domains of Dutch language, literature and education.
If we think of literature, the best known literary prizes – like for instance the ECI Literatuurprijs – awards Dutch and Flemish writers. The jury is independent and its members are both from Flanders and from The Netherlands.
Also television has played a huge role in the education of Generic Dutch. While the two countries’ channels have their own very distinct programming, Dutch and Flemish public broadcasters often tried to work together, airing language programs like for instance “Het Groot Dictee der Nederlandse Taal”, where tons of people in the studio and at home listen to a distinguished gentleman or lady who dictates a very complex text. The person who made less spelling mistakes won. Yes, that is the idea of fun for Dutch speakers!
Do people from Belgium and Netherlands understand each other?
Dutch is spoken in these two neighbouring countries, with two different predominant religions, different historical backgrounds, and therefore different approaches to politics and formal institutions, it goes without saying that there are many differences in vocabulary.
For instance, while the Dutch might use loanwords like marechaussee (military police) from French, überhaupt (after all) from German, or recyclen (recycle) from English, the Flemish will less easily do so.
The Flemish still as of today often act as language purists. This is due to the fact that during the 19th century and until the first 50-60 years of the 20th century, French was considered as the ‘high’ language variant and Dutch as the ‘low’ one in Belgium. As a consequence, Dutch was absent from official life even though it was being spoken by half of the population. This situation lies at the basis of a strong defensive attitude towards French in modern-day Flanders.
Sometimes even the syntax can be different, the Dutch say “vast en zeker”, the Flemish turn that around. In Flanders they say “fauna en flora”, the Dutch prefer to say “flora en fauna”.
The main difference you can notice is in the pronunciation though. For Dutch speakers it is very easy to distinguish whether a person is from Flanders or from the Netherlands. For instance, the more you move to the south, the softer the pronunciation of the letter “g” gets. The more you move to the Randstad (where Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague are), the harsher that sound gets.
How to handle a Dutch translation?
Here are a few tips that you can follow when it comes to managing your translations into Dutch:
1. What type of documentation is going to be translated?
When translating technical documentation, you will be just fine with one Dutch translation and don’t need to worry whether the translation was done by a Dutch and Flemish person. Both will have used the same grammar and spelling, and technical terms are practically the same across the board. Even for your marketing material you can go with just one Dutch translation, but make sure to clearly identify and inform your translation company about the target audience so that they can select the most suitable translators for you. If you want to learn more about how to prepare a translation brief, read our blog post and download our customizable template here.
2. Do you need a Translation or a Transcreation?
Things get tricky when you need a transcreation of for instance an advert, your company slogan or your tagline. In case you are tackling both the Dutch and Flemish markets, you might need to consider addressing your two different audiences in two different ways. It is also important to consider the SEO aspect of your transcreation since keywords used by your target audience could differ.
3. What about Voiceovers?
Discuss with your provider what the aim of your video is, and who will be the target audience. They will tell you whether a voice over in plain Dutch is advisable, or not. If you’d like to hear a battle between Flemish and Dutch Disney voices, you shouldn’t miss out this video.
If you need advice on your Dutch translations, don’t hesitate to get in contact with us!