View Full Version : The Influence of Dutch on the English Lexicon

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007, 09:42 PM
The Influence of Dutch on the English Lexicon


Ever feel down in the dumps? Ever wonder just what that means? Itís actually a borrowing from Dutch, from around 1529. The Dutch word domp means haze or mist and was metaphorically applied to a feeling of mental haziness.

Every day, we use words of foreign origin without realizing that they have not always been English. Once, words that we take for granted were new and exotic, and it was unusual to hear these alien terms and phrases. Most of these fall into specific categories based on types of contact, such as trade and commerce, nautical, military and art terms, and borrowings from colonies abroad, as well as a few common words. Because new words are often in a language long before they appear in literature, dates that accompany borrowed terms are often arbitrary and seldom an accurate reflection of when they were borrowed.

How Did Borrowing Occur?

The English and Dutch cultures have been in almost constant contact for centuries and from this hundreds of words have entered the English lexicon. Many words of Dutch origin exist in English today due to contact between ordinary people from Britain (later England), Flanders (now divided between Belgium and France), and Holland (later the Netherlands). The languages spoken in the Netherlands and England are very closely related, both belonging to the Low German branch of the West Germanic language group. English is actually very closely related to Frisian, a distinct language spoken in the northern region of the Netherlands. The term ìDutchî is used here to refer to the official language spoken in the Netherlands, including dialects.

Prior to the 9th century, England and the Netherlands shared a very similar history: their lands were populated by the migrating Celts, they were both conquered as part of the Roman Empire and during the 5th century, the barbarian tribes began to invade. The English were invaded by the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians; while the Netherlands were also dominated by the Saxons and the Frisians (in the north), they were also invaded by the Salians (a Frankish tribe who spoke Lower Franconian). These common ancestors led to the development of Old English and Old Dutch, languages that were so similar that identifying borrowings from either is nearly impossible.

When Did Borrowing Happen?

By far, most of the borrowing from Dutch to English was done from the 15th to 17th centuries, but identifying whether or not a word was borrowed from Dutch (or another language) or is a development from a native word can be difficult. Most words borrowed from Dutch into English have been discovered due to a combination of evidence; some from phonological changes and a great many from historical evidence. The largest group of Dutch borrowings occurred from the 15th to 17th centuries. The chief cause of all these new words appearing was the burgeoning commercial, industrial and trade relations between the English and the Dutch. Two interesting areas are words acquired by nautical contact and Dutch artistsí influence.

Common English Words Borrowed from Dutch

Many common words have also come into the English vocabulary from the Dutch from contact between people who worked together, were friends and neighbours and who intermarried and raised children. Most of the everyday words that the English borrowed are still used today.

# Dates for most words are from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). luck (1495):from Middle English (ME) lucke < Low German luk, geluk < Middle Dutch (M.Du) ghelucke < Old Dutch gilukki < possibly Indo-European *leug- (to bend)
# aloof (a luf, aloufe, alowfe, on luffe, 1532): from Dutch te loef; same root as the nautical term luff (c.1205); an order to go windward or at a distance; in view but apart; developed metaphorical meaning
# boor (1551): from Dutch boer (farmer) < M.Du gheboer (fellow dweller); a rude, awkward or ill-mannered person
# wiseacre (1595): from M.Du wijsseggher < OHG wissago < wis- (wise) + -sago (sayer); spelling due to assimilation with acre; deterioration in meaning to present sense of a pretender to wisdom