HOLLANDERS OF IOWA
JACOB VAN DER ZEE
Submitted by Gayle Harper
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THE DUTCH LANGUAGE
ONE, of the striking features of life in the Dutch communities of Iowa is the sound of nearly all the dialects of modern Holland. Listening to a conversation between two natives from such a province as Gelderland or Groningen or Drenthe provokes as many smiles as a funny farce. The people of Friesland, however, use a language of heir own - indeed, their everyday speech resembles English very much, although their printed language is practically unintelligible to the ordinary philologist.
The use of so many broad dialects and the adoption of innumerable Americanisms has of course detracted not a little from the purity of the Dutch language in Iowa. Formal instruction in the mother tongue has never been seriously attempted except in private night-schools which have frequently been organized in most of the Dutch communities. The survival of the language, however, is none the less remarkable.
Dutch newspapers, Dutch church services, and Dutch literature such as the Bible and Sunday-school weeklies have kept the language alive, as has the continuing immigration from the fatherland. Hollanders who have reached the age of maturity care little to acquire a knowledge of the English language, for it is unnecessary where Dutch is understood in all the affairs of life whether in the country or in the towns.
Children of Dutch parentage, therefore, learn the mother dialect at home and English from their play-mates - they soon speak English almost exclusively among themselves, and only converse with their parents in Dutch. At a very early age children of one family are forced to use English when they can not make themselves understood in dialect to children of another family. Children who learned "Friesch" or "Geldersch" at home find themselves unable to converse with persons who have a command of other dialects or pure Dutch, and so the prevalence of dialects in the Dutch communities of Iowa has come to be responsible for the use of a common language - English.
American-born and immigrant children have, of course, always attended the common schools of their localities - they grow up with the English language. It may be well for the painstaking, careful student to have a familiar acquaintance with two or more languages - each one imparts to the student some advantage or virtue which enriches his knowledge of the others. But the child of Dutch parentage who is reared in the atmosphere of two languages experiences the utmost difficulty in acquiring real fluency in either. Familiarity with two languages is a fine asset, but it has some drawbacks, especially when one limits or interferes with expression in the other.
American teachers in the schools of Dutch communities have discovered an element of humor in the situation: children from Dutch families innocently translate Dutch words and idioms which result oftentimes in the most ludicrous English. Teachers of rhetoric and composition have much cause to smile at the astounding literary productions of their pupils: they have the best reason to believe that a knowledge of Dutch is a handicap which prevents the acquisition of good English. But spoken and written English continues to improve with each succeeding generation.
Many old-fashioned, conservative Hollanders deplore the fact that their mother tongue is gradually falling into disuse, although they feel that Dutch will not entirely disappear as long as fresh accessions of Hollanders from Europe continue "to leaven the loaf ". Not long ago people met at Pella to organize a society, "De Nederlansche Bond": they wished to strengthen the bond between Holland and the United States, to study the influence of Holland on American development, to translate and spread Dutch books, to establish libraries of Dutch books, to organize clubs for the study of the literature, history, and law of Holland, and to introduce into high schools instruction in these subjects.
Despite expressions of grief and exhortations to cling to the tongue of their fathers, Hollanders admit that English is slowly but irresistibly undermining the place of the Dutch language in the everyday concerns of business life. English supplants Dutch first in the school, then on the street, then in the family, and lastly in newspapers and churches. That language which is most widely useful will prevail. As one Hollander expressed it: "The English conquest in this respect (who can deny it) is a natural and by no means violent one, quite different from that of other days revealed by history." (323)
NOTES AND REFERENCES
(323) See de Lespinasse's Iowa, p. 88; Dosker's Levensschets van Ds. A. C. van Raalte, D. D., p. 200; Pella's Weekblad, July 6, 1869; and De Vrije Hollander, January 11, 1901.
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