Dunglish – how it breaks down.
The items in bold are the higher-level categories
There’s a generic search as well (in English) at the foot of this page
Valse vrienden are high on many lists of errors that the Dutch make, perhaps because they can often be humorous. They turn out in most cases not to be nearly as much of a problem as you might think, though. I guess they’re relatively well-known and so people know to avoid them. The two main exceptions turn out to be control and register.
Prevalence: moderate. Among professional authors whose English is competent, it’s less of an issue than you might expect. More one for the schoolkids.
Posts on valse vrienden – click the headers for the full articles
If you want your English to sound natural, the style needs to be appropriate. Perfectly grammatically correct can still be completely and utterly wrong for the intended target group, can still jump around inconsistently between registers and across the Atlantic, and can still have that stilted and translated feel to it.
Prevalence: endemic. People writing in a foreign language (I’m probably no different) develop stock solutions that they apply even when not quite appropriate.
All posts on style – click the headers for the full articles
Posts on addressing
Posts on longwindedness
Posts on overused words
Posts on the passive voice
Posts on underused words
Posts on using the wrong register
These are one of the cornerstones of Dunglish. They’re perfectly good words with the meanings correctly used. The problem is that they’re the stock translations of words that are far more common in Dutch. People use them without thinking and so they appear way too often in texts written by Dutch authors. Like, five to ten times too frequently.
The meaning is rarely mangled (though the overtones and nuances can be), but these few words are one of the key things that will make perfectly grammatical English sound stilted and clunky.
And yes: because they’re a simple, top-of-mind solution, native translators NL-EN can easily fall into the trap too.
Prevalence: endemic. People like to map one word onto another in their heads as a fixed, standard translation and it doesn’t always work.
Posts on overused words – click the headers for the full articles
Addresses, academic titles, courtesy titles
People simply don’t seem to think about this kind of stuff, assuming it can be literally translated. But in fact it’s a bit of a minefield of conventions, with overtones that may let you give quite the wrong impression.
Prevalence: high. Awareness of these issues is surprisingly low (among professionals as a whole, rather than translators) – people forget that written English is more than just a matter of the words.
Posts on addressing– click the headers for the full articles
Dutch people make use of stock phrases in relation to their translations into the English language, for which reason there is a lack of succinctness in the field of their penmanship.
In other words, they use stock phrases in their translations into English, so there is no succinctness in their penmanship.
Prevalence: endemic. Because these mistakes aren’t actually wrong, just clumsy, authors aren’t told they’re doing it and never learn to correct it.
Posts on longwindedness – click the headers for the full articles
Trying too hard and overthinking the problem can result in stilted and unnatural language. This can range from almost legalese wording in texts aimed at children or Victorian grammatical structures in supposedly trendy websites, through to misformed sentences that the native has to reread two or three times to understand.
Prevalence: moderate. The impact is quite high, though – it’s often somewhat disorienting when it does occur.
Posts on hypercorrectness – click the headers for the full articles
The very essence of written Dunglish.
It’s not just the words as you would speak them that matter. Some of these typographical variations that the Dutch use happily can render sentences virtually incomprehensible on paper to English eyes. What on Earth is an “act(o)r(ess)” and what does “(inter)national” or “in- and external” mean?
Some of these will appear in native texts too, but they won’t exactly be making a good impression when they do.
Prevalence: endemic. Awareness of some of these issues is low – people think translating into English and writing it is just a matter of the words.
Posts on punctuation – click the headers for the full articles
If you want to make the intended impact, the wording and phrasing of a text varies depending on its target audience. You don’t put antiquated, legalese or scientific terms into stories for kiddies. You don’t go all Shakespearean when you’re writing technical manuals or designing a new, cool website. And you don’t put street slang or mealy-mouthed euphemisms into scientific papers.
But Dunglish can.
Prevalence: medium/high. Tends to be just a few favourite slip-ups, rather than entire texts that are systematically wrong. But there’s usually something.
Posts on using the wrong register – click the headers for the full articles
Sorry. Not very exciting. But this is intended as a serious blog and resource, rather than humorous, so some of the posts are about verb tenses and noun stacks, for example, because there’s no way to explain them other than using grammatical concepts.
Prevalence: high. It’s mostly minor stuff that doesn’t affect the meaning a great deal, but it all still affects the effort needed to understand the text.
Britain and the Netherlands may be culturally more similar than the US and the UK in many ways (other than the languages). But there are still plenty of pitfalls to beware of.
Prevalence: moderate. But they can be a good source of genuine confusion.
Posts on cultural issues – click the headers for the full articles
You might perhaps have expected a blog about the perils of translating between two languages to be largely about mistranslations. But this is in fact a relatively minor category: professional Dutch people generally get their meaning across pretty well. Petje af.
Prevalence: low. Relatively – compared with the other issues. But worth noting because it’s one area where serious confusion can occur.
Dutch doesn’t distinguish adverbs (bijwoorden) from adjectives in the way the words look. In English, you need to add the -ly. Most people understand that much.
The fun starts with the comparative and superlative forms: adverbs don’t have them. And with words that end with -ly already that are adjectives: silly, timely, ungentlemanly, woolly, princely and ugly, to name but a few.
Prevalence: moderate. Often the result of excessively literal translation.
Posts on adverbs – click the headers for the full articles
Things that sound and look like English words or phrases or abbreviations but aren’t (or barely qualify).
Prevalence: low. But can be genuinely incomprehensible.
Posts on fake English – click the headers for the full articles
“The only two countries divided by a common language.” Major misunderstandings are few and far between, fortunately. But it’s worth remembering that there are plenty of other minor differences on top of just the spelling and native speakers will pick up on them.
Prevalence: high. Often because the authors are aware of spelling variants but don’t think about date formats, capitalization, punctuation and other areas where there may be differences.
Posts on US-UK issues – click the headers for the full articles