And the Words we use.

href=””>Amsterdam Amsterdam[/caption]

When H and I met almost some five decades ago we had no language in common. Of course mere words are superfluous when love is there and the eyes have it all. H had studied German and Swedish at the Finnish university in Jyväskylä but not English, while I had studied nothing. In those early (and many if not most following) days, engaging with just few words was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Ever since we got hooked, we kept in close contact. 😉

Language is a strange beast. I was fifteen when leaving Holland and yet, my dreams are still in Dutch. I also still cannot follow the English way of spelling. Spell me a word phonetically and I get it immediately. Spell a word in the non-phonetics of the Anglo world and I am totally bewildered and lost. The same with adding and subtraction. I have to do it in the Dutch numbers language still. Is there any hope of losing my skeleton of Dutch language? Cutting the umbilical cord of mother’s tongue seems to take a long time. Even though writing or talking in English by mentally translating Dutch ceased a very long time ago, I have yet to feel that I have successfully migrated to the other side of now owning the English lingo.

There are many sayings that I cannot translate back in Dutch as well. English sayings such as; ‘let’s do lunch,’ ‘give us a call,’ ‘see you later, he/she is such a lovely person,’ are sayings that are not used in the Dutch language. Of course approximate words can and will suffice.

This brings into focus what I feel like. Do I feel Australian or am I still feeling very much Dutch burger? Sorry for this exercise in navel gazing but it does sometimes well up on what one’s cultural ties actually mean or pen out to. In my dreams, mainly nightmares, which probably are tied to bladder urgency, I always am in a muddy bombed out scene but can see Amsterdam clearly in the distance. No matter how I struggle, I can never really get close to it. The mud is treacherous and opens up at each step. Yet I can see Amsterdam’s ‘Westertoren’ in the distance. I am always almost there but never reach the city.

The dilemma is also in the use of thought words. When they float by on the rivers of languages, they are sometimes in Dutch or English and often both. Even Finnish, German words float by. Is it part of knowing words away from one’s only known mother tongue? Most people are born with and take on just one language. It is enough to get by with.

Strange that the city is always Amsterdam. I know the city well but have only lived there for a short while. I was hoping that the nightmares would by now have morphed into Sydney or Bowral.

What does one have to do to obtain those?

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13 Responses to “And the Words we use.”

  1. M-R Says:

    Other nightmares you want ? Or do you just want to transfer the nightmares to Sydney/Bowral and leave Amsterdam alone ? I’ve been there.It wasn’t the most exciting place I’ve ever been; but then, neither is Sydney. Milano is. Don’t ask ! 🙂


  2. gerard oosterman Says:

    For me, Bolzano was. Close to the Italian Dolomites. That place will never become a nightmare. Sweat (sweet) dreams to all, I’ll say.


  3. Andrew Says:

    Gerard, I think you never lose your ties to your birthplace. I left Wales over 50 years ago but still feel deeply Welsh, even without an accent. It is called hiraeth. I was once almost bilingual in German and English and dreamt in both languages but I had been immersed in the country and language for a good while. I can decipher a bit of Dutch using my knowledge of the other two languages. I think the trick is not to translate literally. I recall at school being asked to translate into German “a messed up jumble of recording tape”. Now German has some long words and keeps you waiting for ages to hear the verb at the end of the sentence in many instances. But here the ‘correct’ translation was short and sweet: “Ein Bandsalat” – and only one girl got it right. She asked her German grandmother. Over the years you absorb these idiosyncrasies. But whatever the language my heart is in a country, the language of which I cannot speak. Its a funny old world.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, languages and countries do at time become a Bandsalat. I wonder how you came to live and work in HK?
      Did your parents go there?
      I came here as a result of my parents migrating. Now many Australians go to Holland for work.
      Oddly enough, I don’t forget languages and can still have a basic conversation in Finnish.
      Helvi speaks fluent Dutch too as a result of our 3 years living and working there.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Lottie Nevin Says:

    Fascinating reading about your dreams and your mother tongue. I wish, wish, wish, wish that I’d been taught Spanish at school and not French, it would be so useful now. And of course the joke is that just as my bahasa Indonesian was coming on in leaps and bounds, we had to move. I’m never envious of people with money, fast cars or large houses but I confess to being envious of people that pick up languages easily. There I’ve said it! Confession over for the day. Now out to walk C.Snout. There is a challenging hill that I want to climb and take photographs from the top. If you don’t hear from me ever again, you’ll know that Fatty didn’t make it 😀


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Your garden is so lovely Lottie it speaks a universal language of beauty and simplicity. That table cloth is fantastic and a geranium flowering in a terracotta pot is always a heaven. The chairs complete the picture.
      Hope you conquer the hill with Colin Snout. Can’t wait for your next Spanish adventure.


      • Lottie Nevin Says:

        I have a beaming smile on my face, thank you Gerard for your kind words.

        I did conquer the hill and we ended up having a 2 hour walk in the campo. It’s so pretty here, I wish that you could see it for yourself. Now pouring myself a Grande Tinto de verano con vermouth, my new favourite drink! 😀


  5. hilarycustancegreen Says:

    Very interesting question.I was immersed in French from age 8 to 11 and then reverted to English full time. I still get French answers dropping into my mind when tackling crossword clues and occasionally dream in French. Two languages are good for the brain and a slight protection against Alzheimer’s (i.e. later onset).

    Re dreams – little exercise: in the day time, recall the images of your Amsterdam dream and in imagination morph them into a preferred (but strong) image. Do this as often as you can when awake. Next time your dream heads in this direction, in your dream say to yourself, I’m going to change you, and do it.
    I know this can work, because I’ve done it.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      How fortunate you had French in your younger years. I do try and avoid the Amsterdam nightmare. The final passing a year and half ago of our lovely eldest daughter that took so many years, has gutted us badly and the pain stays.
      The relief in writing is the best medicine. There are no pills for the loss of a loved one. It is getting better and we have a garden with many lovely flowers.


  6. FigMince Says:

    Gee, I’d’ve thought that, no matter where one might be coming from, there couldn’t be a more appropriate setting for a nightmare than Sydney.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      We now live in Bowral but also enjoyed living in the inner city of Sydney for many years. If you mean having a nightmare for Sydney I could perhaps think of the dreadful stretched out suburban sprawls. But in Australia we seemed to have chosen that deliberately. I don’t understand the fascination for that. Perhaps it is for having a trampoline so the kids can jump up and down. Who knows?


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