Dutch is full of ‘historical junk’, says language expert

I read and article on Dutch News that claim that the Dutch language has many ‘laborious’ elements which make it more difficult to learn and to use.

According to this research, comparing 22 languages looking for unnecessary grammatical elements and rules the research concluded that Dutch ‘is complicated and long-winded’.

Here is the researchers justification for this:

The difference between ‘de’ and ‘het’, both of which mean ‘the’ in English. When the Dutch language began to be used in South Africa, that difference was soon replaced by ‘die’. The ‘het’ in ‘het sneeuwt’ is an example of an empty element that adds nothing. A clearer way of saying ‘it is snowing’ would be to say ‘sneeuw valt’.


Constructions such as ‘er loopt een hond door de straat’ (there walks a dog through the street) are also inefficient. This could be replaced by the simpler ‘een hond loopt door de straat.’


Other pointless elements in Dutch grammar include the multiple forms for verbs – hij loopt and wij lopen – and dual plurals like ‘ziektes’ and ‘ziekten’.


There are also three different ways of combining words to create new ones.


Leufkens, the researcher, suggests that Dutch could have become so full of ‘historical junk’ because so few people have used Dutch as a second language. Tell me about it! It isn’t widely spoken in the world and finding classes for it in the UK is very hard to do. Maybe the reason for this is that over 85% of Dutch people speak English. Does that make us English speakers lazy? I think so. I think we are complacent. This research suggested that if the language was adopted en masse by people a more simplified version would emerge. Would it? How do you get people to adopt a language en masse? I think this researcher is living a little bit in cloud-cuckoo-land thinking that the world will adopt a new language and make everyone learn it. Perhaps by increasing trade and business partnerships we could increase the connection but the fact of the matter is that I think Dutch language is hard and you need the motivation and passion to work hard at it.

You can read the full story at DutchNews.nl: http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2015/01/dutch-is-full-of-historical-junk-says-language-expert.php/


What are your views on learning a second language? I’m doing some of my own research and I would really love your input. Would you fill in my questionnaire? Click on this link and let me know what you think about the reasons why you do or don’t speak that second language.


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9 thoughts on “Dutch is full of ‘historical junk’, says language expert

  1. An interesting comparison and a curious theory. I wonder thought whether it will hold. The Dutch language was compared exclusively with non Indo-European languages. Other Indo-European languages I know (Russian and English) are just as clumsy to learn (not to mention German or French which are a grammatic nightmare). For example, snow in Russian “goes” or “walks” rather than simply “falls”. I was told once that a language makes no sense and the sooner you ditch the notion that there are rules to learn and just use the language, the better and faster you will learn it.

    My personal experience is that Dutch is only more difficult to learn because the Dutch are reluctant to help you learn it. Upon hearing the slightest accent they switch to English and insist speaking (broken) English even if you are fluent in Dutch.


    1. I agree completely Michael! I started off learning Dutch on the basis of rules and sections but the fastest way and the way in which to make it stick comes from talking. My college lessons that are more conversation based where the most enjoyable and the most useful.

      Let’s face it learning any language is hard because we try to apply the rules and methods of our mother tongue. Word order in Dutch always gets me!

      Maria 🙂


  2. I personally do not agree with this study at all (as a Dutch native). First of all, about half of the languages in the world have different articles marking gender. It is clear that the researcher is being biased here, comparing Dutch only to English (in the explanation). Secondly she says ‘het’ is meaningless. Sure, it doesn’t hold a real meaning, but she could have used a different example than ‘it is snowing’, because ‘it’ in this sentence is exactly the same as ‘het’. English uses this ‘insignificant’ word as much as we do and in the same contexts. The third thing, with ‘er’, is no argument to say that Dutch has a lot of useless grammar. The researcher describes a phenomenom that happens in every language: there are several ways to express one idea. Some ways are ‘universal’, the sentence pattern is similar in several languages, other ways are language-unique. You have in either way a choice. If you choose to say ‘een hond loopt door de straat’, then so be it, no problem. By the way, this is what we would generally say in written language. It is highly recommanded to avoid impersonal constructions such as ‘er’ (when used as an impersonal pronoun) in written language. It is thus informal language and well yeah, unformal language is in every language weird and difficult to learn because it doesn’t follow grammar rules. About the multiple verb forms, the researcher is once again only focussing on English. Many languages have multiple verb forms and Dutch belongs to the simpler ones. Think about romance languages with a separate form for every person! Oh and it’s only in the present tense that we have like 3 forms, which isn’t much at all! And it’s the same for every verb! How would the researcher even explain why English has so many tenses for example? Think about how difficult those are to learn! And double plurals, well there are perhaps 10 words that have a double plural? And lastly, about creating new words, that is a phenomenom that is unique to every language. English, Dutch, French, Chinese etc. have different rules for word creation, because well yeah, they have a different history. So that shouldn’t even be compared! This study is highly etnocentric and biased and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Okay, one can state that she compared 22 languages. But she compared them all with English in her mind. And from an English point of view, well yeah it’s logical that a language that shows some different structures looks difficult. And I’m not denying that Dutch is difficult to learn, it is, but every language is difficult in their own way. English pronunciation and spelling is a hell. Dutch has quite some exceptions. French has awful conjugations. Chinese has weird characters. Korean has a complete different word order etc. Every language needs time and dedication to be understood and there is no such thing is ‘historical junk’. Every construction was once very meaningful. Some happen to have survived over the years, others disappeared. The researcher should know that and she should thus realize that the fact that a construction still exists, doesn’t always mean it is still very colloquial.
    What saddens me the most about this research is that the researcher actually is a native Dutch speaker. She should know so much better…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that without reading the actual thesis and the arguments presented there, the debate is based on a news article and is rather shallow. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t read the thesis. What I have gathered is that Dutch was compared to non-Indo-European languages, so not to English or Russian. I do know that in Russian, for example, there are no “de” or “het” and the language works just fine without them. So just as “the” in English, “de” and “het” are completely useless, like an appendix, and will eventually disappear. As first stage, they’ve already started to merge into a single article.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It has crossed my mind as well that the original thesis might be better structured and better motivated, but I couldn’t find it 😦 If so, then my opinion has to be nuanced: the reporting article is doing no good to Dutch, and should receive my ‘anger’ (looking bad at my comment I was really irritated haha), not the thesis. For all I know the researcher might have nuanced her conclusion at the ending! It’s true that ‘de’ and ‘het’ are a bit difficult, but romance languages also have genders. In French they won’t disappear, the language is too old for a change. In Dutch however, ‘het’ is disappearing as every new word automatically gets the gender ‘de’. So who knows, we might get even closer to English than we already are?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You can find the thesis here:


        I’ve briefly looked at the thesis and found it to be rather “opaque” to speak in the thesis’ words. A sentence such as “The implicational hierarchy of transparency that this dissertation aims to establish comprises many features otherwise thought of as incompatible” is absolutely impossible to read let alone understand. For an author of a thesis on language transparency I must say she produced a very murky text.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think its a lot of rubbish. It raises interesting points. However, I do wonder whether the same could have been said in a more understandable way. That would have made the work much more accessible and the debate less limited to professional linguists.


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