Antwerp pupil wins first Dutch language Olympiad


Winning project researched chat history to find out why people make ‘dt’ mistakes

Olympic champion

Polly Jean Hollanders (pictured), a final-year pupil at the Pius X Instituut in Antwerp, has won the first Dutch language Olympiad. As well as scoring outrageously well in the written tests, the 17-year-old wowed the jury with an original study of why people confuse “d” and “t” endings when conjugating Dutch verbs.

The Olympiad is organised by Antwerp University, together with Utrecht University and Radboud University in Nijmegen. The aim is to promote Dutch as an exciting and challenging discipline for today’s young people.

The first round of the Olympiad attracted 345 pupils from 67 secondary schools in Flanders and the Netherlands. Written tests on grammar, spelling and aspects of Dutch literature narrowed this down to seven finalists.

Dt or not dt, that is the question...

They were asked to carry out a study on an aspect of Dutch language or literature. Each was supported by an academic in a relevant field, but the research was all their own.

Topics chosen included the “white saviour” complex in the literary work of Willem Elsschot, the function of emojis and the impact of printing on a medieval text.

Hollanders’ winning study looked into the origin of “dt” errors, a problem when conjugating Dutch verbs that vexes native speakers just as much as those learning the language. “I ploughed through my own chat history looking for dt errors,” she said. “Then I investigated whether those errors had a certain logic, and I think I found one. It was incredibly rewarding when linguistics researchers were able to confirm my hypotheses.”

I ploughed through my own chat history looking for ‘dt’ errors

- Polly Jean Hollanders

The jury praised her scientific insight, her eloquence and her infectious sense of humour. Her prize consisted of a fully loaded e-reader, a stack of books and €500.

“The jury also had strikingly high praise for the other candidates, and spoke in its report of a high-quality final that demonstrated the scientific richness of the Dutch language and literature,” said Kevin Absillis, professor of Dutch literature at Antwerp University and one of the Olympiad’s organisers.

The written tests, along with the answers, are on the Olympiad’s website together with Hollanders’ video presentation. A second Olympiad is expected to open for registration in October.