I wrote about the “English disease” last week, the tendency among Dutch speakers not to compound when they should – as in computerscherm, computer screen, not computer scherm. Leah does it backwards. “Now, when writing in English, I tend to create many new compound words, a bad habit picked up from learning a second language.”
She’s not alone. Taylor Chambres found his spell check – or is it spellcheck? – working overtime after returning to the US from an 18-year stay in Antwerp. “Without realizing it,” he writes, “I unconsciously began to compound English nouns. Looked fine to me!” He even went as far as disagreeing with the computer and turned to the dictionary. “I was really startled to find that horsetrainer, bikerider and cargarage were not legitimate English words.”
OK, tijd voor iets anders. Time for something different. But Leah has another concern. She asks about the word leider, leader, and how some people say: “met een lange e?” “I tried asking what it meant,” says Leah, “but the explaination did not make sense.”
Let me have a try, then. First, they don’t ask if the word has a long “e”, but if it has a long “ij”, pronounced a bit like “eye”. (Attention: “ij” in words like moeilijk, difficult, or feestelijk, festive, has a neutral sound.)
It’s a question about spelling. The “ij” and “ei” sounds in Dutch are identical. The first is identified as lang, long, and the second as kort, short. (Some people also say gestipte ij, dotted ij.) It is confusing, I agree, also because two words that sound exactly the same can have different meanings. Leider comes from leiden, to lead. Lijder comes from lijden, to suffer. Een lijder, then, means somone who suffers.
The “ij” is fairly young. It used to go through life as “ii” – until 1804, when they decided that it could be easily confused with “uu”, since the letter i didn’t always have its signature dot.
Officially, it isn’t a letter in itself, even though it is often seen that way. In handwriting (not hand writing?), most people treat it as one. Its capital is IJ, not Ij. The 25th letter of the Dutch alphabet is y, de Griekse ij, the Greek ij, but only appears in loanwords (or loan words?), like baby. Kids end the alphabet by singing “iks, ij, zet.”
You could even say that it’s something of a compound.
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