Talking Dutch: No dialect please, we’re foreign


Flemish singer Natalia causes outrage… by speaking in her Kempen accent on TV

Derek Blyth on non-standard Dutch

You may not have heard of Natalia, but she’s been in the news a lot recently. The singer set off a storm of protest by presenting the Music Industry Awards on the Flemish channel VRT in a broad Kempen accent. It caused such a furious reaction that no one paid much attention to the winners.

De kritiek op Natalia via Twitter en Facebook was soms ronduit pijnlijk – the comments about Natalia on Twitter and Facebook were at times simply painful, wrote De Standaard. Er is maar een persoon die verstaat wat #natalia zegt en dat is ze zelf – there’s only one person who understood what #natalia was saying and that was Natalia herself, tweeted one critical viewer.

The newspaper helpfully listed some of things that Natalia had said during the awards ceremony. Et ga vanavond een graaf feesje worre, dames en eere – it’s going to be a great party this evening, ladies and gentlemen, she told the audience, who were soon reaching for Twitter to register their anger in 140 characters.

It may seem odd that a region with such a rich variety of dialects should insist that TV presenters speak correct Dutch. An article in De Morgen tried to get to the bottom of the problem. Waarom is dialect zo’n taboe bij de Vlaming? – why is dialect such a taboo issue with the Flemish?

An expert explained that the roots of the problem lay in the Flemish emancipation movement. In de 19de eeuw wilde de intellectuele elite niets liever dan één standaardtaal in heel Vlaanderen – in the 19th century the intellectual elite wanted nothing less than a standard language for the whole of Flanders. Dat was belangrijk voor de Vlaamse eenheid en emancipatie, zodat we konden opboksen tegen de Franstalige cultuur – that was important for Flemish unity and emancipation, so that we could hold our own against French culture.

But others argued that it was simply a matter of respect for the viewer. Van presentatoren of nieuwslezers mogen we toch verwachten dat ze Nederlands spreken? – Don’t we have the right to expect our presenters and news readers to speak Dutch? asked Flemish MP Wilfried Vandaele. Al was het maar uit respect voor alle Vlamingen die geen Kempisch begrijpen – if only out of respect for all the Flemings who don’t understand Kempen dialect.

Of uit respect voor de duizenden buitenlanders in ons land van wie we inspanningen vragen om onze taal te leren – or out of respect for the thousands of foreigners in our country who we expect to make the effort to learn our language.

So it’s goodbye Natalia and anyone else who tries to talk to us in a regional accent.    

Photo courtesy VRT

Flemish singer Natalia causes outrage… by speaking in her Kempen accent on TV

LinkedIn this