Friday, June 11, 2010


Double dutch

As proceedings get underway in South Africa, here is a betting shop in Brussels:

Nice to see that this obscure rival to the World Cup (previously noted in Germany 2006) is still going strong.

I have previously expressed puzzlement at the bizarre English-only approach to public communications so pervasive in Brussels, a city with a large French-speaking majority. But the term world championship rather gives the game away: this being plainly a calque of the Dutch wereldkampioenschap (compare French coupe du monde), the whole thing can now be revealed as an anti-French conspiracy on the part of the city's Dutch-speaking minority.

Brussels was for a long time entirely Dutch-speaking, as this article documents, and switched to French only in the last couple of centuries.

Both languages feature in the linguistic history of this year's host country. According to this site, Dutch was actually an official language of South Africa from 1910 to 1925, when it was replaced by Afrikaans. And French was the language of the large numbers of Huguenot settlers before they were assimilated by their Dutch coreligionists. So while in Brussels the Dutch-speaking population came to adopt French, in South Africa it was the other way round:
Neither one nor the other any longer speak the French language. In 1729, the Dutch government, being inspired by narrow views, unjustly prohibited the exercise of their religious worship in that language, which had until that time been preserved with extreme purity. After that period, the refugees were obliged to learn the Dutch language, and to see, to their great regret, the national idiom become gradually extinct among them. When Levaillant, the traveller, visited the Cape in 1780, he found but one old man who understood French ; but many families, the Malherbes, the Dutoits, the Retifs, and the Cochers, called to mind by their names the country of their ancestors.

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