Ray Gunn, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Says Ray Gun:
Dutch is an extremely weird language! I don’t mean that pejoratively, but it needs to be said. As an English-speaker, it’s often difficult to shake the feeling that you’re hearing a kind of Bizarro English when a Dutchman speaks to you, because so much of it sounds familiar. But upon close listening, it’s entirely alien. Linguists often say that Dutch is an amalgam between English and German, phoneme-wise, but I think that’s oversimplified. There are something like a dozen letter combinations that just don’t have an English (or even German) equivalent. Your subtle cues that you’re not in Kansas or Köln anymore.
For example, the letters “ui” together say “ow” as in “wow.”
Then there’s “ee,” which says “ay” as in “gay.”
Or our dear friend “oe,” which says “oo” as in “cool.”
And let’s not forget the “oo” that says “oh” as in “sex show.”
And that’s just a few vowels. They’ve got some crazy ninja consonants, too. Take “j,” if you will. When it begins a word, it acts a “y” as in “your” (don’t ask why there is no “y” in Dutch), but when it’s internal to the word it’s voiced as in “jump.” All hell breaks loose when the “j” is paired with an “i,” but that’s another story.
So meet Johnny Jordaan (1924–1989), the much-beloved Dutch folk singer whose sentimental feelings for his city of Amsterdam are immortalized in campy song, especially ditties about the once working-class but now-trendy Jordaan district from whence his stage name comes. You would assume that his name is pronounced “Yonny Yordan,” following the rules of the language. But alas, those free-spirited, fun-loving Dutch will pronounce the “j” our way for the first name but not for the surname.
It’s enough to make one want to spend a while forgetting about it all in a Dutch coffeeshop.
Where, as you probably know, coffee is rather beside the point.