Stories from the Dutch South: speaking in dialect

07 February 2014, by
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The southernmost part of the Netherlands is unlike any other part of the country, and even you as an expat can feel that with all your senses. Let me tell you the story that catches your ears first.

Limburgish, Maastrichts & others

Coming to live in the south involves facing specific challenges that may not be noticeable immediately after arrival.

But just as people settle down a bit and start to learn the language of the locals, it becomes obvious that they're missing something. The thing is, the locals might not be speaking Dutch to you.

What are they speaking then? Well, it can vary wildly. The province of Limburg, being home to many people from different nationalities, is also home to many people of the same nationality speaking different versions of the officially recognised regional language, Limburgish.

Depending on which part of the province you are in, it also has subversions for different cities and towns, including the Maastrichts, Sittard, Kerkrade and Hasselt dialects.

These dialects are used by young and old alike, although with a slightly decreasing ratio. According to certain research, it is used in roughly one third of the interactions in the province, mostly with family and friends.

Sometimes they use the dialect to protect the essentials of their conversations from unwanted audience. If you're not an English native speaker, you're probably using your own home language for the same purposes. That's one of the convenient things about being an expat, and in Limburg, the locals enjoy it too.

The use of dialect in the region is readily apparent and even Dutch nationals from other parts of the country have difficulty dealing with it. Not that it necessarily makes a difference to expats, but it does help to understand the many connections the citizens of this region have with each other, regardless of their home countries.

People from Kerkrade speaking in dialect will be understood by a German coming from Aachen, but not by a fellow Dutchman from, say, Maastricht.

Confused? Stick to Dutch

Being gracious towards visitors presents itself in quite an unusual form around this region. Here, don’t expect to be spoken to in English when somebody realises you’re not a native - that's the least common reaction.

Instead, the locals use Dutch in the place of their local dialect as a way of showing respect and helping mutual understanding. Of course, people speak English too, but trying first to use your (however small) Dutch vocabulary will add to everyone's satisfaction.

Using Mestreechs...

But let's say you like the idea of pleasing the locals and want to try to find your way around in Maastricht, for example, using Mestreechs.

Dialect speakers in the Dutch South

You might want to make sure you don’t use expressions that trigger longer answers or a further need to explain yourself.

Let me give you some examples of the most useful phrases to start your linguistic journey:

Goojendaag! Wie geit / geet ‘t met diech?

(Hello! How do you do?)
It's a friendly approach to another person and is hopefully answered simply by "good" that, although pronounced a little differently from English, will make you feel comfortable. Note! If it's carnival time (vastelaovend), your greeting must be Alaaf!

Zoonder beer gein plezier / Gein beer gein plezeer

(No pleasure without beer)
If you set the tone right with your greeting, a beer will surely follow. The region has many hidden brewery gems to discover and therefore many opportunities to practise the expression!

Meziek speule

(Playing music)
Locals are deeply affectionate about the "oompah" style, which recalls memories of German beer festivals to a foreigner’s mind. If you want to mingle, you’d better get used to it.

Watbleef?

(What did you say?)
Save the best for last. If nothing works, you can still ask for help.

Books for dialect addicts

There has been an upheaval of publications coming out in local dialect in recent years. For beginners, try toddler's books first: some of the most popular stories of Miffy (Nijntje), the bunny and Frog (Kikker) are already available in dialect.

The children's books of local resident and publisher Jo Weijenberg offer an even stronger feel of the region's linguistic heritage.

For the expert reader with serious dedication, either for local culture or linguistics in general, Maastricht’s bookshops offer some nice specialties, and not just for the eyes. If you’re lucky, you can even listen to the adventures of Harry Potter read out in eleven different dialects.


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About the Author
Aniko Jori-Molnar

I am a freelance journalist writing stories in English, but listening to them in four languages. Ori...

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