Groningen boasts an incredible array of strange and fascinating tongues. Legend even has it that long-lost dialects of German can still be heard echoing in the corridors of the Heymansgebouw. One pesky language, however, is spoiling the party.
Call me silly, but I was expecting a quaint Dutch town and some good old-fashioned culture shock. Imagine my surprise when everyone, from the cabbie at the station to the Moldovan barista, greeted me in pure, unadulterated Anglo-Saxon. I felt a little bit cheated, and a good deal less exotic.
You could well say that ‘internationalese’ is the established lingua franca of the city. It’s best described as a sterile half-language, consisting of universally understood phrases, and spoken in a generic accent of the American variety. Together with its illegitimate children Spanglish, Franglais and Dunglish, this despicable pidgin threatens to plunge us into a pit of linguistic poverty.
Pretty soon we’ll all be semi-literate in several languages, and completely incomprehensible as a consequence. A particularly crummy deal, considering how charming full-bodied dialects can be – each with its own unique rhythm and perspective.
I felt a little bit cheated, and a good deal less exotic
The vernacular of a place is often the key to its inner workings. Freed from the burden of translation, personalities come alive. The hard-nosed librarian transforms into a bit of a comedian, while the cranky fishmonger ends up confirming all your suspicions. In speaking it, you enter into a tight-knit world built on tradition, separated from the bland uniformity of modernity.
The life of a linguistic purist (or snob, in common parlance) is, surprisingly, not as easy and care-free as you might expect. In order not to be a hypocrite, he must be willing to risk untold embarrassment in trying to converse coherently in the local lingo. Dangers include telling a man that he longs deeply for a newspaper subscription, and being hung-up on by customer service for freezing up in panic.
Ultimately though, all your efforts will be entirely worth it. In speaking an actual language instead of some mongrel anglicised argot, you will have championed civilisation against the dark forces of linguistic degradation that seek to destroy it. That’s something, surely?
It is on that solemn note that I’d encourage you to pick up a new dialect if you can. Give Gronings a try, if you’re game. Go out on a limb, if only for a laugh!