Monday, August 2, 2010

What if everyone learned Dutch?

  BBC Radio hosts a weekly segment during the Forum roundtable called “60-second Ideas to Change the World”.  Recently, Dutch-born author Ian Buruma proposed that everyone should learn Dutch as their first foreign language, worldwide, no exceptions.

His argument was that it has a rich literature, it is spoken by many people, and that nobody can take exception to learning it because the Netherlands is so small.

The panel debating the proposition suggested that there were other small, inoffensive countries (Ian noted that most alternatives don’t have as much to read), or that there were more useful languages (Hindi, Arabic, Chinese).

And, before you dismiss the idea entirely, watch UK Deputy PM Nick Clegg in action (around minute 1:40).  He has a Dutch mother, who he credits with giving him fluency, and a degree of skepticism about the entrenched class configurations in British society which helped guide him towards becoming a liberal.


Amanda said...

Interesting...It is a bit arbitrary. But I suppose so was the rise of English as an international business language so I guess anything is possible. Plus if everyone spoke Dutch, maybe we could get bitterballen & stroopwafels everywhere. ;)

Seriously though, how long could the Netherlands remain a "small, inoffensive" country if they had the power of being The world language? How could any country?

Dave Hampton said...

Hi, Amanda, and thanks.

I'm not sure that I see why language should confer power. It wouldn't cause the Netherlands to become the center of either communications or finance, and the country's human and natural resources still limited by Lowlands geography. Knowing Dutch would be an advantage for the Netherlanders, against a barrier raised for entry into world culture and commerce by other nations. But that seems a weak and temporary advantage. I would agree that having to learn it may cause less political resentment than learning the other great-power languages: English, Russian, or Chinese.