Here is a word lovers of the Dutch language should note without further ado: natiolect. The abbreviation Belg. N. (for Belgische Nederlands, i.e. Belgian Dutch) is no longer just a parenthetical qualifier you come across in dictionaries, now that Flemish is en route to recognition as a natiolect unto itself, on a par with the Dutch spoken in Surinam or, for that matter, in The Netherlands itself.

Belgian Dutch linguists had already compiled a Flemish wordlist, but only recently have Dutch dictionaries come round to admitting the obvious: Dutch is evolving in the same way as English, with its variants marked “British” and “American”, for example. And these are not dialects, but language variants attached to a specific country or people.

A Dutch-Dutch dictionary

This evolution has been recognised for some time now by the Taalunie (Language Union, an international Dutch and Belgian institution for discussion and promotion of the Dutch language) and the academic community, but Spectrum, which publishes the Prisma dictionary series, has decided to put markers down by putting out pocket-size translation dictionaries in Flemish including vocabulary hitherto excluded from Dutch lexicons.

In fact, the publisher is planning to go even further by specifying in its pocket dictionaries the nederlands-nederlands words that are only used in The Netherlands. So now readers in The Netherlands will finally learn that the Flemish don’t say pinpas for credit card.

4000 Belgo-Dutch words

Prisma explains that “in the past, our Dutch translation dictionaries were mainly based on the language variant generally spoken in The Netherlands, which was not always very practical for the Flemish public”. Henceforth, the latter will no longer need to make a detour to find their equivalent for a Standard Dutch word – and vice versa. Flemish words like academiejaar (school year), microgolfoven (microwave) or brugpensioen (early retirement), for example, are respectively rendered in Standard Dutch as academisch jaar, magnetron and VUT (acronym for Vervoegde Uittreding).

Prisma’s wordlist is based on some 4,000 Belgian Dutch words indexed by two Flemish professors, Willy Martin (Amsterdam Free University) and Willy Smedts (Catholic University of Leuven), co-authors of the Belgian Dutch reference database ReferentieBestand Belgisch Nederlands (RBBN for short). “Obviously, this isn’t the first time Belgian Dutch is cited in an explanatory translation dictionary. The big difference is that this time Prisma Dictionaries have decided to do it systematically,” points out Professor Martin.

Belgian Dutch is quite diversified. In Flanders there are several variants of the standardised natiolect that are more apt to use terms like gazet (daily newspaper) or pompier (fireman), though they also employ the Standard Dutch appellations for the same: viz. krant and brandweerman (literally: “fire fighting man”). But there are a whole host of firmly established words, too – even cultural concepts like vluchtmisdrijf (hit-and-run offence) or weekenddode (road accident, literally “weekend death”) – that are only used and understood by Flemish speakers. The list includes optional alternatives as well, “Dutch Dutch” words with their Flemish equivalents, a treasure trove for bilingual jugglers, togglers and punsters.

The new version of Prisma’s pocket-size explanatory dictionary features 1800-odd Belgian Dutch words from the eminent RBBN database. A selection of roughly 1200 words is also used in the translation dictionaries. “Belgian Dutch has reached the adult stage as a variant of the Dutch tongue,” explains Professor Martin. “This natiolect is now level-pegged with Netherlands and Surinam Dutch. Everyone is beginning to accept the linguistic equality between the different variants – which makes Dutch a three-forked tongue.”