Kohledeutsch or Charcoal-German: “Can I bark?“

Learning a foreign language can be challenging, even when the languages are as closely related as German and Dutch. Dutch, however, is not a dialect of German, as some foreigners may think (I’m always happy to correct them on this matter, being a proud Dutchie!), it really is a completely different language. Native Dutch speakers will regularly make mistakes while trying to speak German, and we even invented a word for speaking very bad German: “Steenkolenduits” or “Kohlendeutsch/Charcoal-German”.

EnNl_Kohledeutsch or Charcoal-German Can I call_intext1

Using some simple sound laws, the German equivalent of a Dutch word can often quickly be found. There are, however, also many “false friends”. “Das Meer” and “Der See” for example. When Germans speak about a Meer they mean the sea, whereas in Dutch it is exactly the other way around: “Een meer” is a lake, whereas “Een zee” is a sea!

Sometimes this leads to funny situations. The most famous example is probably “Darf ik mal bellen?”. The Dutchie is trying to ask whether he or she is allowed to use the phone (bellen = to call), the German understands that the Dutchie is asking permission to bark (bellen = to bark)!  Also funny: “Haben Sie das in der Gassen?”. Literally translating, the Dutchie is asking whether the other person has noticed something, whereas the German would wonder why the Dutchie would want to know what is in the alley (Gassen = alleys).

Confusion is paramount in daily use. Even literally translating an easy sentence as “who are you?” can cause tremendous misunderstanding. “Wie sind Sie” is a perfectly sound Dutch construction when trying to confirm an identity, but the German would understand that the Dutchie is trying to ask for his well-being instead!

Translating proverbs is similarly hilarious. “Die Kugel ist durch die Kirche” is the literal Dutch translation of “the die is cast” and when a Dutchie says “Davon habe ich keinen Käse gegessen“ he actually means that he has no knowledge on a certain topic. The right translation in German would be “Auf dem Gebiet bin ich Laie“ instead!

Some people are even making a living out of signalling these mistakes. Reinhard Wolff wrote Lass mal sitzen, which the Dutchies would use when they want to translate “let’s sit down” to German.

Want to have a good laugh? @bargedutsk tweets and posts on Facebook about the funniest mistakes in translation from Dutch to German on “Soll mir Wurst sein” (I don’t give a hood, literally translated from Dutch).



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