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Dunglish (portmanteau of Dutch and English; in Dutch steenkolenengels, literally: "coal-English", or shortened to nengels) is a popular term for an English spoken with a mixture of Dutch. It is often viewed pejoratively due to certain typical mistakes that native Dutch speakers, particularly those from the Netherlands, make when speaking English. The term is first recorded in 1965, with other colloquial portmanteau words including Denglish (recorded from 1983), Dutchlish (1986), and Dinglish (2003).

English instruction in the Netherlands and Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, begins at an early age and continues as a basic school subject thereafter, with a number of university courses and programs entirely in English. English-language films are usually subtitled rather than dubbed. This education and exposure results in a relatively high general competence in English, yet mistakes are made.

The Dutch word for the poorest form of Dunglish, steenkolenengels ("Coal English"), dates to about 1900 when Dutch port workers used a rudimentary form of English to communicate with the crews of English coal ships.

Errors occur mainly in pronunciation, word order, and the meaning of words, so-called false friends and false cognates. Former Dutch ambassador and prime minister Dries van Agt supposedly once said "I can stand my little man" (translation of ik kan mijn mannetje staan, a Dutch idiom meaning roughly "I can stand up for myself"). The former leader of the Dutch Liberal Party (VVD), Frits Bolkestein, repeatedly referred to economic prospects as "golden showers", unaware of the term's sexual connotation.

Incorrect meaning of words

Errors often occur because of the false friend or false cognate possibility: words are incorrectly translated for understandable reasons. Examples are:

Word order

Two typical Dutch mistakes in English – wrong order for noun adjuncts ("meeting point caves" instead of "Meeting point for caves" or "Cave meeting point") and compound nouns written as one word ("meetingpoint")

Some Dutch speakers may use Dutch syntax inappropriately when using English. These errors occur because English and Dutch do not apply exactly the same word order.

Modern English has a subject–verb–object word order, but this is shared only partially by Dutch, which has a verb-second order, causing the subject to follow the verb if another constituent already precedes it; e.g., Hij is daar ("He is there"), but Daar is hij; literally "There is he" (idiomatically, "There he is").

Dutch also places perfect participles towards the end of a clause while the auxiliary remains at the verb-second position, allowing for the two to be separated and for many other elements to stand in between; e.g. Ik heb dat gisteren gedaan; literally "I have that yesterday done".

When asking questions, Dutch speakers may mirror the subject-verb inversion of archaic English grammar (e.g. ”What say you?”, ”What meanest thou?”) rather than using do-support as is preferred in contemporary English (e.g. ”What do you mean?”). This is because Dutch does not use periphrastic do-support, which is a rare feature cross-linguistically, but instead inverts the subject and verb when asking questions (e.g. “Heb jij een fiets?”), as is common in the Germanic language family.

In English noun adjuncts, such as Schiphol in the phrase 'Schiphol Meeting Point', the modifying noun comes before the other noun. In Dutch this is the reverse, giving rise to errors like "Meeting Point Schiphol".

Compound nouns written as one word

Dutch compound noun error in English "boardingpass" instead of "boarding pass", as seen on KLM sign at Schiphol Airport, 2013

In English, only certain compound nouns (such as "schoolteacher") can be written as one word, whereas in Dutch the default is to write compound nouns as a single word. This is witnessed in errors in English texts on signs – at Schiphol Airport alone one can see signs for "meetingpoint", "boardingpass" and "traintickets". In some cases the English compound noun spelled as two words has been officially absorbed by the Dutch language as a single loanword – as is the case with creditcard (credit card) and jetlag (jet lag).

Verb conjugation

English and Dutch are both West Germanic languages, with many cognate verbs with identical or nearly identical meanings. This similarity between verbs may cause speakers of Dutch to conjugate English verbs according to Dutch grammar.

Errors in pronunciation

Other mistakes

Use in media


Dutch author Maarten H. Rijkens has written two books on the subject for Dutch readers: I always get my sin and We always get our sin too.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Steenkolen Engels", by Tope Adebola, February 12, 2015
  2. ^ Lambert, James. 2018. A multitude of ‘lishes’: The nomenclature of hybridity. English World-wide, 39(1): 23–24. DOI: 10.1075/eww.38.3.04lam
  3. ^ Kuper, Simon (2019-04-25). "The best place to build a life in English? The Netherlands". ft.com. Retrieved 2019-07-08.
  4. ^ a b c White, C.; Boucke, L. (2011). The Undutchables. Amsterdam: Nijgh and Van Ditmar. ISBN 978-90-388-9432-4.
  5. ^ Bruce Donaldson (2012). Colloquial Dutch: A Complete Language Course. Routledge. p. 171. ISBN 978-1-136-68299-5.
  6. ^ "Eneco commercial - 'From the wind, we can not live'". Youtube.com. 2009-11-11. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 2013-12-10.
  7. ^ Jacob & Haver (2013-09-24). Make that the cat wise: stonecoalenenglish like you've never seen before. BBNC. ISBN 978-9045314990.
  8. ^ Rijkens, Maarten H. (2006-01-01). I always get my sin. ISBN 9045305615.