A plea for Dutch as an academic language is not automatically resistance against internationalization, says Mathijs Sanders. According to him, essential citizenship begins with mastery of one’s own mother tongue.
Imagine the famous historian Johan Huizinga creating his magnum opus Autumn of the Middle Ages (1919) had written in English, for example because he had to compete for a large grant from a Dutch research organization.
The world would no doubt have had a beautiful, richer book when the powder vapors had dissipated, but we should have missed that phrase that has become rightly famous :, then rest, then announces trouble, then evokes, then reprimands.
In any other way, and in no other language than his own, the writer could have articulated the colorful sounds of the bell whistling in a medieval town more beautifully than with the repeated six times “then, then, then”.
Now, the English-speaking part of the world didn’t have to wait long. Already published in 1924 The decline of the Middle Ages . But no matter how precise this translation is in many ways, the repeated “now” doesn’t compare to Dutch onomatopoeia. Huizinga does not describe the bells, he evokes their sound.
A plea in favor of Dutch as a language of education and science is quickly understood today as resistance to internationalization. This is a misunderstanding that Groningen memory teacher Douwe Draaisma mentioned in his inaugural lecture The sorrow of the cosmopolitan was already denounced in 2005, but it remains very persistent.
Against the current
It therefore remains necessary to argue against the current of academic policy for the rich diversity of scientific languages and associated intellectual traditions. There is a great social responsibility here for the language courses and for Dutch in particular.
Getting rid of the collective feeling of inferiority to one’s own language creates space for creative thinking and writing. The essay is also a great alternative to the digitally supervised exams of surveillance systems as a proctor.
Importance of mother tongue
Students and teachers can draw inspiration from the rich tradition of Dutch essays and chronicles. It is no coincidence that a major new student writing award has been named in honor of a writer who understands the importance of the mother tongue: Gerrit Krol.
Not only the fact that he thought and wrote in Dutch, but also the way he linked various areas of knowledge in his person and his work make the Groningen mathematician, systems designer and writer Gerrit Krol (1934-2013) a figure that should not underestimate the Dutch cultural landscape.
Source of wonder
Although he has practiced many genres, the bulk of his writing lies in the small essay. In the years 1979-1980, he enriched the last page of NRC Handelsblad with a series of brief reflections which are still a source of wonder and inspiration for those who want to organize their thoughts and use their own language.
Krol put them together in his booklet The writer, his shame and his mirrors . Take, for example, this passage from a column “ On the evocation of new feelings ”:
“A writer evokes, he evokes a certain feeling which has not been felt before and which therefore probably did not exist. After a successful evocation this feeling exists and of all the feelings that exist you can say that the evoked feeling is best described by the words it just evoked. It is here that literature manifests itself in its purest form and in its purest content: it is here that this form and this content become one.
Everything is language
Everything is language and in language shows the soul of the thinker. Words evoke a feeling that cannot be experienced other than with the same words.
Essay is the genre par excellence for reflecting on this process of evocation and formulation, in which scenarios for the future can be represented, regardless of the platitudes and standard formulas that imposed English often involves.
In addition, anyone who uses Dutch observes a social responsibility. Critical citizenship in a multicolored society begins with mastering at least one mother tongue right through to your fingertips.
Let Gerrit Krol be a beacon and let young essayists and scientists prove him wrong, where he wrote: “To write is to speak to someone who answers nothing”.
Mathijs Sanders is Professor of Modern Dutch Literature at the University of Groningen. You can submit your application for the Gerrit Krol Prize until June 1, 2021. More information: www.rug.nl
You can follow these topics