For the celebration of the Dutch language I drove from Lochem to Leiden, 155 kilometres. I left on time and I arrived on time, but as always I got stuck in the city centre. I couldn’t find a parking space and the underground garage was also impossible to find, so we came late to the Language Feast at the Boerhave Museum. The few people out on the streets didn’t know where the Boerhave Museum was situated, but they all said we were sure to be able to find it, because Leiden was such a small place. They were right, we admittedly turned up late but finally dined at one single table along with professors from the oldest university in our land. I wondered if all of them busied themselves with our own language, but the man next to me, for example, turned out to be a specialist in African languages, of which – to my amazement – more than two thousand exist. So he spent most of his time in Africa. Later on that evening I got hold of a book by Marten van der Meulen called The Ebb and Flow of Language. Full of knowledge that I do not possess. In most instances I hide behind the excuse that after all you can’t know everything, but when I read something about the oldest known Dutch, I was given an unpleasant surprise. I recall that in secondary school I learnt that the oldest Dutch originates from the 11th century, found in a manuscript. ‘Hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan hinase hi(c) (a)nda thu uuat unbidan uue nu.’ Translated: ‘All birds have begun nesting, except I and you. What are we waiting for?’
Marten van der Meulen writes that the oldest Dutch has been found in a statute book from the 6th century. Maltho, thi atomeo, theo. This means ‘I say, I set you free, slave.’ He explains: ‘Why do we actually consider this sentence to be Dutch? The words show no similarity with Dutch as we now know it. Nevertheless, this sentence – and particularly much other language from these same statute books – displays characteristics that did not appear in any other language that was used at that time. Characteristics which did, on the other hand, continue to develop in later phases of the Dutch language. Characteristics which distinguish this sentence – and ultimately Dutch – from all the other languages of the world.’
When I had read that, though, I was finally satisfied. If only I had gone and studied at the oldest university in our land.
For more information about the birds, go to here