July 02, 2004

The secret Netherlanders among us

According to this article, the Dutch in Albany (originally Beverwijk) took more than 250 years to give up and accomodate to English language and culture. And maybe even now...

The Dutch lost New Netherland to the British in 1654, but a century later, botanist Peter Kalm "wrote that many people still spoke and read Dutch and that the English and Dutch populations despised each other", and "as late as World War I, a form of Dutch was still spoken in the region, according to Charles Gehring" at the New Netherland Institute, which offers a covertly revanchist Virtual Tour of New Netherland, covering "what are now the states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut and Delaware". I hope that somebody will warn Samuel Huntington -- never mind the Palatine Boors and the Frieslanders in Illinois, apparently we've got to worry about those culturally unassimilated upstate NY indigenes from the Low Countries.

Seriously, this sort of thing is now just one of the threads in the American cultural and linguistic tapestry. The debate these days is whether current immigrants are culturally and linguistically a new phenomenon, or just more of the same at an earlier stage.

[Update: Trevor at kaleboel explains that it's worse than I thought: those "Dutch" indigenes were actually a motley multi-cultural crowd of Francophones, East Frieslanders and whatnot: he says "I'm prepared to bet the first-comer my AdSense earnings for June that at no time during the C17th did "Dutch"-speakers constitute the largest language community in Beverwijck; I suspect, in fact, that this honour belonged for most of the period to speakers of Low Saxon variants."

Hey, Trevor, I'd be happy to pay up if I had any AdSense earnings to put up against yours. ]


Posted by Mark Liberman at July 2, 2004 09:09 AM