If you’re wondering exactly what I mean in the title of this article, don’t worry; the following paragraph is devoted entirely to explaining it.

Some time ago (on 27th March 2018, to be exact) I wrote an article in which what I wrote arose purely from speculation as to what I would expect if I were to start learning a new language from scratch. If you have ever read it (or are going to now), maybe you’re wondering exactly what language it would be most likely to be. Maybe Dutch, considering how close it is to German, which I am actually fluent in. Which should hardly be a surprise when you bear in mind that German and Dutch belong to the same branch of languages (West Germanic). I say this because when I read the original Dutch lyrics in the Dutch national anthem in this video , I can’t help noticing how much it looks like German on the surface, so to speak; and yet I wondered just exactly what language / linguistic differences there are (in meaning if nothing else) between individual Dutch words and the German words that they immediately make me think of. For example, reading “ben ik” in this video immediately makes me think of “bin ich” in German, and the English translation that is also provided in the video confirms that “ben ik” does indeed mean “am I” / “I am” in English, just as German “bin ich” does. Or Dutch “van”, which immediately makes me think of “von” in German; again, the English translation is enough to confirm that this Dutch word does essentially mean “of” in English, just like German “von”.

Anyway, what I did here was write a German version of the Dutch national anthem which is supposed to parallel the original Dutch version as much as possible, all with the critique you would expect from a fully-fledged professional linguist – I do translate for a living, after all. Here goes:

Wilhelm von Nassouwe,
Bin ich, von niederländischen Blut
Dem Vaterland treu
Bleibe ich so bis mein Tod.
Einer Prinz von Orange,
Bin ich, frei, unverängstigt,
Den König von Spanien,
Habe ich immer geehrt.

Vor Gott verängstigt leben
Habe ich immer versucht

OK, here’s my first temporary interruption for the sake of critique. “Betracht” can pass for both a Dutch word and a German word – it is a past tense verb in both cases but consider this: in Dutch it means “exercised” in the sense of “practiced”, while in German it means “considered”, or something like “regarded”, which, depending on the context is not too far away at all. Now, while the German word “betracht” has a different meaning from the Dutch word “betracht”, I can just about agree that “To live in fear of God, I have always considered” is, in a nutshell, passable in this context. What do you think?

Dafür wurde ich verdrängen,
Um meines Landes, meines Volkes beraubt.

Right, I can imagine many people who speak German would say here that if the Dutch word “daarom” parallels any German word, it’s “darum”… and I must admit that “darum” can translate into English as “because of this” / “therefore” or words to that effect, even if I personally was inclined to think “about it” (while, I confess, not being able to provide any ready context). But I insisted on “dafür” anyway because I felt that this better hints at a reason as to why something has happened – strictly in the sense of someone having decided on something – than “darum” does. If you ask me, “darum” works better when referring to something that has happened as a result of a random situation which will be attributed more to fate than to purposeful action or decision.
And, apparently, the specific term “bereft” means “beraubt” in German – which, out of my own experience, I would today always be more inclined to translate as “robbed”. But in this video I see “bereft” provided as an English translation of Dutch “gebracht”. Fine – it’s just that I’ve always known “gebracht” to be a German word basically meaning “brought”… here, if we’re talking about the “bringing” of land or people, that just seems the complete opposite of what the Dutch lyrics of the Dutch national anthem would suggest! Mind you, I don’t think the Germans actually say “berauben um”, just “berauben”.

Aber Gott wird mich führen,
Als ein Güte-Instrument

Hmm… the German word for “but” is “aber”, while Dutch “maar” was something I compared more with “mais” in French. And is “zal” usually a standard component of the future tense in Dutch? Because when I read that I think of “soll” in German, which means “should” in English; but I suppose “But God should guide me” would not be too far off the mark if the speaker wanted to emphasise their faith in God. Finally, there’s “regeren”, which immediately made me think of “regieren” in German – but that means “govern” / “rule” in English rather than “direct” in the sense of “guide”. You see, this is what I mean by “looking for differences in similarities”. By the way, this is probably the most prominent example of what I have aimed to talk about in this article.

So dass ich wiederkehren kann
In mein Regiment.

Here we go again: with “Dat ik mag wederkeren”, I decided against putting “dass ich mag wiederkehren” in the German version, not just because it is grammatically incorrect anyway, but because – especially if there were no context to consider – I would translate “dass ich mag wiederkehren” into English as “because I want to return”. Mind you, having said that, that’s not too far from the content of this point in the Dutch national anthem. But – and this is the final point I bring up regarding these lines – when I saw “regiment” translated as “domain” I was a little bit surprised. Doesn’t “regiment” (in English at least) normally mean like a military grouping, whereas “domain” means “area” (like: “my place”) here?

Mein Schild und mein Betreuen,
Bist Du, O Gott mein Herr,

Basically, Dutch “betrouwen” made me think of “Betreuen” in German… do we agree that acts of “looking after” / “being in charge of something” (worth the label, at least) can in fact amount to “reliance”, in the sense of loyalty and selflessness if nothing else? Say what you will.

Auf Dich möchte ich verlassen,
Verlasse mich nie wieder.

From a personal perspective, “bouwen” makes me think more of the expression “bow [to someone]” in English (whether literally or figuratively) than any German word I could think of for relying on someone. I suppose, in a sense, it’s not that hard to associate bowing to someone with relying on them. Meanwhile, I couldn’t help agreeing that “nie wieder” is better German than “nie mehr”.

Dass ich noch wacker bleiben werden mag,
Und Dir dienstbereit aller Zeit stehe,

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is about looking for, and discussing, differences in similarities (between languages). That said, whatever Dutch “doch” means, German “doch” means “but” / “however” sort of thing. And whatever Dutch “mag” means, German “mag” essentially means “want” or “like”. Were I to insist on the more literal equivalent “Dass ich doch wacker bleiben mag”, well, for this I would put the (admittedly loose) equivalent of “That I want to remain brave in spite of everything” as an English translation of it. As for the second line, I have been thinking “und dir dienstbereit aller stehen” – basically: “and ready to serve you always”, if we treat the German word “aller” from a genitive perspective – not that “und dir dienstbereit aller stehen” is properly grammatical.

Die Tyrannei überwinden,
Die mein Herz durchdringt.

I could think of no close German equivalent for “verdrijven”, but so what? The word “überwinden” does a sound job. As for “doorwondt”, I provided “durchdringt” for that but there are other perfectly fitting “durch-” words.