Spent much time yesterday looking around two day-centres for children with learning disabilities. B is finding school too much for her, won’t participate in group activities and comes home bruised from banging herself against walls in frustration. I thought they were both nice places; one only a few km away, but I thought its facilities marginally inferior (apart from the garden) and anyway they don’t have any vacancies; the other about 20 km east of here, with a nicer interior atmosphere but not as much outside space (oddly enough, within spitting distance of the church of Our Lady of the Stone where the local saint consoles those with mental disorders). The second place does have a vacancy, so if we take them up on it, poor will get to know the motorway between here and there rather well as their bus service doesn’t run this far west.

I spoke more Dutch yesterday than I do in the average month (also when I finally got into work had to go straight out again for a meeting with a Dutch MEP) and was musing on one or two words or phrases which are particularly pleasing in that language. We were asked at both daycentres to give them our gegevens. The word gegeven is the past participle of the verb geven, “to give”; but in English you don’t ask people for their “givens”, you resort to Latin where the verb “to give” is do, dare, dedi, datum and the plural of datum is “data”. Wouldn’t it be nicer to talk of “givens” than “data”? Also there was much discussion of the prikkels which would be experienced by our daughter at each place. Although the word is pronounced identically to the English word “prickles”, in Dutch it has a wider range of meanings, including in this particular case the concept conveyed by the English word “stimuli”, which of course comes from Latin stimulus, meaning “goad”, the diminutive of stilus meaning “stick”. On the one hand, the English language has been enriched (as has famously pointed out) by its use of vocabulary from many sources. On the other, it does mean that we can lose touch rather easily with the resonances of what words actually meant originally.

Also after almost eight years here I am still getting used to Flemish rather than Dutch. The use of ge rather than U or jij to mean “you” still throws me – when I learnt Dutch a quarter of a century ago we used gij and ge only to address God. Not so different, of couse, from the use of “thou” in rural Yorkshire, but I have never spent much time in rural Yorkshire. Also I noticed, more than previously, people not pronouncing the letter “h” at the start of a word – is this a general Flemish thing, or something more restricted to areas within spitting distance of the taalgrens? And of course the diminutive form of nouns being -ske or -ke rather then -tje or -je. I wonder what else I miss because people are trying to speak clearly to us foreigners, rather than talking as they normally would?

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