The entry for ‘goesting’ in Van Dale, Groot woordenboek van de Nederlandse Taal, 2022

Borders, Language & Territory
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A Standard Language for Flanders

Someone with ‘goesting in een croque-monsieur’? It must be a Fleming. Officially Dutch-speaking Belgians share their language with the population of the Netherlands. Yet Flemings recognise Dutch people infallibly (and vice-versa), because their colloquial speech differs. A Dutchman, for example, would be more inclined to have ‘trek in een tosti’.

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The authoritative Van Dale dictionary defines ‘goesting’ as ‘desire, appetite, fancy, liking’. You can use it in expressions like ‘ieder zijn goesting’ (each to his own taste) or ‘een broek vol goesting’ (feeling like sex). Van Dale also knows that ‘goesting’ is an informal word that only occurs in Belgian Dutch, the variant of Dutch used in Flanders and coloured by the vicinity of French.

The differences between Netherlandic Dutch and Belgian Dutch illustrate the fact that state borders influence language use. At the same time the impact of politics and policy is limited. Some (mostly older) Flemings remain strongly attached to their dialect. Today most young people express themselves in a colloquial variety that combines features of dialect and Standard Dutch. And then there are the newcomers who bring their own words and expressions with them and so give colour to the local language.

JF Willems.

Wikimedia Commons

The writer, philologist and flamingant Jan Frans Willems (1793-1846)was a great advocate of linguistic unity between the Netherlands and Dutch-language speaking Belgium.

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A Standard Language for Flanders

Standard Dutch originated from the 16th century on in the present-day Netherlands. Printers, officials and jurists argued at the time for uniform language rules. Particularly the Dutch of the rich bourgeoisie provided the raw material for a model language that was to spread throughout the country as standard. Language standardisation was the work of human beings: scholars determined rules and decided which words and sentence constructions would henceforth be correct. They laid down that knowledge in dictionaries and grammars.

When in the 19th century the Flemish movement came to the defence of the Dutch speakers in Belgium, a discussion soon ensued over the standard language. Should Flemings develop their own version or take their standard from the Netherlands? The second vision won the day – a ‘Standard Flemish’ would according to most linguists and cultural flamingants enjoy little prestige. It would not be able to compete with French, which functioned as the official language of Belgium. Those cultural flamingants also hoped that a unified language would promote a cultural and political rapprochement with the Netherlands.

Despite the sometimes heated discussions on correct language many Flemings continued to do their ‘goesting’ regularly. Looked in this way, it may not be a total coincidence that in 2004 ‘goesting’ was voted by Radio 1 listeners the nicest word in Dutch.

Focal points

Wilfried Martens.

Amsterdam, National Archives

The later Belgian prime minister Wilfried Martens (1936-2013) joined an ABN group. In his memoirs he still remembered the day when he solemnly relinquished the use of his dialect.

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The ABN Offensive

The Flemish movement saw Standard Dutch as an important instrument in the ‘elevation’ of the Fleming. Until far into the 20th century, for that matter, one spoke of ‘Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands’ (ABN, literally, ‘General Civilised Dutch’). Speaking and writing properly was a sign of culture and distinction.

Particularly after the Second World War Flemish newspapers, (school)books, radio and television promoted the use of ABN. A well-known programme was Hier spreekt men Nederlands (Dutch Spoken Here), which was broadcast from 1962 to 1972 just before the BRT news. In it the presenter Joos Florquin explained to viewers that one shouldn’t say ‘goesting’ but ‘trek’ or ‘zin’, and not ‘solden’ but ‘koopjes’ (bargains).

In the same period language-conscious pupils set up so-called ‘ABN-clubs’, clubs which always spoke ‘beschaafd’ and encouraged the use of the standard language at school.

Since 1980 the Taalunie (Dutch Language Union) has promoted the interests of Dutch – a language which by the way is also spoken in Suriname and the Caribbean. Today the Dutch Language Union puts the Dutch, Belgian and Surinamese varieties of Dutch, despite their mutual differences, on an equal footing.

The rather stiff way of dealing with language in Flanders gradually became more relaxed. Today our standard language is called simply ‘Algemeen Nederlands’ (AN, General Dutch). Calling other language variants uncivilised, is something we no longer consider very nice.


Antwerp, Uitgeverij Vrijdag

Drarrie in de nacht (Buddy in the Night, 2014), the second novel by the author and theatre-maker Fikry El Azzouzi, portrays a number of young street rebels in a small provincial town in East-Flanders. A year after the appearance of the novel the word ‘drarrie’ and the variant ‘drerrie’ were added to the three-volume Van Dale dictionary.

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Ewa drerrie

Besides Standard Dutch, Flemish, Brabant and Limburg dialects are spoken in Flanders. Yet fewer and fewer children are growing up with those dialects. At school with children of their own age they mainly speak ‘inter-language’, or informal spoken language. That inter-language varies from area to area, but has supra-regional similarities and is strongly influenced by the dialects spoken around the Antwerp-Brussels axis.

At first linguists thought that the inter-language was a step in the transition from the old dialects to the desired standard language. That turned out not to be the case. Meanwhile the inter-language is to be heard more and more often on the radio, on television, in films… The fact that Van Dale once rejected a word like ‘goesting’ as ‘regional’ but now accepts it as Belgian Dutch, also illustrates the increased tolerance for the spoken language in Flanders.

The standard language, the dialects and the inter-language all belong to the family of Dutch and sharp boundaries are not always easy to draw. Come to that, a lot more besides Dutch can be heard in the streets of Flanders. In 2021 almost 30% of children born in Flanders did not speak Dutch at home. The most common foreign languages at the moment are French, Arabic and Turkish, and those languages also renew the Flemish spoken language. In 2020 young Flemings voted for ‘ewa drerrie’ as child word of the year – a Moroccan-Arabic greeting meaning ‘hey, buddy’.

Antwerp, Collectie Stad Antwerpen, Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library, C17682

The Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal contains approximately 400,000 words of Dutch and counts as the largest dictionary in the world. The first instalment (from A to Aanhaling) appeared in 1864, the last (from Zuid to Zythum) in 1998. The WNT is fully available on the internet.

Hier spreekt men Nederlands.
Brussels, VRT

Between 1962 and 1972 the BRT broadcast just before the news the programme Hier spreekt men Nederlands (Dutch Spoken Here).

Pastoor Munte.
Brussels, VRT, Henri Denis

Actor and director Luc Philips (1915-2002) built up an impressive stage career. He gave a sparkling performance with a lush dialect as Father Munte in Wij, heren van Zichem (We Gentlemen of Zichem, public service broadcast, 1969), based on the stories of Ernest Claes.

Goesting scouts.
Antwerp, Scouts en Gidsen Vlaanderen

The Scouts and Guides of Flanders does not hesitate in an advertising campaign of 2022 to make use of the nicest word in the Dutch language: ‘Goesting’.

Suske en Wiske Nerveuze Nerviërs.
Antwerp, Standaard Uitgeverij @ 2023, Willy Vandersteen

In De nerveuze Nerviërs (The Nervous Nervians, 1964) from the cartoon series Suske en Wiske, Aunt Sidonie argues for the use of ABN. From now on she also wants to be called Aunt Sidonia.

Het Groene Boekje geldt al decennialang als de bijbel van de Nederlandse spelling. De eerste versie gaat terug op de ‘Woordenlijst van de Nederlandse taal’ uit 1865. Sinds haar oprichting in 1980 waakt de Nederlandse Taalunie over de uitgave ervan. Het Groene Boekje is vandaag integraal en gratis online te consulteren.
Wikimedia Commons

The Little Green Book has counted for decades as the Bible of Dutch spelling. The first version goes back to the ‘Wordlist of the Dutch Language’ from 1865. Since its foundation in 1980 the Dutch Language Union has supervised the publication. Today The Little Green Book can be consulted fully and free of charge online.

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Hier spreekt men Nederlands

Bron: VRT archief – 16 apr 1966


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