What do you think about van?

This is Cassandra Nijon’s first blog post. It is actually her second, but I’m still in the process of editing the earlier one, so have a little patience! This one jumps the queue because she’d like to have your feedback. If you are a speaker of Dutch, that is.

In Dutch, as in many other languages, an innovative quotative construction gained widespread popularity from the 1970s on. This construction, which introduces a report of speech, thoughts or attitudes, is (zo)(iets) van (lit. “so of”, “something of”), perhaps most (in)famous in its guise as ik heb zoiets van (“I have something like,” lit. “I have something of”), and comparable to English be like in many ways.

Although this construction is quite common in contemporary spoken Dutch (listen carefully and you’ll most likely hear it used multiple times a day), it is neither listed among the senses of van in the Van Dale online dictionary nor does the Dutch Taaladviesdienst (Language Advice Service) website have anything to say on it.

Some individual maintainers of language advice blogs and writers of language-related columns have struck out on their own, and their advice is: don’t use it. At some point at the turn of the millennium the construction even had its own anti-website, but sadly that has been irretrievably lost.

However, these anti-van spaces have a limited readership, so what I’m interested in is what individual speakers think about this construction. And to that end I am currently running a questionnaire on the topic (the questionnaire can be found here). Please consider helping me with my research by taking the time to fill it out. (If you have tips, comments, or questions, please leave a comment below.)

This entry was posted in polls and surveys, usage features and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to What do you think about van?

  1. tonyparr236437852 says:

    I’m not a Dutch speaker, so I won’t fill in the questionnaire. However, I would like to comment that I’ve noticed that reported speech has more or less disappeared entirely from spoken Dutch. The form “Zij beweerde dat zij … hadden…” is no longer in use. Just listen carefully to radio, television and people talking in the street, and I’m sure you’ll agree. The ‘van’ construction is one of the principal options available to speakers who wish to avoid using reported speech, but there are others, too!

  2. In your post you refer to spoken Dutch, and I have taken your survey with that in mind, even though you did not explicitly mention this. I suspect you would get quite different results depending on whether you ask your questions about spoken or written Dutch. This difference may also be the reason why you do not find this construction referred to on the Van Dale and Taalunie websites, since these kinds of resources are usually — though often implicitly — aimed at written language.

  3. Corine Hendriks, editor Dutch, Leiden University says:

    (Sorry for my poor English) My hypothesis is that newly used phrases are a SOLUTION for a problem. In this case it may be that someone who uses ‘ik heb zoiets van…’ is mixed up by rational thoughts and emotions, and cannot formulate exactly what he or she means.

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