Righting English that’s Gone Dutch
J Burrough-Boenisch, Kemper Conseil Publishing, 3rd edn, 168pp, 2013, £24.47 (pbk), ISBN 978 9 07654 265 2
Reviewed by Elizabeth Manning Murphy
At the SfEP conference in 2013, Joy Burrough-Boenisch gave a fun-filled workshop presentation of some of the problems of editing Dunglish – English that has 'gone Dutch'. It fascinated me because my editing speciality is in academic papers written by non-native speakers of English. My mostly Asian clients have a number of problems resulting from 'first language interference': verb tenses all over the place, lack or misuse of articles, impossible preposition usage, strange words and so on. Joy's book, however, makes me realise I am fortunate in that I don't have to cope with the plethora of mixed meanings, weird spellings, misused abbreviations, hyphenation headaches, embedded brackets and more that beset the editor of what she also refers to as 'clogged English' – just one of many fun puns throughout Righting English that's Gone Dutch.
According to the author, the book 'sets out to expose features of the Dutch language and Dutch conventions about writing and publishing that Dutch authors transfer to their English writing'.
Plurals of nouns deserve a mention, if only because I spend a lot of time trying to eliminate unnecessary apostrophes (like the so-called greengrocer's apostrophe: 'onion's on special'). In Dutch, the apostrophe is used correctly to indicate the plural of words ending in vowels, including 'y', so a Dutch writer of English would write baby's instead of the English babies, and radio's instead of radios.
Abbreviations often seem to be made up by the Dutch writer in English, leaving the reader to guess at the meaning: 's.o.s.' makes you think immediately of a call for help, but no! It means 'see other side', when a native English writer would use 'p.t.o', if anything. One Dunglish abbreviation that actually appeals to me is 'f.e.', meaning 'for example'. How many, after all, know that the equivalent in English writing, 'e.g.', stands for the Latin exempli gratia?
This is a book for 'dipping into', based on a number of articles the author wrote for SENSE (the Society of English Native Speaking Editors, in the Netherlands), and, like other such compilations, leaves you wanting more. Each chapter ends with some sound advice for Dutch writers wanting to write in English. It has relevance for editors of non-native English, no matter what the author's native language, as a reminder to search diligently for the linguistic reasons behind the mangled English we sometimes have to edit.
It is a light-hearted read with a serious message for Dutch writers of English, and is an eye-opener for editors of Dunglish or any other hybrid form of English where firstlanguage grammar is used as the vehicle for English words.