Proud grandchildren of Dutch immigrants

New Zealand has been a pot pourri of cultures after waves of immigrants have come here over the last two hundred years, mainly from Europe, the Pacific Islands and more recently in numbers, from all over Asia, most notably from India and China.

Dunedin was founded by Scottish people who were concerned that the country would be dominated by the English. That is part of the city’s heritage, and bag pipes and haggis still feature in ceremonies.

But the Chinese New Year is also celebrated, and there are a variety of cultures represented in other events.

The last mayor of Dunedin was born here but had distant Chinese heritage, and the mayor before that was born in India.

One culture that is barely noticed these days is that of the Dutch, but when I was young that was more evident. We had Dutch visitors (I don’t know what connection they had with our family), and in the seventies I worked with the son of Dutch immigrants. Another generation or two on it’s barely noticeable, but there will have been a definite impact in New Zealand from Dutch culture.

Martin van Beyen writes Dutch immigrants of the 50s fading away

I bought a new suit the other day. The suit got its first outing this week at my Uncle Theo’s funeral. He died, aged 90, surrounded by his family last Friday.

Uncle Theo came to New Zealand in 1953 and was followed three months later by his bride-to-be, Afra. His sister (my mother, who is still alive) arrived two years later with my father, who died about 10 years ago.

A pastry cook by trade, Uncle Theo went on to own a number of bakeries in Christchurch including a wholesale pie business.

Some would say Uncle Theo (we called him Ome Dick) was a typical Dutchman. He was hardworking, routine-driven, stubborn, socially conservative, a natural contrarian and knew the value of a dollar. He would have seen my new suit as a waste of money.

He was also one of the last of his generation of about 11,000 Dutch immigrants who came to New Zealand between 1951 and 1954. Well over 100,000 New Zealanders now have some Dutch heritage.

A small but significant minority, possible accentuated by the short surge in Dutch immigration.

I wonder how we will regard the legacy of that wave of Dutch immigrants who came to New Zealand in the 50s and who are now fading away. Mostly blue collar workers and tradespeople (my dad was a mechanic), they made a major economic contribution, already often acknowledged, and brought a not always welcome brand of Europeanism to the racing, rugby, beer-orientated New Zealand society. Although their skin was the right colour, locals often found their accent strange, their manner brusque and their thrift ungracious.

Although some immigrants tried to preserve their Dutchness, most knuckled down and assimilated aggressively.

Perhaps they took to heart the attitude of senior immigration official Dr Reuel Lochore: “We must make new Britishers: by procreation, and by assimilation; by making suitable aliens into vectors of the British way of life.”

But some things were hard to suppress. Uncle Theo worked as a storeman when he first arrived and was told off by his fellow workers for working too fast.

It was clear the Dutch work ethic came as a shock to the strongly unionised New Zealand workforce where British work to rule was more the custom. Maybe some of that Dutch work ethic did rub off and it was certainly instilled in their next generation. Well, mostly.

I learnt a strong work ethic when I grew up, but it was in a rural area with no sign of union locally.

However in Central Otago the work ethic wasn’t universal, as there were frequent references to the shovel sucklers of the ‘sunshine gangs’, Ministry of Works workers were not known fore their industriousness.

Making fun of them probably reinforced the work ethic I learned.

As I was growing up I didn’t get the impression being Dutch was highly regarded and at high school it was definitely nothing you would want to advertise.

After Uncle Theo’s funeral I was sitting with some of his grandsons having a beer and asked them what they thought about their Dutch heritage.

They seemed proud of it, to the extent they emphasised their Dutchness over the other backgrounds flowing through their veins. A very different attitude to my generation and one that Uncle Theo and Aunt Afra can take a lot of credit for.

You can talk a lot about material contributions but you know the Dutch have truly arrived when the legacy of people like Uncle Theo lives on in the pride his grandchildren have in their heritage.

In contrast, I have English heritage. One grandmother was a Great War bride (from Chelsea) who married my grandfather, son of an immigrant from Liverpool and a grandson of a family who arrived (ex rural Bedfordshire) as part of the  Canterbury settlement in 1852.

I have a bit of historical interest but little empathy for my English heritage. I don’t back any English sports team, and feel nothing for the English royal family – to me they are foreign not just in country but also in what they stand for.

On my other side my mother was born a couple of years after her parents and five siblings immigrated from northern Wales (from near Caernarvon). As far as I saw they almost entirely they left their culture behind,

My teidiau (I just looked that up online and don’t know if it’s correct) died before I was born, but I’ve been told he learnt to speak English when serving in World War 1. Twice, both times reluctantly on request, my nana (that’s what we called her) said just one Welsh word – Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

That is the only reference to my Welsh heritage I can remember apart from my mother recalling being taunted with ‘Taffy was a Welshman’ as a child.

This may not have been just a family thing, I have seen little sign of Welsh culture in New Zealand. I think the Welsh wanted to distance themselves from being seen as second class to the English.

Perhaps as a result I don’t feel subservient, nor superior. I am a product of the Kiwi melting pot – much like those with Dutch ancestry. I’m a proud Kiwi – and part of that pride is due to a general acceptance of a range of co-existing and overlapping cultures in Aotearoa.

I’m interested in other cultures – it makes a welcome change for the narrow mono-culture I grew up in.

Has you done awfill English?

BBC: Why all English speakers worry about slipping up

The English language is confusing, inconsistent and easy to muddle. But some pour too much scorn on those who break the rules, writes James Harbeck.

Since Jonathan Swift’s 1712 Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue, two centuries of self-appointed correctors and improvers of English usage – such as Robert Lowth, HW Fowler, George Orwell, Kingsley Amis, Simon Heffer, Lynne Truss, and Neville Gwynne – have decried the decadent state of our language and instructed people on how to use it better.

But what have they accomplished?

They have helped enforce agreement that there should be a standard version of the language. They have not, however, managed to set the exact details of that standard.

And the stream of the language has flowed on despite the damning practices prescribed by grammar doctors in the 1700s and 1800s that often look old-fashioned or bizarre now…

The language cannot be fixed in place, and its constant evolution does not always follow the tastes of its self-appointed guardians. Some of their proposed improvements have had inglorious careers: a rule – don’t split infinitives, don’t end sentences with prepositions, don’t start sentences with conjunctions – is decided in defiance of established usage. It is promulgated in books, taught in schools, and often used as an indicator of a writer’s level of education, yet it continues to be broken – productively by some (including many of the best writers), sloppily by others, guiltily by many.

One important effect the English-improvers have had, however, is on how people feel and talk about English usage. They have taught generations of English speakers that ‘bad English’ is a failure of intellectual and moral fibre.

Jonathan Swift, in 1712, talked of “Corruptions,” “Licentiousness,” and “barren” usages; Robert Lowth, in 1799, applied terms such as “perverted” and “barbarous”; Richard Grant White, in 1872, used phrases such as “utterly abominable”, “foolish and intolerable”, and said they showed “utter want of education and a low grade of intelligence” (and these against words such as donate, jeopardise, and preventative).

HW Fowler in 1908 spoke of “barbaric” usages, and the “special ugliness” that comes from a word with a “mongrel origin”, and counselled readers that “The effect of using quotation marks with slang is merely to convert a mental into a moral weakness.” George Orwell in 1946 inveighed against “slovenliness” and “sheer incompetence.”

In more recent years, writers guilty of some well-established word choices and writing habits have been called “slovenly” by Kingsley Amis; “abominable,” and “semi-literates” by Simon Heffer; “illiterate” by Neville Gwynne; and “moral weaklings” by Lynne Truss.

What these umpires of the English language have enabled and abetted is scorn based purely on details of the language itself rather than on extrinsic social differences.

There is a classism in it, but their ideal is not a nobleman (they often criticise errors in the speech of the high and mighty) but a person of careful, vigorous thought, moral propriety, manly directness, and the right sort of education, as evinced unfailingly by avoidance of specified vulgarisms and barbarisms.

They despise stupidity and low character, but they enfranchise their pupils to identify these not by the content of what is said but by a few simplistic rules of form: a belt of scorn grenades.

The English language can be confusing. Thanks to its history, its spelling is capriciously inconsistent; thanks to the vast body of literature that has grown over the centuries of its evolution, its variations of form are manifest.

To be an English speaker is unavoidably to have some degree of what William Labov called ‘linguistic insecurity’. People whose English is farther from the promoted ideal are more insecure, but you will not find an English speaker who does not at least occasionally fret about whether he or she is committing an error.

It’s not so surprising that people over the centuries have wanted to tidy it all up. But attempts at improvement have not been unequivocally successful, to say the least, and the tone in which they have been presented has done further injury.

It’s bad enough that we have to worry about being clear and consistent; thanks to the weaponisation of English grammar and vocabulary, we also have to worry about being seen as degenerate barbarian imbeciles.

The English language is confusing, infuriating and a marvellous  way to communicate expressively.

The evolution of English is fascinating, as are the efforts of some to stop it’s evolution in it’s tracks. What no one has been able to do is stop the expansion and diversification of English in it’s written tracks.

Like English ethnicity the language is a hodge podge of immigrant languages used in a wide variety of ways.

Writing clearly is important, but it depends on who your audience is as to what is clear and what is acceptable.

Marge George and old Shakespeare

There seems to be a mushrooming of discussion on William Shakespeare, coinciding with the 400th anniversary of his death.

I saw an interesting documentary last week that looked at how little was actually known about Shakespeare the person, questioned why he wasn’t imprisoned like other playwrights of the time, and suggested the author’s name may have been a pseudonym for someone close to the royal court.

The arguments will probably continue as long as the playing of the plays.

An interesting post at Oxford Dictionaries – Language matters: Why Shakespeare is even funnier than you thought

To be honest I never found Shakespeare funny in the first place. I thought the plays I have studied while at school – Macbeth and Romeo Juliet – were tedious.

This may in part be explained by this Oxford post that explains that English was pronounced significantly differently four centuries ago in England.

For example George rhymed with charge (George has changed).

We’re all familiar with at least some Shakespeare, but the chances are that we’ve only either read his words on the page, or heard them spoken with modern pronunciation.

This, however, does not entirely match how Shakespeare and the original casts of his plays would have spoken. Even modern British English is not the same as what is known as Original Pronunciation.

Historical linguists have reconstructed Original Pronunciation, often based on conclusions that can be drawn from spelling and specific instructions given in 16th-century grammar books.

In these videos David Crystal, author of The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespeare Pronunciation, explains how Original Pronunciation recovers the original rhymes and puns that are otherwise missing in modern performances of Shakespeare’s plays.

Puns in Original Pronunciation

Rhymes in Original Pronunciation

I find language and it’s continual evolution far more interesting the the writings of whoever used the pseudonym William Shakespeare.

I had an aunty Marge. If she had been a George in Shakespeare’s England (she actually came from Chelsea but 300 years later) her names would have rhymed.

Why do Kiwis support “anyone but England”?

Last night’s rugby world cup match between England and Scotland demonstrated strong support for “anyone but England”, in this case Scotland. This is partly support for the underdog, and it partly demonstartes a strong Scottish cultural influence in New Zealand. But there is also a strong English cultural influence in the old colony.

Both Scotland and Ireland get strong support from Kiwis. There are many Kiwis with Scottish and Irish ancestry, but that’s only part of the reason – there is a lot of English ancestry here too. There’s even a few Kiwis who still support maintaining links with the Queen of England.

Why do many Kiwis have little or no support for old mother England?

I really don’t know. And I’m an example of this phenomenon.

On my father’s side of the family my grandmother came from Chelsea, a great grandfather emigrated from Liverpool, and a great grandmother was part of the very English emigration to the Canterbury settlement. But I don’t feel like I have any connection with England apart from a historical curiosity. I don’t feel any empathy with England.

I don’t have any known Scottish or Irish heritage (but my granddaughter has a cool Scottish dad!) – but I would normally side with them over England. I don’t know why.

My mother’s parents came from Wales, arriving in New Zealand a couple of years before she was born. However my Welsh empathy only  amounts to a little more historical curiousity  than my Englishness.

My mild natural support for Wales over England is on about the same scale as my natural wish for Ireland or Scotland to beat England.

What has England done to deserve this? A Kiwi disdain of the English arrogance and self appointed superiority? Many UK immigrants to New Zealand wanted to get away from the English class system, maybe it’s a residual of that feeling. Kiwis are more likely to have a favourite “working class” football team than they are a more toffee rugby club (not me though).

England, we don’t hate you, maybe we just like to feel our independence as Kiwis and “anyone but England” is one way of doing this.