Paradigm, No. 14 (September, 1994)

Jan Nordegraaf and Frank Vonk (eds) Five Hundred Years of Foreign Language Teaching in the Netherlands 1450-1950 (Amsterdam: Stichting Neerlandistick VU [Cahiers voor Taalkunde, 1011993). ISBN 9072365321

This volume contains seven essays on various aspects of the history of ‘foreign language teaching in the Netherlands’, an area of research defined both in general and in particular in an introduction by the two editors. Textbook analysis appears to be accounted one of the more important modes of research needed. Hence the volume may be of some interest to readers of Paradigm. The chronological boundaries marked in the title are neither explained by the editors nor much respected by the contributors. The ‘Netherlands’ comprises for the essayists the ‘Kingdom of the Netherlands’ and this state’s predecessors. Flanders and the Southern Brabant are ignored. An essay about Erasmus does not even mention the great Dutchman’s part in the establishment of the Collegium Trilingue in Leuven. A contribution about Nathanael Duez on the other hand cannot find anything precise to say about how the obscure Frenchman actually went about teaching French, Italian and German to Dutch-speakers during the 30 years he lived in Leiden. All the essays are written in English: an interesting indication of the attitude which Dutch scientists and scholars still have to their own language. This attitude has been an important factor in giving the teaching of second and third languages a special character in the Dutch-speaking lands. It could itself be usefully discussed.

G. J. Luhrman’s contribution on ‘Erasmus and foreign language acquisition’ has to acknowledge that Erasmus’ writings on education addressed more the question of the ultimate value of acquiring Greek and developing a certain style of writing Latin than they did any didactic practicalities. It makes much, however, both of the theory that the Familiarium colloquiorum formulae began as a ‘textbook’ or ‘manual’ and of the fact that the De duplici copia uerborum ac rerum eventually became a ' schoolbook’. F. Vonk on ‘The study of German in Utrecht 1876-1921’ wanders at one point to the Dutch translation of J. V. Meidinger’s Nouvelle grammaire allemande-pratique, ou Methode facile et amusante pour apprendre I'Allemand of 1783 and to J. A. Leopold’s differently orientated Hochdeutsche Sprachschule fur Niederlä nder, Anleitung zum richtigen Gebrauch der deutschen Sprache of 1883. Two contributions have nothing about books of any kind: F. Wilhelm’s on government legislation on teacher training in the Batavian Republic/Kingdom of the Netherlands between 1801 and 1970, and A. J. van Essen’s on the place of German, French and English in the curriculum of the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy of the University of Groningen between the late 1870s and the early 1920s. These relate to the ‘outer history’ of foreign language teaching.

Three contributions are concerned primarily with textbooks. M. J. van der Wal discusses the pieces of the Dutch vernacular cited in the Exercitium puerorum grammaticale per dietas distributum, a textbook which enjoyed some popularity in north-western Europe between 1485 and 1506: more, however, for the state of Dutch in the late 15th century than for the role the native language of the learner might have been made to play in assisting the acquisition of another. Van der Wal explains the textbook’s curious example pulsatur campanas as brought about through interference from Dutch. ‘Men luyt die clocke’ provides, however, no very plausible model. It has to be said nevertheless that some very odd kinds of Latin were written in the Dutch-, as in the German- and English-speaking lands, during the years of its cultural ascendancy. The effect of language interference on the levels of competence of writers of Latin in these lands between, say, 1450 and 1650 needs to be investigated on a wider front. Textbooks may be the best place from which to begin investigations.

I. E. Zwiep discusses five Dutch-language expositions of Hebrew published during the course of the 17th century. Serious analysis of Hebrew texts continued to be written in Latin throughout this period, and for a long time afterwards. Zwiep summarises the arguments with which teachers of Hebrew advocated the value of their subject and gives an interesting picture of those who purchased the Dutch-language works but, predictably, fails to find much novelty, scientific or didactic, in the substance of these works. Even the notion of the relative simplicity and ease of acquisition of Hebrew came from Thomas Erpenius’ 1620 inaugural lecture (in Latin) at Leiden. Erpenius’ own Latin account of Hebrew (1621) tried to meet the difficulties of the learner. Sixtinus Amama’s work was a translation of an older Latin one, while those of Jacob Alting, Johannes Leusden and Everardus van der Hoeght appeared in Latin as well as in Dutch. One would have liked something on the purchasers of the Latin versions. Because of the international character of the Dutch book-trade it is of course easier to pose such questions than to answer them. Those who produced the Dutch-language works on Hebrew all taught outside Leiden, as did Alting’s patron Gerardus Rehoorn. This fact has perhaps a significance worthy of consideration.

P. Loonen endeavours to extract evidence of the qualities which may have made Nathanael Duez a successful teacher from the many textbooks for the learning of French, Italian and German which he wrote for the Elzevier publishing house between 1639 and 1660. He is compelled at one point to confess that the books were mainly written for German-speakers. It would seem to follow that most of Duez’ pupils were not Dutch-speakers but German-speaking refugees settled in Leiden. There are severe limits to what textbooks can tell the historian about the culture of a particular linguistic area.

Present-day methods of teaching English in the Netherlands achieve a number of practical aims well enough. Nevertheless, the many efforts of idiom and style in this volume -- some quite amusing (for example on p. 48 ' otiose bourgeois ladies’), most just dreary and off-putting -- suggests that a Dutch-speaker wanting to write history in English effectively would need a deeper preparation than the programme of the contemporary school can give. The vulgar sneer at the attention still given to Mann and Rilke by teachers of German in the Netherlands (p. 126) makes one anxious about the mood in other departments of language teaching. On the other hand it might in fact be better for all if the Dutch were to write the history of Dutch culture in their own language. International academic English (‘esperanto anglophone’) is fast becoming the hindrance to clear thought that scholastic Latin once was.

H. D. Jocelyn

The Victoria University of Manchester,
Faculty of Arts,
Manchester M13 9PL

 


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