Cookies, coleslaw, and stoops

Cookies, coleslaw, and stoops: The influence of Dutch on the North American languages. By Nicoline van der Sijs. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009. Pp. 320. ISBN 9789089641243. $32.50.

Reviewed by Marc Pierce, University of Texas at Austin

The Dutch language has a long history in North America. The first Dutch-speaking settlers arrived in 1609, and Dutch was soon widely spoken in the eastern part of what is now the United States. After the British annexation of the Dutch colony of New Netherland (now New York) in 1664, Dutch began to lose ground to English. A second wave of Dutch-speaking immigrants in the nineteenth century boosted the status of the language, especially in the American Midwest. Much like other immigrant languages in the United States, Dutch was ultimately almost completely abandoned in favor of English, although surviving for a surprising length of time in some areas: in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for instance, the Christian Reformed Church offered a weekly service in Dutch as late as 1958 (74). Given this long history, it is unsurprising that Dutch has left a number of traces in American English; common words like cookie and Santa Claus are all loanwords from Dutch, and there are also a number of Dutch place names in North America, e.g. Yonkers (New York) and Holland (Michigan). This book offers a thorough discussion of the effects of Dutch on American English; the influence of Dutch on Native American languages is treated in somewhat less detail.

The book consists of three chapters. Ch. 1, ‘The Dutch language in North America’ (17–111), concentrates largely on the historical and social aspects of Dutch in North America, e.g. settlement history and the current status of Dutch. Some linguistic issues are also examined, like structural characteristics of American Dutch. Ch. 2, ‘Dutch words that have left their mark on American English: A thematic glossary’ (113–281), discusses individual Dutch loanwords in American English. A typical entry describes the Dutch source word, looks at early attestations of the loanword in American English, and then reviews later developments. The entry on cookie, for instance, traces it to Dutch koekje, koekie ‘small cake’, cites a number of early examples of its use, and discusses the emergence of expressions like smart cookie and to toss one’s cookies ‘to vomit’, as well as the character of the Cookie Monster from the children’s television program Sesame Street (125–27). The final chapter, ‘Dutch influence on North American Indian languages’ (283–97), surveys Dutch loanwords in Native American languages, e.g. knoop ‘button’, which was borrowed into Delaware as kenóp. (The Native American name Seneca is also a borrowing from Dutch.) There is a brief preface by Ronald H.A. Plasterk (both English and Dutch versions of the preface are given; in fact, a Dutch version of the book is also available), an extensive bibliography, and an index of the American English words discussed in Ch. 2.

One wonders if all of the words treated in the book are really loanwords from Dutch, as some of them could well have been borrowed from German; there are some stylistic slips that should have been fixed; and a number of the maps are rather poorly produced. These objections aside, this very informative, readable, and entertaining book is a welcome addition to the literature on the subject.

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