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Lesson Transcript

Michael: What is Compounding in Dutch?
Atie: And what is the longest Dutch word?
Michael: At DutchPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine the following situation, Sasha Lee is looking for her math teacher. She asks her classmate, Rinke Rover,
"Where is Mrs. De Vries?"
Sasha Lee: Waar is mevrouw De Vries?
Sasha Lee: Waar is mevrouw De Vries?
Rinke Rover: In de lerarenkamer.
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Sasha Lee: Waar is mevrouw De Vries?
Michael: "Where is Mrs. De Vries?"
Rinke Rover: In de lerarenkamer.
Michael: "In the teachers' room."

Lesson focus

Michael: In this lesson, you will be learning about compound words in Dutch. Compound words are words that have been formed by putting two or more full words together. Sometimes these compounds can get quite lengthy which, naturally, leads one to wonder what the longest word in Dutch is. We will get to that a bit later. In the meantime, let's look at some compound words in Dutch and discuss the basic rules and patterns that regulate their formation.
[Recall 1]
Michael: Let's take a closer look at the dialogue. Do you remember how Sasha Lee says "Where is Mrs. De Vries?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Atie as Sasha Lee: Waar is mevrouw De Vries?
[Recall 2]
Michael: Now let's take a look at our second sentence. Do you remember how Rinke Rover says "In the teachers' room."
(pause 4 seconds)
Atie as Rinke Rover: In de lerarenkamer.
Michael: In this dialogue, Rinke Rover tells Sasha Lee that the person she is looking for is in the
Atie: lerarenkamer
Michael: or the "teacher's room." If you can't see this word because you are listening, you will just have to believe me when I say that it is a compound word. What I mean is that it consists of two words that have been compounded into a single word. The first of these two words is:
Atie: leraar
Michael: which means "teacher," and the second is
Atie: kamer
Michael: which means "room." Once again, the compound word that is formed when they are put together is
Atie: lerarenkamer
Michael: This act of compounding words in Dutch is part of the morphology of the language. "Morphology" has to do with the way words are put together. In Dutch morphology, the right-hand part of a word is what linguists refer to as the "head." What this means is this part of the word is the most important.
Listen to these three words and take note, specifically, of the right-hand part of each one. It would be the second part of the word, if you are listening only. What do you notice about these second parts?
Atie: lerarenkamer, [pause] studentenkamer, [pause] werknemerskamer
Michael: I'm sure you noticed that each of these words ended in the same way, with the word
Atie: kamer
Michael: which means "room" of course. This is because it is the head, or the most important part of the word. The first word in each of these compounds modifies this headword in much the same way as a prefix modifies a root word, if you think about it. The difference is that, with compounds, the part that would be the prefix is an entire word and even a phrase sometimes. And that's the basic idea of how compounding works. In a moment I will talk to you about the longest word in Dutch. How long do you think it is? Take a guess and see if you are right.
Michael: So far, you've learned about compound words in Dutch. These are formed when two or more words are combined. The word on the right, or the last word, is called the "head." This is the most important part of the compound word and the initial words only modify its meaning. Let's look at some more examples of compound words. I'm going to ask you to listen to the native speaker naming three compound words while I translate them. Here they are:
Atie: cursustaal
Michael: "course language"
Atie: spreektaal
Michael: "spoken language"
Atie: schrijftaal
Michael: "written language." You will have heard how the last part of the compound was the same word each time. The others simply modified its meaning somewhat. All the resulting compound words were denoting a kind of language or
Atie: taal.
Michael: All Dutch compound words display this "right-headedness!"
Michael: I promised earlier that I would tell you what the longest word in Dutch is. I am about to do that, but before I tell you what it is, I want to explain what one can call the "productivity of compounding." What this means is that, because compounds are made of other, complete words, the combinations of words are practically unlimited. One can even make up new words. In fact, the word
Atie: werknemerskamer
Michael: that I used earlier is one I made up. It means "workers' room," and any native Dutch speaker would understand it. This means it is not simply gibberish or nonsense. We can create new words, and that is what is meant when we say that compounds are productive.
Now, I have to confess something… I wasn't entirely forthcoming when I said that I would tell you what the longest word is in Dutch. I can give you some examples of very long words in Dutch, but to say that one word or another is the longest would be misleading—exactly because of the phenomenon of compound productivity.
In other words, no matter how long any word is, there could potentially be another word that's even longer. The various Dutch dictionaries do have rules that make the construction of long words less arbitrary, but there is still a lot of room for creativity, so what is considered the longest word often differs from dictionary to dictionary. One of the most authoritative dictionaries is the Van Dale Dutch Dictionary and, according to it, the longest Dutch word is
Atie: meervoudigepersoonlijkheidsstoornis
Michael: This means "multiple personality disorder." Sometimes it is written as two words but there are those who would argue that doing so changes the meaning. Nor is this necessarily the longest, official Dutch word, despite the fact that it is in the Van Dale Dictionary. In the 1996 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records, the longest Dutch word was cited as
Atie: kinder­carnavals­optocht­voorbereidings­werkzaamheden­plan.
Michael: At fifty-three letters long, that one is quite a mouthful. It means "preparation activities plan for a children's carnival procession." There are some other very long words I could mention, but they're rather boring because they tend to refer to bureaucratic matters. Here's an example:
Atie: vervoerders­aansprakelijkheids­verzekering.
Michael: It means "carriers' liability insurance." Not exactly a fun word. This one, and others like it, can be found in the free
Atie: Open Taal
Michael: dictionary. Because this dictionary has been certified by the Dutch Language Union, one could argue that this word is among the longest official Dutch words, seeing as it is longer than the one we find in the Van Dale Dutch dictionary. As you can see, trying to pin down the actual longest word in Dutch is no easy task, and no one is really sure which word it is. I leave it to your discretion!
Cultural Insight/Expansion
Michael: Speaking of combining language elements, here's an interesting little fact. Did you know that, in English, the word with the longest consecutive sequence of consonants is "rhythms?" Pretty impressive, but the Dutch language boasts a word with an even longer sequence of eight consonants in a row. That word is
Atie: angstschreeuw
Michael: which means "scream of fear" and, coincidentally, describes how our native host reacted when she learned that, in this lesson, she would have to pronounce
Atie: kinder­carnavals­optocht­voorbereidings­werkzaamheden­plan.
Michael: But of course, without a doubt, she nailed it!


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Atie: Doei!
Michael: See you soon!