Dyslexia and Spelling ... in Dutch

Dutch is a nasty language even for the Dutch speakers. Allow me to explain a wee bit of Dutch grammar to illustrate this. Also, the question that I want to ask is if Dutch is even nastier for dyslectics. But I digress.

The first person singular of a verb is just the stem of that verb*. The second person singular is either the stem of the verb + t, or, when the sentence is a question, just the stem. The third person singular of a verb is the verb stem +t**

So what this boils down to is:

Ik fiets – I ride a bicycle
Jij fietst; fiets jij? - You (sg.) ride a bicycle; Do you ride a bicycle?
Hij fietst - He rides a bicycle.

So far so good, nothing goes wrong because everyone hears the ‘t’. But then there’s the verb stems ending in –d, such as houden, to hold. Here goes.

Ik houd - I hold
Jij houdt; houd jij? – You hold; do you hold?
Hij houdt – He holds

Thing is, a d at the end of a word becomes voiceless, like a t. As a result, houd sounds just like houdt. And as a result, people screw up writing these forms, which are common, all the time. I’d say this is the most commonly made mistake in writing in the Dutch language by native speakers.

This is made worse in verbs that have a prefix such as be-. These don’t get the prefix ‘ge-’ to indicate that it’s a past participle.

Consider, for instance, the verb begeleiden, to supervise:

Ik begeleid – I supervise
Jij begeleidt; begeleid jij – You supervise; do you supervise?
Hij begeleidt – he supervises
Ik heb begeleid – I have supervised.

In other cases, the verb stem is a noun in its own right. Consider:

het onderscheid - the distinction
ik onderscheid – I distinguish
jij onderscheidt; onderscheid jij – You distinguish; do you distinguish?
hij onderscheidt – he distinguishes
(and: het onderscheidt – it distinguishes)

Needless to say, although in and of itself this confusing but it is not insanely difficult; all you need to do is replace to verb ending in –d with a regular verb ending in something else, and listen to your mind’s voice telling you what’s right. Me, I use the verb ‘hakken’, to chop (wood), to dance to house music. Perfectly regular, no problems here.

However, many people have lots of problems getting this straight. I am the unfortunate position of having to correct undergrad students’ papers for a living, and I see these mistakes (which really a eight-year old should be able to identify and avoid) all the time. Did I mention that these are university students? Anyway, I usually point the error of their ways out them and they guffaw sheepishly. Sometimes, however, they play the ‘I’m dyslectic, I get out of spelling error jail for free’-card. Now I really hate to be badgering people about mistakes that they can’t help making but in this case I’m not sure they’re off the hook. After all, dyslexia is about not recognizing that you wrote ‘huose’ instead of ‘house’, ‘gip’ instead of ‘pig’, and ‘lysdexia’ instead of ‘dyslexia’, things like that. In this case, both ‘houd’ and ‘houdt’, ‘onderscheid’ and ‘onderscheidt’ are words, so the ‘word image’ which non-dyslectics can rely on to decide which is the right spelling fails us here – you really just need to think about it.

However, I don’t want to be a grammar nazi without the backing of the dope, so I’m reaching out to you. Given what you by now know about Dutch verbs (and which I implore you to forget asap), is this something that would be disproportionally hard for dyslectics to figure out or is this equally hard on everyone?

  • except in… well, exceptional cases, such as the verbs to be and others.
    ** again, there’s exceptions

There are different kinds of dyslexia – for many years, it was not recognized as a qualifying diagnosis for special ed because it is a description and not a diagnosis. That is, it simply means that a person has difficulty with reading and sometimes with writing. Why that might be is a different question.

There is no one type of dyslexia, and there are a couple of classification schemes just to muddy the waters a little bit more. The easiest for regular people is the division into visual and auditory dyslexia, which is based on where the hiccup is. Those with visual dyslexia usually cannot learn words as a whole component (the “aap, noot, mies” method). They have problems with visual discrimination, memory synthesis and sequencing of words so reversal of words and letters is common. Those with auditory dyslexia cannot link the auditory equivalent of a word to the visual component and do better in the early stages with “aap, noot, mies”.

In general, the regularity of Dutch as compared to English means that for visual dyslexia, the degree of difficulty has to be much worse for it to become a problem in terms of learning to read than it does in English. With a few exceptions, “a” always sounds the same and if it does not, it gets a different spelling.

The spelling problem you mention is not mentioned as especially difficult in what I have read about dyslexia. Though the bit about “gebrekkige tijdsbesef” is, um, well a relative quesiton for the age group you are working with.

My husband teaches IT and physics at high school level in Delft and he complains about this too. He says it must have to do with a failure to teach spelling in basisonderwijs because it is in his opinion far too common and they are not nearly embarassed enough about it.

Dutch spelling is equaslly hard on everyone and I, persoanlly, don’t buy the ‘but I’m dyslexic’ excuse - being dyslexic doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know your grammar rules
Hij ondercsheidt - true dyslexic
Hij onderscheid - claiming to be dyslexic but in reality doesn’t know his grammar

willthekittensurvive? would be the one to ask, unless he was being funny.

According to the New Scientist(admittedly a while ago)there had not been a single case of scientifically proven as opposed to anecdotal evidence of, Dyslexia, but scientists had become excited because they thought that at long last they had a subject that would prove the case for it being a genuine condition.

Unfortunately the boy concerned(who lived in the U.K.)emigrated with his family to Russia and it was found that he was not "Dyslexic"in Russian.
I have no cite for this but I’m sure that trawling through the magazines files will bring this to the light of day.

I would be entertained to learn how they defined dyslexia in order to reach such a conclusion.

I have no idea ask them.

She just probably thought you might know, since you read the article. It sounds like an interesting story though, do you have a link?
ETA: sorry didn’t notice the end of your post saying no cite.

Well, I looked. The only New Scientist articles I can find (going back to 1999) regarding dyslexia are four: one ascribes dyslexia to visual processing errors in the brain; one about the Dore treatment program; one about how dyslexic drivers have slower reaction time; and one about the Fast ForWard treatment program.

Is it possible you are thinking of something else, or was it before 1999?

Birmingham, Alabama, used to have a police chief named Arthur Deutcsh. That’s right, Deutcsh. The name was mangled coming through immigration and the family didn’t think they could correct the spelling, so just lived with it.

But somebody who really is dyslexic (and not simply lazy to learn proper spelling) wouldn’t he have been to a doctor, to get a certificate about his diyslexy, both for special lessons in school, and to explain his bad grades in Dutch on his final school papers? Wouldn’t they get an F (6) or similar in Dutch in school if their spelling is consistenly wrong all the time?

It was definitely New Scientist and I honestly didn’t think that it was over ten years ago though I have caught by surprise in the past.
As I recall it was in the "editorial "piece that appears on page one or thereabouts.
I know that they put their articles online but I dont know if they comprehensively post the entire contents of their magazine.
Sorry if I was a bit snarky but I honestly thought that this item would have been well known within the field of Dyslexia research.

I did not see the editorials, just articles. So they may not do. The thing is that dyslexia, the learning disability, uncontroversially exists. However, as I mentioned, dyslexia fro many years just meant that someone struggled with learning to read for whatever reason and despite there being no problem with the person´s intelligence (a person who struggles to read because of low intelligence is not generally called dyslexic).

The ideas that there is a discrete neurological cause for dyslexia, or even that it is a medical condition, or that it should be approached as such, are all somewhat controversial. As the pathologization of variant learning styles continues, sometimes one gets the feeling that the LD kids are going to outnumber the normals pretty soon, which rather points to there being a teaching problem, not a learning problem. My best guess is that the article suggested that dyslexia is not a discrete medical condition, which may well be the case. This is cold comfort though if you are a 14 year old who cannot read despite having attended adequate schools and so on.