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Dutch, Danish, same difference February 16, 2007

Posted by globalizer in Danish, Denmark, Language.

Later update, October 11, 2009:

I just found one new, potential factor contributing to the confusion. I see that somebody found this blog post by searching for “are windmills dutch or danish”. And since the Dutch are famous for their historical windmills, while a Danish company is now the world’s number one  maker of wind turbines, and Denmark today generates about 20% of its electricity with wind turbines, I can see how that could be a cause for some confusion. Given that a lot of people are confused to begin with.

Update, October 19, 2007:

As a public service announcement to the many people who seem to find this post after doing searches like “Is Dutch and Danish the same language” and “difference between Dutch and Danish”:

No, those are two completely separate and different languages.

Dutch is spoken in the Netherlands (or Holland), while Danish is spoken in Denmark. They are both Germanic languages, and they are both spoken in small, flat countries located in the Northwestern part of Europe – but they are still different. And while speakers of the Scandinavian languages (Danish, Norwegian and Swedish) are usually able to understand each other (with good will exhibited by both speaker and listener), Danish and Dutch are not closely enough related for that to be the case for those two languages. Single words may resemble each other, etc., but that’s about it.

Original post:

Just yesterday I was reminded once again how difficult people from the US find it to distinguish between Dutch and Danish. As I joined a conference call, a Danish colleague and I were initially the only ones on, so we conversed happily in Danish until a US colleague joined, at which point I said something like “sorry for babbling in Danish”. To which he responded, as expected: “Oh, that’s the language spoken in the Netherlands, right?”

I can’t count the number of times something like this has happened to me – or the other way around, of course, having people think Dutch is spoken in Denmark. A few years ago when I was on an extended translation verification test along with testers from about 15 other countries, our daily meetings with the development team became the source of a running bet between the Dutch tester and me about how many times his and my defects would be confused.

I have never quite understood the reason for this almost total inability to distinguish between the two language names; after all, the two words are not that similar, and the country names are totally different.

But there definitely seems to be some kind of blind spot with respect to the “D-word” in this context.

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1. Thomer M. Gil - November 27, 2007

Thanks for clearing that up, but since you’re now in the business of clearing up misunderstandings, you really shouldn’t refer to The Netherlands as Holland. Holland is a province of The Netherlands (more precisely, there are two provinces, “Noord-Holland” and “Zuid-Holland”). Referring to the country as a whole as Holland is wrong.

A similar contribution is at http://thomer.com/danish_dutch/

2. globalizer - November 27, 2007

Yes, true – although I have met many Dutch people who themselves use “Holland” when they speak English. It is an established term in many languages, and in Danish, for instance, the name of the country is actually Holland.

3. Thomer M. Gil - November 28, 2007

The fact that Danish (or even Dutch) people get it wrong does not make it an “established fact”. The fact that Americans get “Dutch” and “Danish” wrong don’t turn that into an established fact, either.

It’s too bad that, while clearing up one confusion, you reaffirm another!

4. globalizer - November 28, 2007

I was simply referring to established usage – like the one described on Wikipedia here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holland):

“Holland” is also informally used in English and other languages, including sometimes the Dutch language itself, to mean the whole of the modern country of the Netherlands.

If you want to equate confusing Danish and Dutch with the established practice of using Holland to refer to the specific country, go ahead, you’re welcome to do so.

5. Tyler - March 1, 2008

Can I ask what job you have, allowing you to be “on an extended translation verification test?” What exactly is that? Just interested in studying language maybe. Thanks!

6. globalizer - March 1, 2008

At the time, back in the 1990s, I worked in IBMs Translation Center in Denmark. This is the center that translates IBM’s software products into Danish, and then performs translation verification of those translated versions (translation verification test = TVT). The TVT verifies that the translated strings are correct, in context.

At that time, almost all such tests took place at the various development labs in the United States, and because the localization techniques were not nearly as developed as they are today, they were also often very long. Today most of of IBMs translation verification takes place remotely, with the server software installed in a central location, and each tester connecting to that server from their home countries.

If you are interested in doing that kind of job, you should be knowledgeable about IT, have a degree in the source language you are interested in translating from (almost always English in the software industry), and be a native speaker of the target language.

7. Arthur D. Hlavaty - July 21, 2008

I never heard anybody say “Danish courage” or “Dutch pastry.”

8. Jess Sayin - September 15, 2008

The title of your posting seems to negate what the posting is trying to clarify.

9. globalizer - September 15, 2008

Uhm yes, it’s what is called irony…

10. Eric - December 8, 2008

I find it ironic that Mr. Gil rails against use of “Holland” to refer to all of Nederlandene and yet refers to inhabitants of the United States as “Americans.”

11. globalizer - December 9, 2008

Eric – indeed. The use of “Americans” by everybody here in the US to refer to themselves is in fact one of my pet peeves (but one that I am trying to ignore, for the sake of my blood pressure) :-)

12. Hans - December 22, 2008

Nice article!! I’m Danish and on my 6th year in the USA and I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been called Dutch, or “oooh so you speak Dutch” or people saying ;Heeey you must be happy today??” and I say well, yeah why?….Your soccer team just won!!!…uhm, no they didn’t….yeah I just saw it on TV, Holland (Netherlands…and yes, I do know the difference;)) won the match yesterday. My wife is American and she hears it all the time too when people ask her where I’m from. Last week someone said oooooh Denmark…they speak Finnish right?? haha at least it was nice with a little variance;)

13. globalizer - December 22, 2008

Thanks, Hans.
It IS remarkable how widespread the confusion is. This entry fairly consistently gets more hits than any other single post on my blog, and it’s quite entertaining to glance at the search terms each day. Every once in a while there’s a huge spike in the “danish dutch difference”, “is dutch and danish the same thing” searches, and I can never quite figure out what drives the spikes.
But it is also quite funny to see how biased towards blogs the big search engines are – my blog entry probably shouldn’t really be the top result for searches like that :-)

14. Hoi :) - January 22, 2009

It’s an easily made mistake though. Danish and Denmark looks a bit alike but Dutch and the Netherlands (or Holland) doesn’t look alike at all. Is the word Dutch actually related to Diets/Dietsch? (Oh and yes I am Dutch)

15. globalizer - January 22, 2009

Oh, so we can blame it all on the Dutch for messing up the connection between their language and their country :-)

Dutch is definitely related to Diets/Dietsch, yes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dietsch

And looking at the bright side from the Danish point of view: there are worse countries/people to get confused with than the Dutch :-)

16. Ikbenhet - March 5, 2009

What’s wrong with calling the inhabitants of the United States of AMERICA Americans? I mean what do you want to be called? United States of Americans? Come on.. and the misunderstanding between Holland and the Netherlands came to be in the 16th century. The Netherlands wasn’t a country, just some small states working together a bit. England and France decided later they should be one country. Holland (later divided into Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland) was the richest small state and that’s why people call the Netherlands Holland sometimes. I prefer the Netherlands but I don’t think it’s incorrect to say Holland.

17. I'm Not Belgish - May 26, 2009

Reminds me of a story with similar confusion: In the USA, I used to work with a couple of guys from Belgium. Mentioned this to a friend who asked, “Oh, do they speak Belgish?”

18. Legal Alien » Blog Archive » Clueless about Geography - June 1, 2009

[...] I have found that I’m not the first one to comment on this issue, one of my compatriots has her own blog entry about it here. [...]

19. Dutchgirl - October 2, 2009

I am Dutch, and have been living in California for the past 2 years. Someone told me about this little “Dutch” town called Salving. I looked it up and the only website taht got the whole story right is the visitors website for Salving. Before reading that website, all the websites I came across used Dutch and Danish interchangeably..very confusing!Guess it is really a Danish town though, not Dutch…although some say they do have windmills and sell clogs, which is typically Dutch but not positive that they actually do, since I have not been there myself. I have come across many people thinking Denmark was was just another name for Holland(yes I do use Holland most of the time instead of Netherlands, but do know the difference and I am actually from Zuid-Holland so I think I should be allowed:P) but after trying to figure out whether this town was Dutch or Danish, it really showed me how many people get it totally wrong. I personally think it’s ignorance but that’s just my opinion;)

Dave - February 20, 2010

Uh, as long as we’re pointing out other’s cultural ignorance, realize the name of that town is spelled as Solvang, CA. Yes, I lived a few miles away from there, and noticed you’ve horribly misspelled it’s name…

So make you a deal: you cut us some slack, and I’ll cut you off a piece, too. :)

BTW, since most of these words (Danish, Denmark, Dutch) contain a D at the start, an easy (?) way to remember which language goes with which country is to think of the 2nd letter in the word (which are all vowels, i.e. A, E, I, O, U).

Just realize that DAnish (with an ‘A’) is closer to DEnmark (with it’s ‘E’) than either is to DUtch (with a ‘U’). If you realize HOlland has an ‘O’, you’ll see that it’s closer to U than the others.

Maybe you’ll be able to perform the mental gymnastics required to realize that Danish is closer Denmark as Dutch is to…. ehhh, the other one. :)

So good luck if you forget the name of Holland, or can’t rmember your vowels!

PS You’re also on your own with the whole “Netherlands/Holland” thing, too. :)

20. Prof. Brick - January 11, 2010

Part of the problem is that the Netherlands has two names and neither relates to the name of the language spoken there.

France – French
Spain – Spanish
Germany – German
China – Chinese

If it were “Holland-Hollandian” or “Netherlands-Netherlandish”, I think the problem wouldn’t exist. Instead it is “Holland-Dutch, or maybe Netherlands-Dutch, or wait, was it Denmark-Dutch? Yeah, that sounds right. But wait, what is Danish? Oh, that’s a pastry.” :)

The other problem is that in most American’s minds these are both countries that fit into a lot of the same categories. Small, northern European, with no major events to remember for the history test. It’s like a European mixing up Nebraska and Wyoming. Yes, they’re different, but it’s easy to see how those differences might not stand out in the mind of someone who doesn’t think about them often.

(No offense meant to Nebraska and Wyoming. Or the Netherlands and Denmark.)

Poliglota - June 7, 2013

In China, the spoken languages are: Cantonese and Mandarin. There is no such a thing as “chinese”.

21. globalizer - January 11, 2010

All good points, prof. Brick.

22. Big Jilm - February 23, 2010

all offense to Nebraska and Wyoming…especially Wyoming…yuck

23. H.C.Marchezi - March 14, 2010


I am not from Europe and I dont speak English however I never got confused about Dutch and Danish, it seems pretty clear.
In the other hand, Us fellows are famous for geographical misunderstandings.
Many times I have seen Americans refering to Brazilians as Hispanics (Hispanic = Spain) or trying to be friendly with “Buenos Días, Amigo” in Brazil. For some who may not know, Brazil speaks Portuguese.

24. john - April 12, 2010

Well, I have a better one!
Once I told someone from the US I was spanish, and he replied: “So, you speak mexicanish, right?”

25. HupHollandHup - May 17, 2010

“Small, northern European, with no major events to remember for the history test.”

Prof. Brick- The Netherlands was the major European sea power in the 17C and was the world’s first purely capitalistic country.

The Dutch East India company was the first multi-national.


No history?

26. globalizer - May 17, 2010


27. Phil - May 25, 2010

Plus the Netherlands founded New York City (New Amsterdam), discovered Australia and was the first country to (unofficially) recognize the US as an independent country. Other than that the NL has produced some of the world’s greatest artists (Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Vermeer), is most likely the most liberal country on the planet and two common Dutch names form the source for the nick name “Yankee.” 3 of your presidents were of Dutch descent (Van Buren (who’s first language was Dutch) and the two Roosevelt’s). Operation Market Garden was fought on our soil (source of the film ‘A Bridge too far’, Anne Frank (you might have read her book) was Dutch (the diary was written in Dutch). And the list goes on and on… I’d say that’s more than enough to remember the NL on a history test, wouldn’t you?

28. Meagan - May 27, 2010

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for posting this!!! I am an American living in Denmark,and I can not believe how many people,many of them friends of mine,so I know that they are fairly educated people much of the time,have assumed that I speak Dutch!! I have had to kindly explain to them that they are no where near similar,the only similarity being that they are both Germanic languages and both begin with the letter “D”,that’s about it. As you wrote,maybe a few words are the same to look at,but to hear them,I very well may not be able to understand what a Dutch person said unless I was reading along while they spoke.
Another thing I have people say is,after I tell them that I’ve been living in Denmark,many will say,” Oh,I LOVE Amsterdam!!” Uh,yeah,that’s nice,but what does that have to do with Denmark? Amsterdam is in Holland,aka The Netherlands. Denmark’s big city,which is the one I live in,is Copenhagen. I mean,come ON, people!
Even before I moved to Europe,I don’t think I was ever quite as ignorant,or if I was,I asked,instead of sounding like a fool. It’s fine to not be sure,but then you ask. That way,you can become a bit more educated.

globalizer - May 27, 2010

You’ll get used to it Meagan :-)

29. MJ - May 30, 2010

Here’s how I remember it. If I’m on a date and a guy suggests we go “Dutch,” then I already know he’ll never meet my Netherlands. :)

30. Mikkel S - June 11, 2010

This might be a bit off topic, but do anybody know why so many (mainly “Americans”) seem to think that Denmark and Holland are rivals? Many people implies that our two nations are in some sort of conflict. I have even seen this reference in an episode of The Simpsons.

31. globalizer - June 11, 2010

Hi Mikkel,
I am not an expert on The Simpsons, but I suspect that the episode you mention was actually a sly reference to the fact that so many people here in the US tend to confuse Dutch and Danish and the two countries. I haven’t really encountered this idea of a rivalry “in the wild”.

32. ~b - July 11, 2010

Does any one know the word jockabena ? My grandmother was Danish or Dutch (lol). I also remember another word… lort. She use to say “you are jumping around like a lort in a skillet.” If you can help clarify this for me it would be greatly appreciated ! ~b

~b - July 11, 2010

I must say, this has been a VERY interesting site ! ~b

globalizer - July 12, 2010

Hmm, I have no idea what jockbena would be, but judging by the other word your grandmother used I would hazard a guess that she was Danish. That word means “turd” in Danish…

33. Lars - March 3, 2011

I’m Dutch and I have to say I do get a bit offended with those examples of people claiming the Netherlands and Denmark are the same or Amsterdam is in Denmark…. I mean, come on, are people really that uneducated? If you go to Amsterdam, I guess you will KNOW it isn´t in Denmark…. I feel worse for the Danish people though, with people knowing nothing about Denmark.

The Dutch word for The Netherlands is Nederland.
The Dutch word for Denmark is Denemarken. So those aren`t similar at all too.

34. DJSauvage - March 17, 2011

Now, what about Scottish & Irish, they are the same, correct?

(sits down, grabs popcorn)

35. egbertus - April 20, 2011

I used to work for the Dutch Embassy in Mexico
, In Spanish “The Netherlands” is translated to Paises Bajos (low countries) and we got calls all the time from people wanting a visa for the low countries like Estonia Bulgaria Denmark you name it!!
so the only way to convince them was saying they were calling the Embassy of Holland which i know is totally wrong but it made everything right!

36. globalizer - April 20, 2011

Yes, sometimes you have to go with the explanation that will get through.

37. Et tu, New York Times « Musings on software globalization - July 1, 2011

[...] Click to enhance, and you will see that the opinion piece, 4th from the left, is about a Dutch company hiring autistic workers. Unfortunately, this is the article in question, showing that not even the NYT is immune to the Dutch/Danish confusion… [...]

38. Simon - September 23, 2012

The interesting thing about Dutch and Danish is that they are perfectly understandable in their written form, in relation to German and other Scandinavian speakers respectively, yet largely incomprehensible to most people of said lingual affiliations without a certain degree of communicative familiarity. Given such practice, it is in fact possible to have a comfortable conversation in German and Dutch, and in Swedish/Norwegian (languages that are vocally similar) and Danish, in a way that the brain’s language centers can treat the input as a dialect of your own tongue without having to mentally translate each sentence.

39. Vertekijker - October 16, 2012

I lived for fifteen years in the States. I am a Dutch-speaking Belgian – there are over 6 million of us in Belgium, that is more than the total number of Danish speaking people. I was never able to explain this in the US where it is believed that Belgium is a ‘French only country’ – people looked at me as if I was trying deliberately to put them on the wrong foot, or they would change the subject very quickly. It is usually assumed that all Belgians speak French, while that is the language which is not spoken by the majority, who speak Dutch. When Americans think of Dutch-speaking people, they assume that they must all live in Holland, while a good third of them live in Flanders (Belgium). To confuse matters more, another language minority in Belgium speaks German. All this in a country the size of San Bernardino county in California. I am not making it up!

globalizer - October 18, 2012

Ah yes, I can imagine the trouble that would bring. On the other hand, it can be a good conversation starter. Always look on the bright side :-)

40. Pauline - November 24, 2012

I’m Dutch and I’ve encountered this when talking to Americans (can I say that? No? I don’t know what else to call you…*confused*). I sort of get it though, even if it gets a bit annoying at times. The whole Netherlands/Holland/Dutch thing can be a bit misleading because the words don’t have anything in common. And I must admit, Denmark is the only county I’ve ever been to that made me feel like I was back home (the bikes! and they even share our craze for black liquorice!). It’s culturally very similar to The Netherlands, geographically they’re close matches as well. Plus they both have a Germanic language that is unintelligable to English speakers.

And we Dutchies call our country “Holland” when asked because it’s easier to say for us than The Netherlands and more foreigners know our country by that name anyway. But we know that strictly speaking, it’s incorrect.

I don’t mind the confusion that much, Denmark is like a lovely little sister-country to The Netherlands so there’s worse places to be confused with :-)

41. Pauline - November 24, 2012

O, and another possibly confusing thing; Dutch and Danish names (surnames, first names, place names, you name it) do sound similar to untrained ears. We can tell the difference straight away though :-)

42. Josefine - December 19, 2012

I’m Danish but I live in Holland (have for the past 9 years). I speak both languages, so I definitely know the difference between the two countries.

43. Female Friendly Videos Free XXX Videos - May 2, 2013

I hardly leave a response, however I browsed some remarks on Dutch, Danish,
same difference | Musings on software globalization. I actually do have
2 questions for you if you don’t mind. Is it simply me or do some of these comments look like they are left by brain dead visitors? :-P And, if you are writing on additional online sites, I’d like to follow anything new you have
to post. Would you post a list of every one of your public pages like your
linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

44. Ellie - May 8, 2013

Sadly, I’m one of those folks who thinks herself reasonably intelligent, but admits it takes me a few beats to sort out …. Holland, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, the lowlands, Dutch, Danish, Denmark, Deutschland… (I have to pause and remind myself that the Netherlands and Scandinavia both sound plural, but Netherlands is the singular country, while Scandinavia the group of countries, that the Netherlands (think: nether, low,) is what I grew up calling Holland. And yep, the sorry truth is that if people from Denmark and Norway spoke Dennish and Norwinnian, it would be easier for me. But sadly, the few letter changes just mess me up, and it takes me a minute to place the Danish with Denmark and not the Dutch speakers of the Netherlands; and Norwegian with Norway, also not the Netherlands. My brain has a number of these perennial mix-ups. I have to pause to keep straight the various Lewises: C.S., Sinclair, and Carroll; As a kid I thought it odd that Golda Meir could have run a country and the film studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.. .I would hope if I ever live or travel there in northern Europe, the fog would lift. But for now, I’m just an Amerrican-speaking Amerrrican doing my best. Cheers

45. Dutch, Danish, same difference | The Endless Night - June 3, 2013

[…] 1. Thomer M. Gil – November 27, 2007 […]

46. Ruben - June 10, 2013

I have to admit I like the Danes. There are worse countries to get confused with than Denmark.

47. Kjeld - November 12, 2013

Well I am dutch and like Pauline I have been to Denmark too and think exactlyt the same: I feel right at home. I remember very well when we drove from NL to DK via a part of Germany, enetering Denmark was like entering a Dutch province.
We have more in common I think than any other country. I can read the language right away (it is not identical, but enough words are either the same or similar). The culture is the same, climate is the same.The geography is the same. The houses and roads all look the same. We both love our bikes a lot. They have aebleskiver and we have poffertjes (and these are rather similar) ;-) We are very direct, we are rather private. The mentallity is similar.
We have many, many Danes for a long timeplaying football here. In interviews, they say the same thing too. I remember Michael Laudrup (a Dane) saying that “The Netherlands is not like being abroad”. I remember Jan Heintze, another Dane, answering why all of them talk Dutch in a matter of weeks or months “Well, Dutch and Danish…there is not much of a difference, is there?” We had a Danish exchange student and we were flabbergasted how well he spoke Dutch in a matter of a few weeks. To me, spoken Danish isdifficult I have to say. In fact, to me it is the real difference I can think of.
Anyways: may be Americans make the error of mixing them up, but quite a few Dutch and Danes make a mistake to answer how completely different they are. Just go to eachother country and you’ll be amazed. Even with the knowledge of the footballplayers etc I know I was quite amazed.

48. globalizer - November 13, 2013

And your name looks so Danish also! I agree with you about all of this – both that Danes and Dutch people have a lot in common, and also that spoken Danish is a bear to deal with. I have never been sorry to be confused for somebody Dutch, only amused. Thank you for sharing your experiences!

49. curs valutar azi - March 15, 2014

Citind despre Dutch, Danish, same difference mi-a dat seama cate mai am de invatat.

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