Introduction to Dutch - A Practical Grammar
Shetter (William)
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Preface to the Fifth Edition

  1. Nearly thirty years ago, when this grammar was first written, the Netherlands was a very different country from what it is today, and that first edition reflected many aspects of Dutch life that have since suffered to a greater or lesser extent from onrushing modernization: a restful, predominantly pastoral setting, bicycles out-numbering cars, a style of life that to an American eye seemed engagingly unhurried and gracious, the home delivery of nearly everything, and the pre-TV art of domestic conversation. Each succeeding revision between that first edition and the present fifth has not only raised prices all around and made dates current again, but weighed each sentence for its appropriateness to the increasingly rapid pace of a modern urban society, without entirely losing sight of some elusive but special style of life in the Netherlands.
  2. In the mid-50's it was difficult to find any formal instruction in the Dutch language, and those with a need for – or just curiosity about – the language were apt to find themselves making do, as I had once done, on their own. Today the language is taught regularly at more than thirty institutions in the U.S. alone, and many types of language courses and special intensive programs are offered in the Netherlands and Belgium as well. This expansion of opportunities has naturally stimulated the creation of a wide and still-growing selection of pedagogical materials for English speakers, mostly designed for classroom use.
  3. The Introduction today is an attempt to meet the need of those both in and out of the classroom. It has long since proven its usefulness as a text for elementary classes, without ever abandoning its loyalty to the independent struggler. The presentation of the grammar makes every effort to remain compact and as self-explanatory as possible, maintaining what has always been acknowledged to be the book’s strongest points. The heart of all the practice material is still the ‘Practice sentences’, the precise uses of which are left up to the needs and ingenuity of the user: simple translation, question and answer practice, or substitution drills. For home use, an English translation of all these sentences is provided in an appendix.
  4. The Introduction’s cover shows the extent to which the whole grammar has also been overtaken by modernization. The user will find numerous 'Summaries’ set off in boxes, an occasional little ‘By the way-’ comment on some point about language or culture, and a variety of visual schemes, illustrations and cartoons, all done by the author. Each chapter includes a few sample exercises, here and there brightened up with an illustrative scheme or cartoon. Dialogs have been included in most chapters, good for learning by heart and as a basis for classroom conversation. The English dialog in each chapter can be used for translation back into Dutch or as a set of cues for rapid review. The photographs introduced in this edition add a little extra window onto everyday Dutch life and can also be put to good use in stimulating conversation. But none of this is intended to be fully adequate to teaching needs: introduction of drills, newspaper material, poems and popular songs and the like must be left up to the instructor.
  5. Orderly presentation of grammar and vocabulary in regular steps exacts its price in any elementary text in the resulting ‘grammarese’ tone of example sentences. The first sentences are unnaturally simple, a trait exploited here for a bit of comic relief in the first few English dialogs. Simplification and adaptation of the Dutch prose steadily yield to the authentic complexity of real speech, until the final chapter presents three short essays that are fully genuine both in style and in the unmistakable Dutchness of their point of view. They provide a concluding invitation to the reader to apply his knowledge of the grammar, but even more to test his increasingly valuable ability to figure out the meanings of new words.
  6. Experience has demonstrated that the grammar works best when used in conjunction with regularly introduced annotated reading material. The successor to Een goed begin.. which faithfully accompanied the Introduction through two-thirds of its life, is in preparation as this is being written. Reading Dutch will offer graded and exhaustively annotated contemporary literary selections and poems. The first stories can be introduced about the time the past tense is covered (Chapters 13 and 14), and it can continue by functioning as a bridge between elementary material and unedited reading.
  7. The use of an elementary grammar will provide constant reminders of how much about the language is not being said. Over the years the Introduction has undergone steady expansion but has always resisted the temptation to burden the user with more than is absolutely essential for a ‘first acquaintance’ with the language. For both a supplement to the grammar and a more advanced and detailed coverage than can be undertaken here, the reader is urged to turn to Bruce Donaldson’s Dutch reference grammar (Martinus Nijhoff, 1984).
  8. All these various improvements come, directly or indirectly, through the practical use of the grammar in situations where very little that is unclear or poorly conceived has much chance of passing unnoticed. Every revision - on an average of one every six years - has owed special gratitude to those with sharp eyes, shrewd assessment of a need and a willingness to offer suggestions. By now this host includes so many colleagues and so many generations of students and other users that individual acknowledgements of indebtedness are not practical. I continue to invite any and all criticisms and suggestions.
    → Department of Germanic Studies, Indiana University; July, 1983

Book Comment

Martinus Nijhoff, Leiden, 1988, Sixth Edition, second run, 1990

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
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