Book Review: Woordenlijst/Wordlist

Woordenlijst/Wordlist:  Sranan-Nederlands; Nederlands-Sranan; English-Sranan with a list of plant and animal names

This is a book that lives up to its name.  It is by no means a fancy or elegant read, but it is a book with some solid scholarship and one that can greatly help one in gaining a solid vocabulary in Dutch and Sranan, the local Creole language of Suriname.  I found this book at one of the tourist stops we made at the Feast of Tabernacles in our tour of the country, and as there was only one copy at the store, I let my mother buy it rather than get it myself, since she (like me) has an interest in this kind of book [1].  Indeed, there is a whole genre of book known as the word list, in which someone does the best that they can in summarizing a language’s vocabulary by establishing a one to one connection as best as possible between two languages.  In this case, the authors and editors of the work decide to be more ambitious than usual by including a large degree of interesting and worthwhile material that to fully enjoy requires that one at least be able to understand Dutch.  The result is a worthwhile book for an academic audience interested in Suriname and its obscure native creole tongue.

This book is 300 pages long and contains a rather striking collection of materials.  Most of the book consists of three sets of corresponding wordlists in alphabetical order, between Sranan and Dutch, between Dutch and Sranan, and between English and Sranan.  And if this were all the book contained, it would still be a good book, since the editors include a list of words that includes striking language and even some pejorative expressions that add a great deal of flavor to one’s writing and speaking.  Some of the words, like Sabbath, are of religious interest to this reader (and much of his audience), and other words, like the way that Sranan considers the Dutch to be potato eaters, has some clear and interesting historical context.  Yet there is more to the book than these materials.  As the subtitle indicates, the book contains some excellent word lists of a botanical and zoological nature, including plants, mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, fishes, and notable invertebrates.  Beyond this, though, the book includes some grammatical and orthographical help in how words are spelled and formed as well as some resolutions on the standardization of the local Sranan tongue, all of which helps to place the study of the local language in its proper historical and political context.

As might be imagined, the ideal audience for this book is likely not very large.  There are not many people who would undertake the sort of academic study of the local Sranan tongue that this book encourages.  However, as there are at least two people in my family (my mother and I) who are rather formal and prolific in our study of languages, this book is certainly of interest to at least someone.  If one was an American who sought to better understand both Dutch and Sranan, this book would be of great help in building a vocabulary, and would likely have to supplement some kind of further study by either immersion or formal instruction or some combination of the two.  However, if someone had a working knowledge of both Dutch and Sranan, this book’s information would be extremely valuable in allowing someone to gain a rapid working command of a sizable vocabulary in both languages and get a sense for the semantic domains of both languages as they interact with each other.  To be sure, not many people need or want a working knowledge of both Dutch and Sranan, especially among the English-speaking world, but for those who do, this book is certainly a worthwhile and interesting one.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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