Something I like to pull out in my class Language Power & Identity, for the Humanities Lab, is a little pamphlet simply titled "God Bestaat" (God Exists). The pamphlet is quite interesting in a variety of ways.
First of all, it's the fact that it is a pamphlet at all, and has this bold pious statement on the front. I don't know if this is any different in other countries, but I strongly associate pamphlets like that, with similar slogans like "Jezus Leeft!" (Jesus lives), "God houdt van U" (God loves you) with evangelist christians and/or Jehovah's witnesses. Here already this pamphlet clearly deviates from the norm. This pamphlet is to inform and convince people that Islam is the true religion. It is somewhat obvious from the cover already, but only if you're tuned in enough to associate middle-eastern ornaments with Islam.
While the very existence of this pamphlet is already quite interesting (more commonly, here at least, Muslims are prone to just hand out translations (or as they call it interpretations of the meaning of) the Quran). The contents of the the folder are even more interesting. It, of course, cites several translated verses from the Quran. For those who know Dutch, one thing will be instantly obvious about these citations, but knowing that some of my readership doesn't, I'll translate them below:
Hoe kunt gij Allah ontkennen, terwijl gij levenloos was en Hij u leven schonk? Hij zal u doen sterven en daarna zal Hij u doen herleven en dan zult gij tot Hem worden teruggebracht (Q2:28)
How canst thou deny Allah, while thou werest lifeless and He granted ye life? He shallt ye make die and afterwards shallt He ye make revive and then shalt thou be brought back to Him.
I hope my pseudo-King James Bible English communicates somewhat how this text reads to a Dutch reader. The stylistics and grammar of this text are highly archaic, and strongly emulate the linguistic style of the Dutch equivalent of the King James Bible, the early 17th century Statenvertaling. Surprising features are:
- The use of gij (with accusative u), the in Hollandic Dutch, extremely formal form of jij 'you'. In the south the form is still in use, and in Flemish Belgian the default, but it's very marked in standard Dutch.
- u the unmarked formal form for
- Capitalized Hij and Hem 'he, him' to refer to the deity. Typical biblical spelling style.
- doen sterven, doen herleven "do die, and do revive", causatives formed with the verb 'to do'. Highly unusual in modern day Dutch, where laten 'let' would be much more usual.
Gelooft daarom in Allah en Zijn boodschapper, en in het Licht (Islam) dat Wij hebben nedergezonden. En Allah is op de hoogte van hetgeen gij doet. (Q64:8)
Believeth therefore in Allah and His messenger, and in the Light (Islam) that We have sent nether. And Allah is informed of all that what thee dost.
- Imperative plural gelooft "believe!" Dutch no longer has an imperative plural separate from the imperative singular, and the form has officially been abolished as a form usable in written language for over 50 years now. It is however, very typical for Bible translations to have it
- nedergezonden, an archaic form of neergezonden 'sent down', without the typical and quite widespread loss of intervocalic d in Dutch. This shift is somewhat incomplete due to dialect mixing, and quite a few words have pairs, where the form with d is more posh than the one without: veder/veer 'feather', lade/la 'drawer', slede/slee 'sled', leder/leer 'leather'.
- hetgeen is a somewhat archaic form of the relative pronoun. Normally one would say "En Allah is op de hoogte van (dat) wat je doet"
Indien er naast Allah andere Goden waren in (de hemel en op aarde) zouden dezen zeker tot chaos vervallen... (quoted as Q21:23, but in fact Q21:22)
In the case that there were Gods besides Allah in (the heaven and on earth) these would certainly would certainly fall into chaos
Nothing too unusual in this phrase, except for the form dezen "these", in Dutch the common gender singular demonstrative pronoun deze 'this' is undifferentiated from the plural deze 'these'. The plural form dezen is archaic.
So we can conclude that all the citations of the Quran in this pamphlet make use of a very archaic style. So why is that? It certainly is not because there are no available Qurans in regular language. This translation donated to me by www.ontdekislam.nu, has perfectly normal sounding Dutch in its translation:
Hoe kunnen jullie niet in Allah geloven! Terwijl jullie levenloos waren en Hij jullie het leven heeft gegeven. Toen gaf Hij jullie de dood en opniew bracht hij jullie tot leven en tot Hem zullen jullie terugkeren (Q2:28)
Geloof daarom in Allah en Zijn Boodschapper en in het Licht (de Koran) dat Wij hebben neergezonden. (Q64:8)
Als er daarin goden naast Allah zouden zijn geweest, dan waarlijk, beiden (de hemelen en de arden) zouden vernietigd zijn. (Q21:22, "dan waarlijk" ~ "then verily" is actually pretty unusual to use in normal language, but the rest sounds natural).
Considering the ready availability of translations which are perfectly intelligible to a Dutch speaker, we must conclude that the use of this archaicizing translation was a deliberate choice by the people who made this pamphlet. As I alluded to already, the translation clearly invokes a "biblical" feel to it, because it emulates the language of the Statenvertaling. This seems to be the exact reason why they made the choice to use such a translation. The Statenvertaling language has the gravity and feel of a religious book, and if you want to invoke those feelings, you use this form of language. It seems to me, that the pamphlet is probably also directed more to Christians , than atheists, and that they are playing into the familiarity and emotions associated with such language for Christians to spread their message.
So to conclude this pamphlet perfectly shows how choice of register can be used for strategic purposes. Moreover, I hope I have shown that there is a real religious register of Dutch, which not only Bible translators, but also other religious people can draw upon to invoke a sense of Holiness, to their specific religious text.
P.S. A somewhat painful mistake is that one of the headers of the pamphlet reads Allah is u God en ons God "Allah is you (sic) God and our (neuter, sic) God", failing to reproduce the possessive pronoun uw (not just orthographically, but also phonetically different from u) and making Allah a neuter noun (it is, off course common gender, and onze should have been used).