Fehringer, Carol (1999) A Reference Grammar of Dutch. With Exercises and Key
Cambridge University Press. 185 pages
Reviewed by Laura and Radu Daniliuc (The Australian National University)
For those interested in learning Dutch or in improving their knowledge about
the Dutch language, Cambridge University Press offers "A Reference Grammar
of Dutch. With Exercises and Key" by Carol Fehringer, Lecturer in German
Linguistics and Dutch at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. As its title
clearly indicates, it is an accessible reference grammar designed for
practical use and which aims at students of Dutch at the
beginner/intermediate level. From a teaching methodology perspective, Carol
Fehringer focuses particularly on the difficulties encountered by
English-speaking students, who have the same Germanic linguistic basis.
Fundamentally, the book is divided into two main parts which make it
practical and in the same time user-friendly: Part 1 consists of a reference
grammar of Dutch, while Part 2 contains a set of exercises relating to the
grammatical problems presented in Part 1.
The structure of the first part, somehow similar to that of Michael Swan's
famous "Practical English Usage", is more like that of a dictionary than
that of a traditional grammar. The author's main objective was to present
grammatical information is presented in short separate entries arranged in
alphabetical order. There are 80 entries which cover the main areas of Dutch
grammar such as: sounds and letters, forming simple and complex sentences in
Dutch, questions and commands, basic parts of sentence, negation of a
sentence, tenses and verbal constructions, special types of verbs, and rules
for deriving words from other words.
As for the nature of the contents, most of the points discussed are
grammatical, specialized linguistic terminology is kept to a minimum, as the
book does not address a scholarly audience. However, the author also treats
specific questions of vocabulary referring to difficulties in translating
Dutch into English and vice versa. She comments on some Dutch equivalents
for "all", "both", "know", "live", "may/might", "mean", "put", "same",
"such", "then", "understand", "used to", "when" and "-ing" constructions.
Each section ends with a presentation of unpredictable exceptions to the
rules, less common forms, observations on style and everyday usage and more
complicated issues. The student may find information not only about nouns,
articles, adjectives, different kind of pronouns, adverbs, verbal tenses,
conjunctions, but also about word order, compound words, spelling, letter
writing, number, expressing time, and other essential aspects in learning
another language. As verbal tenses and moods is a rather delicate issue,
they are presented in separate entries and towards the end of the book there
is another entry summarizing verbal tenses. The author also concentrates on
the differences between Dutch and English word order that may puzzle English
learners of Dutch.
Each entry is linked to an exercise or a set of exercises (in the larger
sections) which are graded according to complexity (Level 1: Beginners to
intermediate and Level 2: Intermediate to advanced) and designed to practise
a particular grammatical issue. There are three types of exercises: Type A:
Recognition and understanding of Dutch forms; Type B: Application of rules;
and Type C: Free composition. A key to the exercises and an alphabetical
list of common irregular Dutch verbs are provided at the back of the book.
As the author intends to offer the students a wide range of genuine language
excerpts, each grammatical rule is illustrated by simple, everyday examples.
There is an entry dealing with some general aspects of colloquial Dutch. The
English reader is also provided with a brief summary of standard Dutch
pronunciation. There are 48 tables in the larger sections that help the
student focus on the main points of interest. A glossary of essential terms
is also provided at the end of the book.
At the beginning of the book, a didactic guide sets out the most important
grammatical topics and offers a suggestion for the possible order, from
basic to complex, in which they should be studied. The book ends with a
comprehensive index containing references to the entries and more specific
grammatical problems covered in the reference grammar. Students are advised
to refer to it when first looking for a particular grammatical topic.
As an overall appreciation, "A Reference Grammar of Dutch. With Exercises
and Key" is a useful tool for English (and not only English) students with
an inclination towards the Dutch language as it offers them basic
information on Dutch grammar and helps them put this information into
practice by the exercises it suggests. The dictionary-like form makes it
practical and user-friendly and puts an emphasis on the role of the student,
and not on that of the teacher, in the process of learning.