February 5th, 2012 | Cross Campus

MEDANSKY: In defense of Dutch

Don't diss Dutch.
Don't diss Dutch. Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

On Friday, guest columnist Gavin Schiffres wrote against Yale’s mandatory language requirement. “The only language most students will need,” Schiffres tells us, “is English.” According to Schiffres, languages like “Zulu or Dutch” prove irrelevant in our increasingly globalized world, and the mere fact that Yale allows students to learn such banal tongues in the pursuit of L3 credit counts as tacit admission that the requirement offers no inherent utility.

And while I found myself agreeing with Schiffres’ assessment of the requirement as a whole, I also found myself frustrated that he chose to single out specific languages as especially useless, languages that exemplify two fascinating civilizations. Surely, a rational student can chose to study Zulu or Dutch, and many do. As a student in DUTC120, I’d like to vouch for both Dutch language—at Yale and in general—and the spirit of small language courses in general.

Remember, of course, that Yale does not mandate students learn Zulu or Dutch to graduate. Yalies freely choose languages based on any amalgamation of personal reasons, career aspirations or intellectual curiousities. A student aspiring to a career in Middle East conflict resolution would certainly prefer Arabic or Hebrew over most of Yale’s language offerings. Similarly, just as a student studying African history might want to learn Zulu, a student interested in international law might opt for Dutch—both the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice are located in The Hague.

The Netherlands offers a rich intellectual tradition; many famous English political scientists fled to the Netherlands during periods of unrest in their native lands, and a recent Directed Studies lecturer even waxed poetic on the importance of the language for aspiring political theorists. The Dutch Golden Age exemplified a triumph of art, commerce and science; today, the Netherlands remains an important case study for anyone interested in water issues, religious diversity and controversial social issues.

Plus, small language classes like Dutch offer students the chance to learn languages in close-knit, supportive environments, perfect for anyone who struggled in high school to plow through required language courses. And we get to listen to awesomely addictive elementary Dutch songs.

Basically, Dutch naysayers make me as sad as a stale stroopwafel. What languages are most “worthy” of study and whether there ought be a language requirement at all are two separate issues—and it’s a shame that Schiffres conflates them.