River

Out of a walk at Kinderdijk came a new curiosity: just how many words does the Dutch language have for ‘waterway’? My initial top-of-mind list had 18 items, but when I got on the Internet and used a few handy sites more words could be added – even a few I’d never knew existed. Anyway, a couple of hours later I had 168 words,  all describing situations of still or moving water on or under the earth’s surface. Am sure I could jack that number up to over 200 – haven’t done water in caves yet, nor part-time waterways like wadi’s, nor did I exhaust the shipper’s language dictionary.

The exercise made a conversation I had with  Brisha, my classmate from Ethiopia, come back to me. During a tour of the Utrecht canals I found myself  trying to explain the Dutch  polders to him. He wanted to know how we divided water – where we are working to get rid of the stuff. Stymied by lack of proper knowledge on my side and lack of experience with water on his, this wasn’t our most fluent conversation ever. It made me fall back on the old adage “While God created the world, it was the Dutch who created Holland”.

So my next question became: does the Dutch language reflect the effort we spend on keeping our feet dry?  Decided to split my list : man-made, nature-made and generic.  Then counted again, and this is what came out:    83 words for man-made,  79 for nature-made, and  6  in the category ‘generic’.So man-made won by a narrow margin –  Quod Erat  Demonstrandum

Later, I extended my list –  it now incorporates more than a thousand words. Sorting them left and right showed me that the space inbetween could be a river – see image below. 

I am now making the river flow on a screen, words go from top to bottom in a never-ending stream – a river of words. It is a work of great promise I think – tight in its visual presentation, poetic in the river sounds that accompany it. A nice challenge it is to do code again, too :).