First, "when gender is assigned" doesn't make any sense. In Dutch every noun has gender. I think what you mean is that de is the definite article for the common gender, which is the result of merging the masculine and feminine genders, whereas het is the definite article for the neuter gender.
It is important to distinguish between grammatical gender (Standard Dutch: common gender, neuter gender; Flemish and German: masculine, feminine and neuter gender) and natural sex (male, female and neutral/things). There is a statistical correspondence between the two, but it's not a strict equivalence.
In English, there is no such thing as grammatical gender. The personal pronouns are assigned according to sex and the articles don't distinguish at all.
In German (and, I believe, Flemish), only grammatical gender matters. The articles are assigned only according to grammatical gender. For the personal pronouns this is mostly true as well, though when grammatical gender and natural sex don't agree, most people switch at some point because it feels so awkward to refer to a girl as it or to a company as she.
Dutch is in between these two extremes. The articles are assigned only according to grammatical gender. But the personal pronouns are usually often assigned according to natural sex, as in English.
Meisje is one of those words for which grammatical gender and natural sex don't agree. This is because all diminutives have neuter gender:
- de meid (the maid[en]) - feminine gender in Flemish, hence common gender in Dutch
de jongen (the boy) - masculine gender in Flemish, hence common gender in Dutch
het meidje, simplified to het meisje (the little maid[en]) - neuter gender
- het jongetje (the little boy) - neuter gender.
For some reason that probably has to do with the fact that meid was originally a job description whereas jongen originally meant young one, the diminutive is practically required for girls and quite unusual for boys.
No, in Flemish it is also het meisje. What is different in Flemish is that masculine and feminine are not yet merged into a single common gender. There is no difference about the neuter gender.
Flemish speakers are still aware that de appel is masculine and de banaan is feminine. So they are likely to refer to an apple as hij and to a banana as zij. In Northern Dutch, zij is only used when referring to a de noun that describes a female person or animal. Northern Dutch speakers use hij for all other de words. (And of course het for het words, just like Flemish speakers do.)
Given the exposure of Flemish speakers to Northern Dutch, I wouldn't worry about the difference.
To clarify the terminology: -je is a diminutive suffix. If you stick it to the end of a noun, the result is called a diminutive.
Diminutives are indeed always het words.
Diminutives are very popular in Dutch, even in situations when you wouldn't dream of using them in English. Theoretically we could make use of this fact when we have forgotten the gender of a noun. Just turn it into a diminutive and the original gender doesn't matter any more.
It's just an ending (or sometimes a prefix) that you can stick to a noun to make it appear smaller - much like adding the word little. (Or more precisely, the diminutive is the word that results.) Some diminutives are neutral, and some carry strong positive or negative connotations. English doesn't really have diminutives any more, but it still has plenty of words that were originally diminutives.
E.g. practically every first name ending in -y was originally a diminutive of the corresponding first name without -y. In fact, they are still often used this way. This is why a little boy called John may be referred to as "Johnny" (typically in the phrase "little Johnny"), but for an adult it's much less likely except it's actually their official name. (Diminutives are getting more and more popular as official first names because lots of parents thinking about names for their baby aren't thinking further than the first few years.)
Other, more obscure diminutives with some traces in English include:
- -ling (darling = little dear one, duckling = little duck, sterling = little star)
- -let (starlet = little star, droplet = little drop, applet = little application)
The closest thing that English has to an actual productive diminutive affix (i.e. a suffix or prefix that you can still use to form new words almost freely) is probably the prefix mini-.
In English, grammatical gender is all about meaning, but that's a relatively recent innovation. In Proto-Germanic it was just about grammatical form, and in Dutch it often still is because Dutch hasn't finished the transformation yet.
Diminutive isn't a generic term for words denoting small things or people; it's a technical term for such a word that only applies when it is formed from another by means of a regular transformation. In Dutch that means adding -je (or one of its variants depending on how the original word ends), or occasionally adding -ke or -lijn. Saying that jongen is a diminutive is a misunderstanding like saying that marriage is a conjunction, or that action and active are verbs.
Jong is an adjective meaning young, and de jongen is a derived noun meaning young one. Nouns derived from adjectives get either the natural gender of whatever they signify, or if there is an implied noun they can get the grammatical gender of that noun. Therefore, if jongen had started as a word for little children it might have started as a het word because het kind would have been implied. But it probably started as a word for young men, so natural gender and grammatical gender of the implied noun de man agreed that it should be masculine (which together with feminine became common gender in modern Dutch). So this is mostly about meaning, though form can play a role.
Diminutives are different. In them, the original principle that grammatical gender is determined by grammatical form is still strong.
It is also important to understand that diminutives are probably not common enough to influence the nature of the transformation from formal grammatical gender to natural gender. Nouns are unlikely to become het words just because they denote small people or animals, and if de words for small objects turn into het words, then it is only because they denote objects, not because of their smallness.
A boy will be called jongen and a young boy jongetje. A girl can be called meid (somewhat archaic) and a young girl meisje. More commonly a girl will be called 'meisje' and a young girl 'klein meisje'. Het meisje, het kleine meisje, de jongen, de kleine jongen, het jongetje.
Unnecessary extra info: Curiously 'meis' is used but as a 'vergrootwoord', the opposite of diminutive, of meisje. Women sometimes use this word among friends, 'meis, ❤❤❤ is het?'. But I don't think it will ever get any pronoun in this use. Meid -> meisje -> meis Parents can refer to their children as 'kleine meid', something comparable to 'little man'.
As an english native speaker I know that doesn't sound right but I understand it and makes it sound like a person from a rural area said it. Would it be similar if talking to some one that is a native speaker or dutch? They would just think your from a rural area or would they just thin k your stupid because you don't know the grammar?
Good point. In that respect Simius' comparison wasn't perfect.
A little complication we have here is that in the sentence we have the boy and the girl, not the children. When two singulars are connected by and, the odds that someone uses the singular form of the verb are slightly increased (at least in my native German, and probably also in Dutch), though it's not correct.
As a native German speaker I am pretty confident that the second article in Dutch cannot be omitted because it's a different grammatical gender from the first one. As in German, Dutch girls have neuter gender because technically the words meisje and Mädchen are diminutives, whereas boys have common gender (in Dutch) or masculine gender (in Flemish and German) as expected, because the words jongen and Junge are not diminutives.
As a result, your English sentence "The girl and boy eat rice" can only be translated to Dutch by duplicating the definite article. It follows that it is in fact a correct English translation of the Dutch sentence.
Because it depends on context which of these translations is correct. Most hints are general ones just for the words, not adjusted for the context in which they appear.
- "The girl and the boy eat rice." - Correct translation, though it's hard to think of a context in which this is the required translation. (Nevertheless I usually enter this kind of variant when I am on my Android phone, to save typing.)
- "The girl and the boy are eating rice." - Correct translation, and the best in the most likely contexts.
- "The girl and the boy eating rice." - Not a full sentence; makes sense in English as a description of a particular girl and boy (the ones who are eating rice). But since the Dutch sentence can't be read that way (in Dutch you can't drop the relative pronoun), it's not a correct translation.
Just eating on its own would e.g. be the correct translation of eten in this sentence:
- "Eten is belangrijk." - "Eating is important."
Or it can appear in the Dutch progressive:
- "Hij is rijst aan het eten." - "He is eating rice."
Dutch isn't just English with different words. It's a different language. Dutch for "He is eating" is normally just "Hij eet" (literal translation: "He eats"), or when you really want to stress the progressive aspect it's "Hij is aan het eten" (literal translation: "He is at the eating").
No, that's not how it works in English.
Maybe you are referring to the third person singular -s form of most English verbs as 'plural' because it looks like the plural -s of nouns? Better don't do that. It's terribly confusing because the two endings just look the same by accident and have pretty much opposite functions.