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Language use, language norms and linguistic identities in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. A historical sociolinguistic perspective on Southern Dutch in the early nineteenth century

Wednesday, 21 December, 2011 - 15:00
Campus: Brussels Humanities, Sciences & Engineering campus
Faculty: Arts and Philosophy
Rik Vosters
phd defence

This study takes the reader on a linguistic journey through the
Southern Low Countries during the eighteenth and early
nineteenth century. The period of the United Kingdom of the
Netherlands (1815-1830) is the main focus of our attention, and
we are concerned with variation in Southern varieties of Dutch at
the time. More specifically, we evaluate the linguistic consequences
of fifteen years under Dutch rule, when the Northern and
Southern Low Countries were reunited after a century-long

Our analysis of written language use in the early nineteenth
century is based on an extensive manuscript corpus from the
judicial domain, including police reports, witness depositions and
high court indictments. Sociolinguistic variation is the main focus
of our study: who wrote what, where, when, to whom, and why?
Linguistic analyses are supplemented with a thorough study of
language norms: we examined a large collection of normative texts
from the eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century South, including
grammars, spelling guides, schoolbooks and other types of
metalinguistic publications. The topics dealt with in our analyses
range from spelling and pronunciation to morphology and syntax.

This study shows that the traditional image of Southern Dutch as a
chaotic array of local patois without the superstructure of
supraregional language norms is erroneous. Instead of linguistic
chaos, we encountered a uniform Southern writing tradition,
which increasingly converged towards its Northern counterpart
during the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. While some
features developed into symbolic markers of linguistic resistance to
this trend, there is no doubt that the foundations for the later
unified standard language in North and South were laid and
solidified during the reunion of 1815-1830.