Sunday 20 November 2011

Taalcultuur in Limburg

I usually flick through the local free weekly newspapers just to check I’m not missing anything important. Now and again however, there’s an article that catches my eye. On 16 October, for instance, an article on Limburg dialects appeared in the weekend freebie, Zondag, announcing the establishment of a new professorship, Taalcultuur in Limburg, at the University of Maastricht. Ever since my Dutch teacher (see previous blog entry) told me about the sjlips-kravatt line (the Benrather Linie), I’ve been interested in Limburg dialects. Plus I’m fascinated by the fact that although my son and I have always spoken English with each other, his mother-tongue is actually Limburgs. Below is my loosely translated English version of the article (written by Frank Benneker).  

Since October of this year the University of Maastricht has had a chair devoted to local dialects in the province called Taalcultuur in Limburg. The holder of this new position is Leonie Cornips and she will be responsible for research into the local dialects that are spoken in the region.

Although she grew up in the province, surprisingly Ms Cornips doesn’t speak the dialect. “I understand all the different variants, I just don’t speak one.” Cornips received a doctorate for her study of Dutch that was being used in Heerlen, which has been heavily influenced over the past century by outsiders moving there, and later she immersed herself in the dialect of the town. “Compared to the eastern and western parts of the country, there are differences in sentence structure. In Limburg you’ll hear sentences like ‘Ik schenk me een kop koffie in’ which sounds odd to other Dutch speakers and is often labelled as incorrect, even though such sentences are widely used in Limburg.”

The new chair is co-funded by the Dutch province of Limburg. Cornips will be researching the relationship between language and identity in Limburg. “The province has its own distinct identity, especially since Limburgers are keen to differentiate themselves from Hollanders. Even so, there are differences in identity within the province too, for example, between the north and south of Limburg and between rural and urban areas. The question remains: to be a real Limburger, is it necessary to speak Limburgs?”

As part of her research, Cornips will be investigating how children who are brought up in Dutch and Limburgs are influenced by the two. “A lot of studies have been done into children who are raised bilingually, say in Dutch and English, but of course these two languages are distinct. Part of my research is to find out how children’s command of Dutch is affected by the amount of dialect they speak. For example, recent studies have shown that the neuter definite article het is dying out in the highly urbanised west of the country, so nowadays kids there are starting to say de meisje instead of het meisje. Children who speak Limburgs are quicker to identify masculine, feminine and neuter genders because dialect differentiates between them, which can be more of a help when they start learning German or French.”

“I’ll also be carrying out anthropological studies to find out in what situations use of Limburgs prevails over Dutch as a spoken language. Class, it appears, plays no role at all in dialect use and it’s not unusual for management meetings to be held in Limburgs, where this would be unheard of in other parts of the Netherlands. How big a factor does regional identity play in this? This is one of the questions that I will be asking.”

One thing’s for sure: dialect is alive and kicking in Limburg. “A study in 2004 asked parents what ‘language’ they spoke to their children. The results showed that parents in Limburg more frequently spoke dialect with their kids than their counterparts in Friesland and Zeeland. And throughout the province, it’s common to hear children speaking dialect.” 

For more information:
Limburgish (Wikipedia article in English)
in Dutch: