Identifying ‘varieties’ of Dutch: theory, methods, and perspectives
2022-04-13, 09:00–09:30 (Europe/Vienna), Room 1

One centennial discussion in linguistics concerns whether languages, or linguistic systems, are, essentially, homogeneous or rather show “structured heterogeneity”. In this contribution, the question is addressed whether and how sociolinguistically defined systems (or ‘varieties’) are to be distinguished in a heterogeneous linguistic landscape: to what extent can structure be found in the myriads of language variants heard in everyday language use? We first elaborate on the theoretical importance of this ‘variety question’ by relating it to current approaches from, among others, generative linguistics (competing grammars), sociolinguistics (style-shifting, polylanguaging), and cognitive linguistics (prototype theory). Possible criteria for defining and detecting varieties are introduced, both quantitative and qualitative, including covariance, stylistic functions, and emic category status.

In our talk, we will apply these criteria on the case of Dutch, using both findings from the literature and self-gathered data. On a theoretical level, we will zoom in on the effects of pluricentricity on linguistic repertoires, using data from endocentric areas (the Netherlands), exocentric areas (Flanders (Belgium)), and Surinam, where Standard Dutch functions as an exoglossic acrolect. On the methodological level, the findings underscore the importance of speech corpora comprising both inter- and intra-speaker variation on the one hand, and the merits of triangulating qualitative and quantitative approaches on the other. We also identify a number of questions to be addressed in future research.

Panel affiliation

Inter-varietal distinctiveness: How to distinguish and structure varieties

I am a postdoctoral researcher at the linguistics department of Ghent University. My research focuses on language variation and change in the Dutch language area, generally adopting a quantitative, multivariate, sociolinguistic perspective and integrating both production and perception data. My PhD dissertation (Ghent University, 2016) addressed the question how spoken Dutch in Flanders – with its wide diversity of dialects, standard language and intermediate language varieties – is structured and how it is evolving. As postdoctoral assistant at Ghent University (2016-2019), I further explored the question of linguistic systematicity and I started working on the development of ‘a parsed corpus of spoken Dutch dialects’ (with Anne Breitbarth, Jacques Van Keymeulen and Melissa Farasyn). From 1 October 2019 onwards, I am running a project, funded by the Flemish Research Foundation (senior postdoctoral fellowship, host institutions: Ghent University and KULeuven), comparing covariance patterns in spoken Surinamese and Belgian Dutch, to test the validity of theoretical models characterising language communities on the basis of the presence or absence of systematic covariance. Since October 2019, I am also co-supervising the concerted research project Productivity@work.