Language policy and language change in the north of the Netherlands

Activity: Teaching/Examination/SupervisionPhD candidate supervision


Languages and their many dialects change continuously, but the specifics of these
ongoing processes differ significantly between language varieties. Changes in
nonstandard varieties, for example, are often convergent to the dominant stan-
dard variety (Heeringa & Hinskens, 2015). Consequentially, traditional dialects
in Europe are typically leveled out or lost entirely since due to widespread lan-
guage standardization efforts. To protect minority languages as an important
part of Europe’s cultural heritage, the Council of Europe adopted the European
Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML) in the late 1990s. The
Netherlands has opted to protect Frisian under Part III of the ECRML (extended
protection through concrete measures) and, among others, Low Saxon under Part
II (general protection).

In this project we evaluate whether extended protection under the ECRML in the
Netherlands (Frisian) limits convergence towards the dominant language (Dutch)
more than general protection (Low Saxon) does. 1 These minority languages have
inherently different (socio-)linguistic contexts, but the recent change in language
policy can nonetheless be expected to play a role. The ECRML focuses specifically
on expanding the use of minority languages in new social domains (e.g. school
and court), which is an acknowledged predictor of language vitality (Lewis &
Simons, 2010), as is reflected by successful revitalization efforts (e.g. in Wales;
May, 2000).

In conclusion, we focus on these main research questions:
1. Have the northern dialects in the Netherlands changed over time, and if so,
how have they changed? Have they converged/diverged to or from Dutch,
or have they converged/diverged to or from each other?
2. How are the results from the apparent-time and real-time analyses related
to each other?
3. Is the accommodative behavior of speakers in small-scale dyadic interac-
tions predictive of how much they change during their lifespan?

We investigate phonetic change in Frisian and Low Saxon dialects using both syn-
chronic and diachronic approaches. Existing data are used to analyze community-
level change, and we also collect new data (partially from the same speakers),
which enables assessing and controlling for individual language change.
Furthermore, we proceed from a dialectometric perspective (aggregating over
many linguistic items), which yields a highly valuable view of language change
that differs from traditional studies focusing only on a specific small set of fea-
tures. We collect data in such a way that the latter type of study is also possi-
ble. To answer our research question, we use synchronic ATH data, and both
diachronic trend and panel data in one combined analysis, which provides a com-
plete picture of language change.
Period01 Oct 202001 Oct 2024
Examination held at
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • language change
  • dialect change
  • dialectometry