Research from 1966 showed that Dutch people who emigrated to the United States quickly exchanged their own language for the vocabulary of their new home. But what about today? The project ‘Vertrokken Nederlands/Emigrant Dutch’ from The Meertens Institute and the Taalunie investigates how the Dutch of emigrated Dutch and Flemish is changing in their new environment.
Since 2000, more and more Dutch people have opted to live abroad. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, an average of more than 150,000 Dutch people emigrated each year over the past three years, to both European and non-European countries. Many Flemish people also leave more often: in 2017 about 35,000.
But how do Dutch and Flemish emigrants view their mother tongue and the language of their new home? How do they pass on their language to the next generation? Do they preserve their identity through language or cultural habits? And does that happen the same everywhere or does it differ per country, continent, generation or region of origin?
These are questions where the research 'Vertrokken Nederlands' of the Meertens Institute and Taalunie, led by linguist Nicoline van der Sijs. looks for answers. ‘Vertrokken Nederlands' will be the most ambitious research ever conducted into the position and variation of Dutch.
Because this is such a large project, a pilot was started. An international panel of informants, scientists and citizens, were given an initial survey with questions about which language or dialect the emigrant speaks at home or in the surrounding area, their knowledge of Dutch and other languages and their views on the subject. Finally, the expatriates were given a test about their Dutch vocabulary, their knowledge of Dutch expressions and a spoken memory game.
The first survey was already completed by 4,500 people, mainly by Flemish and Dutch people who moved to Australia, France, Germany, the United States and Canada.
The second survey was recently published. It focuses more on the preservation and transfer of mother tongue and culture in the emigration country, with questions about stories, songs, media use, holidays, eating habits and clothing. Are fairy tales from the country of origin still being told or read out, Dutch or Flemish games still being played, Dutch books being read out or read out, dialect songs, lullabies or Saint Nicholas songs being sung?
If these surveys show that there is sufficient interest among emigrated Dutch and Flemish people and if there is extra subsidy, a large-scale study will be conducted into the language of Dutch and Flemish people abroad.
The ultimate goal of 'Vertrokken Nederlands' is to collect data from Dutch varieties worldwide, both in the form of spoken language and written answers to surveys.
The research is still in full swing. If you already want to read some answers, you can visit the Facebook group ‘Vertrokken Nederlands’ .