Innovations and Reproductions in Cultures and Societies
(IRICS) Vienna, 9 - 11 december 2005

<< Reproduktionen und Innovationen in Sprache und Kommunikation verschiedener Sprachkulturen
<< Reproduction and Innovation in Language and Communication in different Language Cultures

Continuity and innovation in the perception of language as a symbol of social emancipation

Johan De Caluwe ( Ghent University, Belgium)



The status of standard Dutch in Flanders, the Dutch speaking part of Belgium, has considerably changed within the past 30-40 years.

From the late 19th century up to the early seventies of the 20th century the driving force behind the propagation of standard Dutch was the strive for social emancipation of the Flemish people. The use of Dutch - and not French or English, and more in particular the use of standard Dutch - and not a dialect or any social or regional variety, was seen as a conditio sine qua non for upward social mobility of the Flemish people.

In the second half of the 20th century the Flemish people did reach an unprecedented level of prosperity, self-determination, and self-confidence.

"Never change a winning strategy" seems to be the motto of the older generation, fearing for the loss of status of the Flemish people in Europe if English and non-standard varieties of Dutch are tolerated in particular domains/media where only standard Dutch should be heard.

"Real emancipation entails the freedom of choice" is the reply of the younger generation, rejecting the paternalistic way in which the older generation tries to impose its interpretation of (linguistic and social) emancipation.

The continuity and innovation in the perception of standard Dutch as a symbol of social emancipation will be illustrated by a discussion of a selection of linguistic issues that recently have been subject to (at times passionate) public discussion:

(1) the use of English or Dutch in higher education;

(2) the 'kiss-and-ride"-debate, on the use of English or Dutch on signboards;

(3) the use of non-standard varieties of Dutch in Flemish media.

It is interesting to see that language issues of this kind conform to what we would call the dynamics of emancipation: each new generation's interpretation of emancipation can be legitimate, even if it comes down to the rejection of the "old" levers of emancipation. Older generations in Flanders laid down the following emancipatory measures in laws and decrees: (1) the use of standard Dutch in Flanders, (2) compulsory voting, and (3) free entrance of women on the labour market. Young people now claim

(1) the freedom not to use standard Dutch, (2) the freedom not to vote, and (3) the freedom not to enter the labour market, and to care for husband and children instead, without being considered traitors to the "right" linguistic/democratic/feminist cause.

Innovationen und Reproduktionen in Kulturen und Gesellschaften (IRICS) Wien, 9. bis 11. Dezember 2005

WEBDESIGN: Peter R. Horn 2005-09-29