Current research

Ongoing research projects:

Burgerwetenschap: Wikiscripta Neerlandica II
Project: Forgotten voices from below
Project: Pluricentricity in language history
Project: The influence of French on Southern Dutch in the 18th and 19th century
Project: Linguistic minorities in the multilingual context of Brussels
Project: Language planning of the Chinese diaspora in Antwerp and Brussels
Project: A study of language variation in discourse on terrorism in Chinese and Western newspapers
Research network: Historical Sociolinguistics Research and Training Program

Wikiscripta Neerlandica II. Burgerwetenschap als breekijzer voor de ontsluiting en digitalisering van talig erfgoed uit Noord en Zuid (1700-1900)

Rik Vosters (VUB)wikiscripta - logo (breed)
Wim Vandenbussche (VUB)
Marijke van der Wal (Leiden)
Gijsbert Rutten (Leiden)
Jill Puttaert (VUB)
Iris Van de Voorde (VUB)
Heleen Willemsen (student-assistent)

Met steun van het Algemeen Nederlands Verbond (ANV)

De geschiedschrijving van de Nederlandse taal baseert zich vandaag meer dan ooit op een rijk arsenaal van bronnen: om te weten te komen hoe het Nederlands er in het verleden uitzag, gaan we niet alleen uit van traditionele bronnen zoals grote literaire werken of middeleeuwse oorkondes, maar kijken we ook steeds meer naar minder formele, handgeschreven teksten, zoals dagboeken en brieven, vaak van gewone mannen en vrouwen die nooit de ambitie hadden om in latere eeuwen gelezen te worden. Hoe breder het gamma aan bronnen dat we kunnen bestuderen, hoe rijker en dieper ons inzicht in de taalgeschiedenis wordt. Zo kunnen handgeschreven teksten uit de privésfeer als egodocumenten ons bijvoorbeeld veel leren over hoe het Nederlands in het verleden moet hebben geklonken, en het taalgebruik van schrijvers met een beperkte opleiding staat vaak veel dichter bij de alledaagse spreektaal dan dat van de grote schrijvers. Een rijk arsenaal aan gedigitaliseerde bronnen is dan ook noodzakelijk om onderzoeksvragen uit verschillende domeinen empirisch te kunnen beantwoorden. Door ons niet langer uitsluitend te concentreren op de taal van hoogopgeleide mannen uit de grote steden, kunnen we steeds meer het klassieke beeld van de taalgeschiedenis aanvullen en – waar nodig – bijstellen. Deze aanpak past binnen het intrigerende studiedomein van de historische sociolinguïstiek, waar de relatie tussen taal en de bredere maatschappelijke en geschiedkundige context centraal staat.

Na het succes van het eerste Wikiscripta-project, in het kader van het onderzeoksprogramma Brieven als Buit aan de Universiteit Leiden (o.l.v. Marijke van der Wal) werd in 2016 Wikiscripta Neerlandica II gelanceerd als een voortzetting en verbreding van het eerdere project, met steun van het ANV. De opzet gaat uit van een samenwerking tussen de Universiteit Leiden en de Vrije Universiteit Brussel, die beide heel wat expertise hebben opgebouwd in het domein van de historische sociolinguïstiek. De filosofie achter het project is hetzelfde gebleven: vrijwilligers worden ingeschakeld om talig erfgoed te digitaliseren. Net als in de eerste ronde gaat onze aandacht in dit project expliciet uit naar minder traditionele bronnen. Waar het eerste Wikiscripta-project echter voornamelijk gericht was op 17de- en 18de-eeuwse gekaapte brieven, zullen de vrijwilligers nu aan de slag gaan met egodocumenten zoals brieven en dagboeken uit de periode 1700-1900. Net als de scheepsbrieven betreft het dus minder formeel materiaal: geen gerenommeerde schrijvers of vooraanstaande mannen uit de sociale elite, maar nobele onbekenden hebben het te onderzoeken materiaal vervaardigd. Bovendien wordt er voorrang gegeven aan bronnen uit de periferie van het taalgebied: voor Holland en Zeeland is er bijvoorbeeld al heel wat materiaal beschikbaar, terwijl dat veel minder het geval is voor het Zuiden van het taalgebied, maar ook voor andere regio’s uit het Noorden. Enkel door bronnen uit het hele taalgebied te verzamelen, kunnen we tot een brede en geïntegreerde geschiedenis van het Nederlands komen.

Forgotten voices from below. A sociolinguistic analysis of lower class correspondence in the Low Countries between 1780 and 1900.

Funded by the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO)
FWO Aspirant: Jill Puttaert
2014 – 2018
Supervisor: Rik Vosters
Co-supervisor: Wim Vandenbussche

This project deals with the way in which ‘ordinary’ people at the very bottom of the social ladder wrote during the late 18th and 19th centuries in Flanders and in the Netherlands. Traditional language histories usually focus on the language of the upper classes and literary authors, and tend to overlook how the masses of paupers and laborers actually wrote. This is quite strange, given that very few people actually wrote like famous poets or novelists, and that the bigger part of the population belonged to the lower walks of society. We would thus like to add to the traditional approach to language history from above by taking a perspective from below. To this end, we will investigate personal letters from writers with a non-elite background (a corpus of soldiers’ letters), and at documents in which poor men and women begged for financial support from their local authorities (a corpus of pauper letters). By looking at the language in these letters, we hope to learn more about the way in which the Dutch language changed during the 18th and 19th centuries. We should also be able to get a better insight in the differences between Northern and Southern Dutch at the time, and in the tension between the local dialects and the standard language.

Read more about it in:

Puttaert, J. (2016). Linguistic hybridity in nineteenth-century lower-Class letters. A case study from Bruges. In A.-C. Edlund, T. G. Ashplant, & A. Kuismin (Eds.), Reading and writing from below. Exploring the margins of modernity (Northern Studies Monographs 4, pp. 215–234). Umeå: Umeå University / Royal Skyttean Society. [pdf]

Pluricentricity in language history. Building blocks for an integrated history of Dutch (1550-1850)

Funded by the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO)

Iris
Iris Van de Voorde

FWO Aspirant: Iris Van de Voorde
2017 – 2021
Joint PhD VUB – Leiden
(Co-)supervisors:
– Rik Vosters
– Gijsbert Rutten
– Wim Vandenbussche
– Marijke van der Wal

The Dutch language area is pluricentric, meaning that it has multiple centers (viz. Holland in the Netherlands and Brabant in Belgium) from where language norms spread to more peripheral regions. Traditional approaches to the history of Dutch often assume this state of pluricentricity is a recent phenomenon dating back to the nineteenth century. However, there is reason to believe that it is a much older phenomenon. We therefore propose an in-depth study of historical pluricentricity from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. Moreover, language histories usually discuss the history of Southern and Northern Dutch separately, especially from the 1500s onwards. Southern and Northern varieties may not have been very different though, and could thus be treated simultaneously in an integrated history of Dutch in the Low Countries. By approaching the history of language from the perspective of historical pluricentricity, we will be able to reflect on the degree to which these varieties were integrated in the past. This project will thus lay the foundation of an integrated history of Dutch through corpus-based analyses of post- medieval Dutch. We will compare formal and less formal sources from two central (Holland, Brabant) and two peripheral areas (Zeeland, Flanders) in order to help re(de)fine the history of the Dutch language by focusing on the language area as a whole and on the various tensions between linguistic centers and the linguistic periphery within the language area.

The influence of French on Southern Dutch in the 18th and 19th century: A case study in historical sociolinguistics

PhD candidate: Charlotte Verheyden
2017 – 2021
Supervisor: Rik Vosters

More info to follow soon.

Linguistic minorities in the multilingual context of Brussels: A case study of the Chinese community

Funded by the China Scholarship Council (CSC)

XIangyun
Xiangyun Li

PhD candidate: Xiangyun Li
2016 – 2020
Supervisor: Rik Vosters

The Brussels Capital Region is a dynamic urban region in the heart of Europe, housing the seat of numerous international organizations and institutions, but also providing a home to a large number of people who migrated to the city from all over the globe. With about a third of the population having a foreign nationality, and an even larger group with a family migration background, Brussels is a profoundly and increasingly international and multilingual region: recent surveys suggest that almost half of all families in the city have at least one home language other than Dutch or French, and in about a third of all families, neither one of the two official languages of the region is spoken (Janssens, 2013, p. 34).

Not all languages, however, can boast a similar base of speakers or similar levels of support, and language shift is a common phenomenon in migration contexts: speakers from linguistic minorities may give up one or more of their heritage languages in favor of a more dominant language such as French. Other groups may maintain their heritage language(s), but restrict its use to the home context. This leads to a division of different patterns of language choice in different domains: the official languages, French and Dutch, along with other dominant languages such as English, are frequently used in the public domain and for formal communication, while many smaller, immigrant languages remain in use within the family.

This research project aims to shed more light on such issues of domain-specific language choice more generally, among linguistic minorities in the multilingual context of Brussels. As a case study, we will focus on the Chinese community specifically, undertaking a comprehensive survey of language use, language attitudes and language planning among Chinese heritage language users in the city. By monitoring their language use, by evaluating the attitudes and ideologies held by speakers, and by examining language management and language planning from a critical perspective, we hope to gain insight into issues of language shift and maintenance in different spheres of usage in this particular community, but also enrich our knowledge of linguistic practices among smaller groups of linguistic minorities in an urban, multilingual urban context more generally.

Language planning of the Chinese diaspora in the multilingual context of Antwerp and Brussels

Funded by the China Scholarship Council (CSC)

Rui
Rui Guo

PhD candidate: Rui Guo
2017 – 2021
Supervisor: Rik Vosters

This project will investigate the language use of Chinese immigrants as  heritage language users, carrying out research on Chinese communities in multilingual Antwerp and Brussels. Antwerp and Brussels, two major cities in Belgium, are characterized by their highly multilingual environment and population. The two ethnic neighborhoods (‘Chinatowns’) attracting Chinese immigrants, who began settling here from the 1920s onwards, have grown into spaces of consumption for both Chinese and non-Chinese people (Pang, 2012, p. 14), gathering people of different backgrounds with distinct languages from various places. This complicated linguistic landscape, with diversified linguistic phenomena in the two Chinese neighborhoods render Antwerp and Brussels suitable locations for a sociolinguistic study focusing on Chinese as an immigrant minority language, where the variety of public language signs for different customers in commercial areas, language choices in different domains, language variation and change caused by language contact in people’s daily life, and similar topics in the broader domain of multilingualism and language contact deserve further exploration. Thus, this research project focuses on Chinese communities in the multilingual context of Antwerp and Brussels, from both a language sociological and a sociolinguistic perspective. In this vein, we hope to provide a new case study for the study of language use and language contact by comparing these two different Chinese neighborhoods in terms of the different languages used and their visual presence in the public spaces, the language/dialect usage among Chinese business owners in such multilingual settings, and issues of language variation and change within Chinese minority communities in Belgium.

A study of language variation in discourse on terrorism in Chinese and Western newspapers

Funded by the China Scholarship Council (CSC)

Jingxuan
Jingxuan Guo

PhD candidate: Jingxuan Guo
2017 – 2021
Supervisor: Jelle Mast
Co-supervisor: Rik Vosters

Terrorism has been a headline, triggering a wide public concern, on television and in newspapers, due to a growing number of terrorist attacks. To discover more about the perception of and attitudes towards terrorism in both Chinese and Western media, this project will extract relevant linguistic and extralinguistic information from a range of newspaper corpora 2001 to 2015, in order to compare and analyze diverse aspects of language use, language variation and media discourse. Specifically, we will combine a quantitative corpus-linguistic approach with a qualitative approach based on framing theory.

Research network: Historical Sociolinguistics Research and Training Program

Coordinator: Rik VostersLogo-FondsWetenschappelijkOnderzoek_RGB
2017-2021

Historical sociolinguistics studies the interrelatedness of linguistic and social factors in language history, succesfully applying principles of modern sociolinguistics to the historical development of language. This relatively young domain developed in the 1980s, and gained enormous momentum worldwide since the late 1990s and early 2000s (Auer et al. 2015; Hernández-Campoy & Conde-Silverstre 2012). Central themes and approaches are the study of standardization and the relation between language norms and language use, multilingualism and historical code-switching, migration and language contact, the tension between written evidence and the spoken vernacular, ideological aspects of language variation and change, language history from below, the impact of social networks and communities of practice, and historical language policy and planning.

In 2005, the Historical Sociolinguistics Network (HiSoN) was founded by Wim Vandenbussche (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Stephan Elspaß (Universität Augsburg), Joachim Scharloth (TU Dresden) and Nils Langer (University of Bristol) as an informal gathering of scholars in the field, organizing yearly summer schools, alongside regular conferences and colloquia panels on various key subjects within the discipline. In 2012, the network launched two book series on historical sociolinguistics, with John Benjamins (Amsterdam/Philadelphia) and Peter Lang (Oxford), and 2015 saw the launch of a dedicated international Journal of Historical Sociolinguistics with De Gruyter Mouton (Berlin/Boston). In spite of the success of HiSoN, currently connecting over 500 scholars worldwide, the network has remained an informal gathering of scholars, without any structural financial support, depending on ad hoc funding and repeated support from the universities involved.

The aim of this FWO Scientific Research Network application is threefold:

  1. to consolidate the HiSoN network and firmly secure the position of Flemish expertise in the research network internationally;
  2. to initiate a range of new activities as part of a broader Historical Sociolinguistics Research and Training Program (HSRTP), with a distinct focus on postgraduate training and joint research initiatives;
  3. to expand the existing network interdisciplinarily and attract young and established scholars from neighboring disciplines.

Firstly, we believe that today, the time is ripe to consolidate the network as an FWO Scientific Research Network, and thus formalize the long-standing tradition of research collaboration and training that the Historical Sociolinguistics Network initiated. A formalized research network would provide the necessary contacts and training opportunities for both Flemish and international researchers. This will lead to a significant increase in joint publications and joint research initiatives, with the aim of setting up a solid base for larger corsortium-based funding opportunities.

Secondly, we aim to establish a new Historical Sociolinguistics Research and Training Program (HSRTP), building on the 10-year experience of the summer school which attracts young scholars at the PhD and postdoctoral level from across Europe and beyond. Our network would offer them a comprehensive range of research, networking and training events, such as a yearly young researchers workshop, a series of guest lectures about key issues in historical sociolinguistics, the yearly summer school, and smaller dedicated training events with, for instance, a methodological focus, based on specific needs within the research community. Given the limited training opportunities for historical sociolinguistics in traditional doctoral and postdoctoral training programs, such an in-depth training initiative is deemed crucial for the development of the discipline in future years.

Thirdly, apart from drawing from a wide pool of young scholars within the field, this initiative explicitly sets out to also attract academics from neighboring disciplines. The historical sociolinguistic enterprise is interdisciplinary by nature, not only bringing together contemporary sociolinguistics with historical linguistics, but also explicitly exploring the common ground between linguists (historical and contemporary), translation scholars, social or cultural historians, and literary scholars. Examples of such interdisciplinary collaborations in the past are the 2009 Bristol conference and subsequent edited volume on Language and History, Linguistics and Historiography, and the 2015 Brussels master class and colloquium on Linguistic and historical perspectives on identity and authenticity in egodocuments and other writings ‘from below’. This grant would aim to strengthen and expand this cross-disciplinary collaboration, both within and beyond Flanders, and explicitly aim at organizing events to attract scholars from neighboring fields into historical sociolinguistics.

To achieve these goals, we have assembled a strong team of four Flemish partners (VUB – UGent – UA – KUL), all of whom have contributed to the development of the field of historical sociolinguistics at an international level. In addition to the Flemish partners, however, we also set up a wide consortium of sixteen international partners, all of whom are internationally recognized key players in the field, and all of whom are eager to contribute to the Scientific Research Network by offering their (cross-)disciplinary expertise as a basis for training, networking or joint research initiatives. Given the strong European focus of the discipline, all of our international partners are based at a wide range of European universities, in addition to our North American partners at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, who will act as a liaison between our network and the North American Research Network in Historical Sociolinguistics (NARNiHS) which is currently being established.

Steering committee: Rik Vosters (coordinator), Wim Vandenbussche (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Mark Janse (Universiteit Gent), Peter Petré (Universiteit Antwerpen), Lieven D’hulst (KULeuven), Laura Wright (University of Cambridge), Gijsbert Rutten (Universiteit Leiden), Jeroen Darquennes (UNamur), Stephan Elspaß (Salzburg)

The international consortium includes partners from Universitetet i Agder (Norway), Freie Universität Bozen (Italy), University of Cambridge (UK), Universität Duisburg-Essen (Germany), Europa-Universität Flensburg (Germany), Helsinki Yliopisto (Finland), Université de Lausanne (Switzerland), Universiteit Leiden (Netherlands), Universidade de Lisboa (Portugal), Université du Luxembourg (Luxembourg), Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz (Germany), Universidad de Murcia (Spain), Université de Namur (Belgium), Universität Salzburg (Austria), University of Sheffield (UK) and University of Wisconsin – Madison (USA)