Universiteit Leiden

nl en


Multilingual The Hague

Tuesday 20 February 2018
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


The Hague is a city with more than 50% non-native speakers or speakers with a non-native Dutch background. It is, moreover, said to be the most segregated city of The Netherlands, which is not only evident in the traditional spread of the native Dutch population across the city (cf. the allegedly salubrious/insalubrious contrast reflected by zand “sand” vs veen “bog”) or the social distinction between being a Hagenaar or a Hagenees, but also in where in the city its immigrants or expats are located. Several immigrant groups – e.g. Moroccans, Poles – have a very low socio-economic status, which leads to high unemployment figures in these areas (e.g. Schilderswijk) as well as to an underestimate of their potential economic power. The Hague currently, for instance, has a Dutch-only policy, which not only ignores the present multilingual nature of its population but is in my view also seriously detrimental to the city’s multilingual status.

Exactly how many languages are currently being spoken in The Hague is not known. In 2001 Extra et al. reported the results of a survey among primary and secondary school children, which led to an overview of 88 so-called home languages in addition to Dutch. Since then, however, the sociolinguistic make-up of the city will have changed due to various recent socio-economic developments, and a new survey is called for (cf. Cynthia Groff’s Marie Curie project).

In the meantime, and as I will report on in this paper, I have been trying to make an inventory of the languages currently spoken in The Hague by tracing native speakers of as many different languages as possible. In doing so I have been drawing on my personal social network (first and second order contacts), and have been publishing brief accounts of the interviews I conducted in the local newspaper Den Haag Centraal since February 2016. The aim of these four-weekly columns (“De taal van Den Haag”; see also my Facebook page “Haagse Talen”) was to try and give a (positive) face to speakers of different languages in the city, and thus to contribute to a more nuanced view of the multilingual nature of The Hague among the general public.

All this has meanwhile led to the acceptance of my project “Spreuk op de Stoep”, jointly carried out with four Leiden students of linguistics, by the local government as one of the ways of enhancing the current entrance into the old city form railway station Hollands Spoor. Eventually, I aim to publish my findings in a monograph called Multilingual The Hague, for which I will draw on the various methods of describing and defining multilingual cities as carried out in the LUCIDE project (King and Carson 2016), which includes Utrecht but not The Hague.


Den Haag Centraal: http://www.denhaagcentraal.net/.

Extra, Guus, Rian Aarts, Tim van der Avoird, Peter Brouder and Kutlau Yağmur. 2001. Meertaligheid in Den Haag: De Status van Allochtone Talen Thuis en op School. Amsterdam: European Cultural Foundation.

King, Lid and Lorna Carson (2016). The Multilingual City: Vitality. Conflict and Change. Bristol/Buffalo/Toronto: Multilingual Matters.

This website uses cookies.  More information.