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Royal distinction for linguist Ingrid Tieken

Professor of Sociohistorical Linguistics Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade was appointed Knight in the Order of the Lion of the Netherlands on 11 September in her home city of The Hague. Deputy Mayor Bert van Alphen presented her with the decoration.

Ingrid Tieken royal honour
The deputy Mayor addressing the audience.

Is language a prescribed system?

The full description of Tieken's field of work is: socio-historical linguistics of English. But her expertise stretches much further than language alone. At the start of her career, in the 1980s, Tieken was driven by the question of the extent to which language in the past, specifically in the eighteenth century, was regarded as a prescribed system of rules. What particularly fasinated her was the conflicting relationship between language rules and language use: where do language rules originate from and how do they relate to the actual language use of individual speakers?

A royal decoration is awarded to individuals who are nominated for their exceptional services to society. Tieken retired this summer, but she continues to apply herself passionately and with enormous conviction to furthering understanding of the significance of language.

Ingrid Tieken lintje
Probably, most people would have the same reaction on discovering that the occasion is about them.

Bridge between language protagonists

It was this question that was to lead to her major NWO project Bridging the Unbridgeable (she had previously received a VICI subsidy from NWO). Tieken's aim with this project was to close the gap between the three main protagonists in prescriptivism, the setting of rules for how the language should be used: the linguists themselves, the prescriptivists (who wrote language usage guides) and the people who depended on these highly popular guidebooks (now mainly websites) to instruct them in correct spelling and grammar. 

Social issues

Tieken initiated a number of research projects based on issues that are the subject of social debate, such as the supposed decline in the command of English among young people on the one hand, and the increase in the use of English terms in everyday Dutch on the other. She looked from a historical perspective at the English of non-native users of English.

Ingrid Tieken lintje
The Deputy Major of The Hague presenting Ingrid Tieken with the decoration.

No ivory tower for Tieken

Tieken, never someone to remain within the ivory towers of academia, has conducted leading-edge research and has equally eminent publications to her name. She has given public lectures, written newspaper articles and columns, organised exhibitions and conferences and made good use of emerging social media, including blogs, Facebook, and Instagram. Her work has brought her a wide following of language devotees. 

Ingrid Tieken royal decoration
Tieken first had to recover from the surprise, before expressing her thanks.

Proverbs in the kerbstones of The Hague

In her latest project Tieken studied multilingual The Hague: 89 languages are spoken in the city, and probably even more than that. She interviewed people living in the city who speak a foreign language, and wrote articles about them in local newspaper Den Haag Centraal. The interviews have now been published in book form. Her idea of creating an attractive walking route (the Loper Oude Centrum)  incorporating proverbs from these different languages in the kerbstones leading from Holland Spoor station to the centre of The Hague was approved: some thirty kerbstones are now inscribed each with a proverb in a language spoken in The Hague. There is also an app where pedestrians can hear the languages and read more about them. Tieken is tireless in studying and promoting a broader understanding of how language works. 

The 'Loper Oude Centrum', the walking route Tieken devised, won the Public Space Prize in The Hague in early September. Almost ten years ago, she was awarded the Order of St Mellitus by the Bishop of London for her book The Bishop’s Grammar published in 2011, about Robert Lowth (1710-1787), the founder of prescriptivism. 

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