Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Pardon my French? Dutch-French Language Contact in The Netherlands, 1500-1900

The main aim of this project is to provide a full analysis of the actual influence of French on Dutch in The Netherlands during the period of 1500 - 1900.

2018 - 2023
Gijsbert Rutten
NWO Free Competition

Present-day language debates often focus on the supposedly malign influence of English on Dutch, while reliable data on ‘Anglicization’ are largely lacking. Historical contact situations are even less well understood. An extraordinary lacuna in histories of Dutch is the role of Dutch-French contact.

We know that the use of French by Dutch speakers was severely criticized, and that a strong anti-French discourse developed. It is also often assumed that French had a strong effect on Dutch. Caught between Latin dominance in the Middle Ages, and present-day Anglicization, the period from 1500 to 1900 is often considered one of Frenchification. Interestingly, the period is also considered crucial for the standardization of Dutch. With most language histories focusing on standardization, Dutch-French contact has remained conspicuously absent from the research tradition. Apart from small-scale analyses, hardly any empirical studies have been carried out into the actual influence of French on Dutch. So, we have strong claims about Frenchification, yet hardly any empirical evidence to confirm or refute these claims.

This project is the first wide-ranging study of historical French-Dutch contact. The main aim is to provide a full analysis of the actual influence of French on Dutch by focusing on three contact phenomena:

  1. Dutch underwent language change.
  2. The new multilingual context implied language choice for multilingual speakers.
  3. The prominence of French led to a vibrant metalinguistic discourse about the presumed Frenchification of Dutch.

The results will offer solid evidence for a balanced assessment of other contact settings, including the supposed present-day Anglicization.

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