U.S. English Foundation Research



Language Research

8. Miscellaneous: What else can be found about languages and minorities?

Up until the end of World War II there was limited diversity among nationalities of the Netherlands. Nine out of every ten immigrants were from neighbouring countries of Belgium and Germany, and the majority were women who had married Dutch men. There were limited numbers from the former colonies such as; the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), Suriname and the Dutch Antilles in the Caribbean. Other foreign citizens were rare. Jews and the French Protestant descendents (the Huguenots) had been living in the country for a number of generations and they could neither by citizenship nor country of birth be identified as foreigners. More importantly, they were seldom, if ever, regarded as such by other people in the Netherlands.

Currently, 2.7 million people of non-Dutch origin live in the Netherlands. Half come from non-western countries, and their number has grown much faster than that of immigrants from western countries. This growth results from the combined effect of immigration and procreation.

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Updated (January 2001)


The University of Amsterdam has withdrawn its controversial plan to end Frisian studies after the Student Council and the Central Employer’s Council vetoed the decision of the Dean to swap Frisian in Amsterdam for Modern Greek in Groningen. Students and staff of the University were arguing about the importance of Frisian as the second state language. Both the Province of Friesland and Frisian Academy expressed disappointment at the Court of Amsterdam decision. The Court claimed that ending the Frisian studies is not contrary either to the Charter for Minority and Regional Languages or to the Language Covenant between the Dutch Government and Friesland.

The leading Frisian language cultural organization “Eftrije” expects a positive attitude towards Frisian and minority languages from the next royal couple King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima Zorreguieta.


According to a survey of three Dutch regional public broadcasting stations, the preservation of the regional languages is important for 85% of the inhabitants of the provinces Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe.

The Low-Saxon language organization SONT welcomes results of the survey and it will use them as a new argument to ask responsible politicians for Low Saxon lessons as a part of curriculum. Low Saxon enjoys certain recognition in Netherlands according to the second chapter of the European Charter for Minority and Regional Languages; however, there are no laws or regulations for the use of the language in education, public administration or in courts.

In Friesland, 58% of the questioned people answered that schools should make a better effort in teaching Frisian.

Frisian became an obligatory subject in 1980. However, only one out of four primary schools teaches Frisian at good level in Friesland. Despite the law which states that both languages should be taught at equal level, the amount of time dedicated to Dutch is much higher.

Frisian lessons are often too easy for Frisian-speaking pupils and too difficult for Dutch-speaking pupils. Most schools simply lack a language policy. The provincial authority is now considering developing instruments to promote an educational language policy and bilingual education.

The Frisian Department of the Association of Teachers of Living Languages plans to warn primary schools, which pay very little attention to Frisian and confront them with the consequences.

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Updated (March 2002)


The provincial parliament of the southernmost Dutch province of Limburg is expected to adopt its first program on language policy. This program is a result of the Limburger language recognition by the Dutch Government, according to chapter two of the Charter for Regional and Minority Languages of the Council of Europe.

For the first time, language policy will get an annual budget of €230,000. After the adoption of the program the language promoter Pierre Bakkes can move ahead with the production of schoolbooks in the Limburger language, and do a course for teachers to help them teach Limburger. Bakkes was appointed last year with the assignment to develop a language policy for Limburg. The aim of the policy is to develop a certificate for teaching of Limburger similar to the certificate for Frisian except that Limburger will be a subject of choice not an obligatory subject.

The schoolbooks for primary schools will be made available in five different dialects. According to Bakkes this is necessary, because the Limburger spoken around the city of Venlo in the North is very different from the Limburger spoken in the former mining town of Kerkrade in the South of Limburg.

Paul Prikken, a member of the working group for a unified written Limburger (Algemeen Geschreven Limburger), disapproves strongly with the intention to publish schoolbooks in five different dialects. “One edition in a unified orthography can be used all over Limburg. Editions in different dialects complicate matters, because it requires for instance that the schoolteacher speaks the same variety, which is not always the case. It is expensive and above all it teaches children different orthographies.” Last year the working group of Prikken published a unified dictionary of Limburger, based on the variety spoken alongside river Maas in central Limburg. This dictionary was compiled without any subsidy.

The Limburger language is spoken in both the Dutch and the Belgian province of Limburg. Belgium, however, decided not to recognize the Limburger language, which means that for the time being no language policy whatsoever is being developed in Belgian Limburg. Cross border collaboration is limited to a Belgian representative in the new Council for Limburger (Road veur’t Limburgs). In order to develop language policy further, the province of Limburg has widely advertised a public inquiry on Internet, on the Limburger language and on language attitudes in Limburg. The results of this inquiry will be presented on a conference on language revitalization in Maastricht in May.

In spite of the publishing of varieties, Prikken is still positive on the intention of the province. “We have been asking for a policy for 14 years. Nowadays at least we have a policy, a budget and a language promoter. If this is sufficient to save the language remains to be seen, because in the North the language is losing ground rapidly.”

Bakkes estimates that the language is currently losing 20 percent of its speakers with every new generation. At present Limburger is still spoken by an estimated 2 million people in the provinces of Limburg in the Netherlands and Belgium. An overwhelming majority of them are illiterate in their own language. According to the Limburger language association Veldeke, the language counts as many as 500 different dialects.

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