Taal & Tongval 2014 - Conference theme

Taal & Tongval: Language Variation in the Low Countries is a peer-reviewed journal devoted to the study of language variation in the Netherlands and Flanders, in neighbouring areas and in languages related to Dutch, which organises an annual one-day colloquium on a current topic in variationist linguistics (cf. http://www.taalentongval.eu). The 2014 edition of the annual Taal & Tongval colloquium took place in Ghent on November 28 and was devoted to the topic of '(De)standardisation in Europe: qualitative and quantitative approaches'.

Since a couple of decades societal factors such as immigration, globalisation, democratisation and informalisation have led to a changing, perhaps weakened position of European standard languages (cfr. Deumert & Vandenbussche 2003). In Denmark and Germany, for instance, standard languages are said to be increasingly affected by demotisation (Coupland & Kristiansen 2011, Auer & Spiekermann 2011, Davies 2012, Svenstrup 2013), implying that “the ‘standard ideology’ as such stays intact, while the valorization of ways of speaking changes” (Coupland & Kristiansen 2011:28). Other speech communities, however, such as Norway, would be marked by destandardisation, i.e. the process whereby “the established standard language loses its position as the one and only ‘best language’” (Coupland & Kristiansen 2011:28). These changes challenge the present mainly production focused research methodologies and the contexts in which language variation is traditionally studied. New, more experimental methods have recently been introduced to document the European standard language situations, along with new contexts (e.g. the media) in which language use, attitudes and ideologies can be studied (Soukup 2012, 2013). Those methods and contexts have been described and used by (among others) the members of the SLICE-network, a network of European sociolinguists focusing on “Standard Language Ideology in Contemporary Europe” (cfr. Kristiansen & Coupland 2011, Kristiansen & Grondelaers 2013).

In the Dutch language area the standard language is at present also undergoing change. In the Netherlands Poldernederlands is for instance said to be an important competitor for the existing standard language (Stroop 1998, Van Bezooijen 2001). To what degree this relatively new language variety has to be seen as an instance of either destandardisation or demotisation is however unclear; the current research into Poldernederlands seems to be only partly embedded in the international context. In Flanders, the traditional position of the standard language is mainly challenged by the functional elaboration of tussentaal (literally ‘in-between-language’), i.e. the intermediate registers in between standard language and dialect. As is the case for Poldernederlands, discussion remains on the question whether the elaboration of tussentaal constitutes an instance of destandardisation or of demotisation (Plevoets 2008, Grondelaers & Van Hout 2011, Van Hoof & Jaspers 2012). Experimental and mediacentred approaches are increasingly used to shed light on this issue (Grondelaers & Van Hout 2011, Impe et al. 2009, Geeraerts & Van de Velde 2013, Speelman et al. 2013), while innovative lectometric methods allow insight into the stratigraphy of Dutch language varieties (Geeraerts et al. 1999, Speelman et al. 2003). However, several questions still remain unanswered with the present methodologies; fine-tuning the present techniques is warranted to elucidate various aspects of the changes in progress. The Dutch language area is an ideal breeding ground to experiment with such methodological innovations, as in the relatively small language area, a wide diversity in language ideologies and attitudes can be observed (Grondelaers, Van Hout & Speelman 2011).

The 2014 edition of the Taal & Tongval colloquium aimed at bringing together researchers to debate about standard language ideologies and the ways in which these are best studied. More specifically the following questions were at the centre of discussion:

(1)    Which methods can be implemented to gain insight into standard language use and standard language ideologies? Do new, experimental methods yield results comparable to those of traditional methods?

(2)    What can the different methods tell us about the standard language situation, both in the Dutch language area and beyond? To what degree do we find traces of destandardisation and demotisation?

(3)    What are interesting contexts to study standard language ideologies in?

These and other topics were further explored in the colloquium, which hosted invited talks by Winifred Davies (Aberystwyth University), Stefan Grondelaers (Radboud University Nijmegen), Tore Kristiansen (University of Copenhagen) and Barbara Soukup (University of Vienna). In addition, there were 13 regular paper presentations, in three parallel sessions.