Setting the standard: Norms and usage in Early and Late Modern Dutch (1550-1850)

Funded by the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO)
PhD researcher: Eline Lismont
2020 – 2023
Supervisor: Rik Vosters

While implementation and acceptance of language norms are often described as crucial steps in the standardization process, recent empirical studies in a range of European languages show that the relationship between norms and usage is not self-evident. If and to what extent norms spread from grammarians and other codifiers’ prescriptions to actual usage depends on various factors, but an overarching empirical analysis into this phenomenon for the history of Dutch is still lacking. The proposed project therefore aims to determine the exact relationship between norms and usage by systematically analysing chronologies of change in a multi-genre corpus from the 16th to the 19th century. For a first substudy, we will investigate 10-12 linguistic variables undergoing standardization in the period under discussion, and propose an integrated analysis of norms, usage, and a range of factors mitigating the possible impact of norms on usage. In addition, in a second substudy, we will use normative works as a window into variability: the rejection of ‘incorrect’ forms in grammars, for instance, can help us attest and date incipient changes, but can also shed light on linguistic conditioning and social meaning or stigma attached to particular variants. The combination of both substudies will provide us with a broad view on the standardization history of Dutch, and will allow us to (re-)evaluate the effectiveness of standardization and norm implementation as top-down processes.

External project advisors:

Nicoline van der Sijs (Radboud University)
Gijsbert Rutten (Leiden University)
Spiros Moschonas (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens)