Category: events

PhD defense Iris Van de Voorde

On April 19th, FWO fellow Iris Van de Voorde will defend her joint PhD (VUB-Leiden) entitled:

Pluricentriciteit in de taalgeschiedenis. Bouwstenen voor een geïntegreerde geschiedenis van het Nederlands (16de – 19de eeuw)

(Co)supervisors: Prof. dr. Rik Vosters (VUB), Prof. dr. Marijke van der Wal (Leiden), Prof. dr. Gijsbert Rutten (Leiden), Prof. dr. Wim Vandenbussche


PhD defense Rui Guo

On April 12th, CSC researcher Rui Guo successfully defended her joint PhD (VUB-Antwerp) entitled:

When chopsticks meet forks: A linguistic landscape study on Chinese communities in multilingual Antwerp and Brussels

Supervisors: Prof. dr. Rik Vosters (VUB) Prof. dr. Mieke Vandenbroucke (UAntwerpen)

Congratulations, Dr. Guo!

The following article appeared as part of the Bladspiegel blog (Universiteit Antwerpen), written by Tine Van den Poel De Clippeleire


When chopsticks meet forks: a sociolinguistic story of Chinese entrepreneurs in Antwerp and Brussels

The ornate gate at the top of the street immediately gives it away. Or else, the restaurant and shop signs would: the Van Wesenbekestraat is unmistakenably the heart of Antwerp’s Chinese community. Rui Guo examined in both Antwerp and Brussels these displayed texts that make up the linguistic landscape. Her PhD research casts light on the Chinese diaspora in Belgium.

Dutch and French are not the only languages
Belgium is a linguistically and culturally diverse nation. It is home to many international institutions and different immigrant groups from various places across the globe. “Many studies focusing on the interaction of different languages in Belgium, especially in the context of Brussels, are very often limited to a strong focus on the dichotomy between Dutch and French as the two officially recognised majority languages,” says Rui Guo (VUB & UAntwerpen). “Studies investigating in depth the – especially smaller – immigrant languages are comparatively rarer. Even larger-scale overview studies of language proficiency and use in various social domains, such as Rudi Janssens’ Taalbarometer surveys, struggle with an underrepresentation of smaller linguistic communities.” For her doctoral research, Rui Guo examined the language use of one of these smaller immigrant groups by looking at Chinese minority groups in multilingual Antwerp and Brussels.

The use of Chinese in the streets of Antwerp and Brussels
Guo: “Chinese shops and other small businesses in the many Chinatown ethnic neighbourhoods throughout Europe use written texts and visual resources in their advertisements, signs, and naming practices. They attract a wide range of customers, including locals and tourists alike, and both from a Western or non-Western background. Walking around the streets of Chinese neighbourhoods in Europe, you will notice that the displayed signs also have different compositions. You can even find this variety in the different neighbourhoods within the same city.”

“A historical and comparative study of the public display of textual and visual communication on signs in three Chinese neighbourhoods in Belgium is important to understand the identity construction of Chinese immigrants. This research also shows how they carry out their commercial businesses in Belgium, which is a totally different context than their regions of origin. One of the questions that my PhD addressed was why ethnic Chinese neighbourhoods have very different outlooks in various cities in Belgium,” says Guo. This diversification is illustrated in the photographs above: in Antwerp and in Brussels’ Quartier Dansaert and Midi area.

Rui Guo | /


Workshop dialect contact

Antwerp in 1565 (Museum Plantin-Moretus)

On 18 January 2022 (9am – 12pm CET), the Historical Sociolinguistics Research Program (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) is organizing an expert workshop on dialect contact.


9:00 – 9:10 Introduction and welcome

Rik Vosters (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)

9:10 – 9:35 Joshua Brown (Australian National University)

Dialect contact, standardization, authority

9:35 – 10:00 Randi Neteland (Universitetet i Bergen)

Dialect contact: the role of the broader social context

10:00 – 10:25 David Britain (Universität Bern)

Looking for calm within the storm – dialect contact research and its elephants in the room

10:25 – 10:45 Break
10:45 – 11:05 Project presentation:
Dialect contact and standardization in 16th-century Antwerp

Julie Van Ongeval (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)

11:05 – 11:35 Responses by invited experts (10 min. each)
11:35 – 12:00 General discussion and conclusions

The workshop will take place online. Send an email to Julie (dot) Van (dot) Ongeval (at) vub (dot) be to receive the link if you wish to attend.


Dialect contact, standardization, authority (Joshua Brown)

This brief talk will consider some methodological questions researchers face when dealing with questions of dialect contact, standardization, and authority in the past. Social events during the early modern period, such as mass emigration, constant war, increased trade, and rapid urbanization, are characteristic of many locations across Europe. In Italy, these phenomena brought speakers of different ‘dialects’ into contact at the same time as a standard was evolving. A parallel development saw the rise of linguistic academies endowed with particular authority to make linguistic pronouncements, in an (often futile) attempt at inducing what was believed to be appropriate linguistic behaviour. How is one best placed to deal with dialect contact, standardization, and authority, when these terms are often ambiguous in the research literature, in different linguistic traditions, and across varied European contexts?

This talk considers what ‘dialect contact’ might mean and how it can be usefully applied to the other two terms in the title. I consider how data from northern Italy, in particular 1pl. verb ending –emo, can be considered as both dialectal and standard, according to the relative status assigned in the conflicting norm. This status, in turn, leads to the ongoing question of different types of standards, such as ‘incipient standard’ (Ammon 2003: 2), ‘informal standardization’ (Tuten 2001: 327), ‘ideology’ (Milroy 1991: 19), ‘failed standardization’ (Brown 2020), or standards with a ‘pluricentric base’ (Grübl 2013). The aim of the talk is to show how forms of dialect contact in the past can be interpreted in different ways according to the socio-spatial dynamics of the historic context, but also the theoretical framing of the questions posed by the researcher.


Ammon, Ulrich. 2003. On the social forces that determine what is standard in a language and on conditions of successful implementation. Sociolinguistica 17. 1–10.

Brown, Joshua. 2020. Language history from below. Standardization and koineization in Renaissance Italy. Journal of Historical Sociolinguistics. 6(1): 1-28.

Grübl, Klaus. 2013. La standardisation du français au Moyen Âge: point de vue scriptologique. Revue de Linguistique Romane 77. 343–383.

Milroy, James & Lesley Milroy. 1991. Authority in language: Investigating language prescription and standardisation. London: Routledge.

Tuten, Donald. 2001. Modeling Koineization. In Laurel J. Brinton (ed.), Historical linguistics 1999: Selected papers from the 14th international conference on historical linguistics, Vancouver, 9-13 August 1999, 325–336. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Dialect contact: the role of the broader social context (Randi Neteland)

In my research on dialect contact I have mainly worked on new dialect formation in industrial towns in Norway. New dialect formation is often considered a special case of dialect contact, as a new dialect formation situation is characterized by a sudden rise in the degree of linguistic variation in the local community, for example due to high immigration rates over a short timespan. It is also documented that most koine formation process follow a particular pattern where the various dialects in contact are levelled out, over a few generations, and a new dialect emerge. The formation of the new dialects in my research also conform to this pattern. However, when looking at the linguistic outcome of the koine formation processes, it is quite clear that the features that succeed in the levelling process are not necessarily majority variants in the feature pool of the dialects in contact; they may also be traditional local variants or standard language variants. In my opinion, this is because the contact situation is not set in a social vacuum, but happens in a broader social context of language use in the region or the nation. The language ideologies and language use patterns of the society at large, as well as ongoing linguistic changes, influence which features are used locally, i.e. the feature pool, and the new dialect that is formed is not only influenced by the dialects in contact, but also by these contextual factors. In my presentation I will give a few examples from my ongoing research on new dialect formation in Narvik and Kiruna, “twin” towns on the border of Norway and Sweden, to highlight how the different standard language ideologies and differences in standard language use in the two countries, influenced the linguistic outcome of the new dialect formation in these two towns.

Looking for calm within the storm – dialect contact research and its elephants in the room (David Britain)

The now 40+ year old research focus on contact approaches to dialectology (e.g. Trudgill 1986, Siegel 1985) has in some respects embraced, both methodologically and theoretically, some of the criticisms of the highly sedentarist and authenticist approaches to language variation that preceded it (and which continue to compete with it). Rather than entirely shunning mobile people (as traditional dialectology did and much of variationist sociolinguistics still does), it has investigated what happens when speaker contact, of different kinds, and of different durations, often motivated by mobility, brings distinct dialects together in interaction. Today, we have a rich understanding of the kinds of linguistic processes that typically occur in these contexts, and we have used these to help explain, for example, historical colonial dialect formation, supralocal regional dialect formation, second dialect acquisition, innovation diffusion, new dialect genesis and so on (see Britain 2018 for a summary). In so doing, contact dialectologists have been at the cutting edge of work aiming to describe dialect in ways that better represent how contemporary communities are made up.

Here I want to reflect, both theoretically and methodologically, however, on dialect contact research’s elephants in the room: “large presences that we collectively ignore, issues that we set aside in order to get on with our research enterprise. One might say we can’t do research without elephants, for if we didn’t take some things as given, we’d never be able to investigate anything. But eventually we have to look at those givens” (Eckert 2003: 392). What is it that we continue to tidy up and sanitise, what is it that we continue to ignore or put to one side, in order to try and find order in dialect diffuseness, to find descriptive ‘calm’ in the ‘storm’ of speakers and their speech communities in contact?

Dialect contact research, I will argue, still embodies some of the sedentarist tendencies of our predecessors in traditional dialectology, and of our colleagues in variationist sociolinguistics – it makes assumptions we need to question, assumptions which rely on stasis as the norm, rather than on mobility. Mobility is still seen as ‘special’ rather than as banale, rather than as ordinary, rather than as to be expected. My aim is not to undermine what has been achieved, but, following Eckert, to reflect upon what our achievements in the field have helped us take for granted, and upon the challenges that still face us.


Britain, David. (2018). Dialect contact and new dialect formation. In Charles Boberg, John Nerbonne & Dominic Watt (eds.), Handbook of dialectology. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. 143–158

Eckert, Penelope. (2003). Elephants in the room. Journal of Sociolinguistics 7: 392–7.

Siegel, Jeff. 1985. Koines and koineization. Language in Society 14. 357–378.

Trudgill, Peter. (1986). Dialects in Contact. Oxford: Blackwell.


Julie Van Ongeval (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)

Rik Vosters (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)

Bart Lambert (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)

Chris De Wulf (Universität Zürich)








PhD defense Xiangyun Li

On October 14th, CSC researcher Xiangyun Li (VUB) successfully defended her PhD entitled:

Language maintenance in a highly multilingual context: A case study of Chinese communities in Brussels

Supervisor: Prof. dr. Rik Vosters (VUB)

Congratulations, Dr. Li!



This doctoral dissertation sets out to investigate the maintenance of the immigrant heritage language and culture in Chinese communities in Brussels. Brussels is an officially French-Dutch bilingual city, yet in reality, it is profoundly and increasingly multilingual. Earlier research on the linguistic situation in Brussels has predominantly focused on the competing dominant languages, resulting in very limited scholarly and societal attention paid to smaller language communities. This study addresses this blind spot by exploring the language situation of one of the ‘forgotten’ or ‘overlooked’ immigrant minority language groups in multilingual Brussels, as well as the endeavors made and challenges faced by group members to retain their heritage language and culture in the Chinese diasporas.

Drawing on the theoretical framework of language ecology on the one hand, and language planning and policy on the other hand, this study discusses the issues involved in language maintenance, on the basis of the ethnographic data collected in the Chinese communities and two Chinese heritage language schools in Brussels. The dissertation is built around four case studies, centering around the processes and outcomes of Chinese heritage language and culture maintenance in a highly multilingual migration context and involving multiple agents (communities members, heritage language learners, educational practitioners, and immigrant parents) at multiple sites (communities, schools, and families). The first case study aims to construct a broad overview of self-reported language repertoires, proficiencies and practices in the Brussels Chinese communities. We investigate the linguistic profile of the communities members coming to Brussels at different periods and find evidence of a community-level language shift towards more complex multilingual repertoires, with an increased role for English and Mandarin, in tune with Brussels’ increasingly international and multilingual context. In the following case studies that were carried out in two Chinese community schools, we describe the beliefs and practices of educational practitioners and students concerning their teaching and learning of Chinese heritage language and culture. In the second case study, we took a language policy perspective to observe how the declared and perceived Mandarin-only policies are transformed and negotiated by educational practitioners and students into multilingual practiced policies at the institutional, classroom and individual levels to varying degrees. In the third case study that focuses on Chinese culture, we unveil how educational practitioners and students downplay the goal of maintaining Chinese culture, and paradoxically instrumentalize heritage culture to serve language teaching and learning in practice, while flexibly adapting Chinese culture to the specific diasporic context. In the final case study, with the focus upon the maintenance outside of the school context, we highlight the influence of family language policy developed by parents on the agency of the heritage language learners in maintaining Chinese language and culture, by exploring students’ relevant activities outside of the Chinese community schools and their general attitudes toward heritage languages and cultures.

In combining all of these angles and sources, this dissertation has revealed a complex interplay of structural forces and multiple stakeholders across spaces in the processes of maintaining Chinese immigrant heritage language and culture. We suggest that the benign mechanism for maintaining the heritage language and culture in a multilingual migration context is advanced through the joint efforts of the stakeholders in multi-faceted and multi-layered manners. We believe that this dissertation has shed important light on the maintenance of the Chinese language in a decidedly multilingual diasporic context and will serve as an invaluable point of reference for the research on language maintenance and shift more generally.

Historical Sociolinguistics Young Researchers Forum 2021

Historical Sociolinguistics Young Researchers Forum 2021 – online events

Hosted by Vrije Universiteit Brussel & Leiden University
Six Tuesdays and Fridays in
April and May 2021

The Historical Sociolinguistics Network (HiSoN), as sponsored by the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) as part of its Historical Sociolinguistics Research and Training Program, is proud to announce the fourth edition of the Historical Sociolinguistics Young Researchers Forum (HSYRF) as a series of online keynotes and workshops!

The event is aimed at early career researchers – MA and PhD students, postdocs, and other young (at heart) researchers –, offering a (now digital) mix of keynote lectures and hands-on workshops on various topics relevant to anyone interested in historical sociolinguistics or language history more generally.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 edition will be held as a series of online events, spread out over six Tuesdays and Fridays in April and May 2021.

Click here to see the program, including online keynotes and online methodological workshops!

Rik Vosters (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)
Gijsbert Rutten (Universiteit Leiden)

HiSoN 2021 Virtual Conference

Our VUB team is well represented at the 2021 Virtual Conference of the Historical Sociolinguistics Network (HiSoN), with no less than 4 conference papers being presented about ongoing research:

Join us in (virtual) Erlangen from March 17th to March 19th 2021!

Thematic Panel: The making of an (in)credible witness and suspect

Brissot et 20 de ses complices condamnés à mort par le tribunal révolutionnaire - Bibliothèque Nationale de France
Brissot et 20 de ses complices condamnés à mort par le tribunal révolutionnaire – Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Thematic panel
17th International Pragmatics Conference
Winterthur, June 2021

The making of an (in)credible witness and suspect

Historical and contemporary perspectives
on the discursive-pragmatic characteristics of depositions

Mieke Vandenbroucke (Universiteit Antwerpen)
Rik Vosters (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)

Panel description

Both historical and contemporary legal procedures rely on statements by witnesses and suspects given both in-court and in previous police investigations as evidence in case decision-making. Such testimonies and depositions are typically shaped by complex co-construction by the interlocutors, while written accounts used in court are the outcome of transformative entextualisation processes (Andrus 2006; Grund 2007; Park & Bucholtz 2009). In this panel, we investigate such contemporary and historical accounts in trial proceedings, witness depositions and interrogation reports, using the present to explain the past (cf. Labov 1975), while simultaneously exploring what historical accounts can contribute to our understanding of present-day meaning making processes in testimonies.

Contemporary studies have documented how oral witness and suspect accounts come into existence through spoken question-answer sequences between interlocutors, and are shaped by a variety of questioning and answering techniques in direct and cross-examination, where meaning and evidence are negotiated through interaction (Komter 2006; Seung-Lee 2013). These encounters are power-differentiated and often highly conflictual interactions, fraught with skilful manipulation of pragma-linguistic resources (e.g. visual evidentials, marked pronominal constructions) to elicit relevant evidence and influence the court’s perception of the speaker’s identity and reliability of their testimony (Matoesian 2001).

Moreover, contemporary research has documented how the drafting process of the written account by the interrogator introduces changes to what the witness orally stated, for instance removing turn-taking through first-person accounts (Komter 2006), or filtering out hesitations and unintelligible utterances (Gallez & Maryns 2014; Rock 2001).

Historically, there is clear evidence that courtroom scribes similarly represented speech events by defendants in an unreliable fashion, making such evidence unsuited for correlational sociolinguistic analyses (Grund 2007), but opening up the possibility for historical pragmatic analyses of how entexualisation processes varied by context and evolved over time. Such discursive steering and transformative processes in turn heavily influence both how information is uncovered as evidence (Archer 2002), and how witnesses’ and suspects’ identities and credibility is construed to the court (Vartiainen 2017): elements such as the use of direct speech, for instance, are presented as markers of credibility and authenticity, even though witness testimonies are notoriously unreliable in representing the spoken word (Giordano 2012; Kytö & Walker 2003).

In this panel, we welcome papers which engage with testimonies in witness depositions, interrogation reports, or other similar courtroom or legal data, either from a contemporary or a historical perspective. We particularly welcome work focusing on the various pragmatic and textual features which shape the credibility of courtroom actors such as witnesses, suspects or experts, in either the oral account or written representation. We aim to achieve a mix of invited and submitted papers by senior and novice researchers working with historical and present-day data, and explicitly invite all participants to reflect on how we can use contemporary pragmatic research to further our understanding of historical pragmatic analyses of witness accounts by uncovering parallel linguistic and pragmatic behaviour and practices.

Call for Papers

All abstracts (300-500 words) will have to be submitted individually through the IPrA website:

Deadline: 25 October 2020

Feel free to get in touch with us before that if you want advice on your abstract, or if you have any questions related to the panel (;

Please prepare your abstract according to the IPrA call for papers & submission guidelines (, and make sure to select “The making of an (in)credible witness and suspect” as the panel for your submission.


Note that IPrA is making contingency plans for remote participation options, in the (very likely) case that not all participants will be able to be physically present at the conference due to the COVID-19 pandemic.