Forgotten voices from below. A sociolinguistic analysis of lower class correspondence in the Low Countries between 1780 and 1900

Funded by the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO) and Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)
FWO Aspirant: Jill Puttaert
2014 – 2019

PhD defended on 12 December 2019

Supervisor: Rik Vosters
Co-supervisor: Wim Vandenbussche

This project deals with the way in which ‘ordinary’ people at the very bottom of the social ladder wrote during the late 18th and 19th centuries in Flanders and in the Netherlands. Traditional language histories usually focus on the language of the upper classes and literary authors, and tend to overlook how the masses of paupers and laborers actually wrote. This is quite strange, given that very few people actually wrote like famous poets or novelists, and that the bigger part of the population belonged to the lower walks of society. We would thus like to add to the traditional approach to language history from above by taking a perspective from below. To this end, we will investigate personal letters from writers with a non-elite background (a corpus of soldiers’ letters), and at documents in which poor men and women begged for financial support from their local authorities (a corpus of pauper letters). By looking at the language in these letters, we hope to learn more about the way in which the Dutch language changed during the 18th and 19th centuries. We should also be able to get a better insight in the differences between Northern and Southern Dutch at the time, and in the tension between the local dialects and the standard language.

Read more about it in:

Puttaert, J. (2016). Linguistic hybridity in nineteenth-century lower-Class letters. A case study from Bruges. In A.-C. Edlund, T. G. Ashplant, & A. Kuismin (Eds.), Reading and writing from below. Exploring the margins of modernity(Northern Studies Monographs 4, pp. 215–234). Umeå: Umeå University / Royal Skyttean Society. [pdf]