‘From the promised land: a historical sociolinguistic study on English-Dutch language contact in an emigrant setting’

Funded by Research Foundation Flanders (FWO)
PhD candidate: Yasmin Crombez
2021 – 2025
Supervisor: Wim Vandenbussche
Co-supervisor: Rik Vosters 

During the late 19th, early 20th century a mass trans-Atlantic emigration took place from Europe to the United States and Canada. Approximately fifty to sixty million Europeans crossed the Atlantic in hopes of a better life (Nauwelaerts & Caestecker, 2008). Among those emigrants were roughly 200,000 Flemings who settled in North America, generally in the areas of the Great Lakes (Musschoot, 2002). This emigration has predominantly been dealt with in historiographic studies, focusing on the Flemings’ motivations to emigrate as well as on its economic and political consequences (Musschoot, 2002; Nauwelaerts & Caestecker, 2008). In contrast to the extensive historical attention however, stands the very limited amount of empirical studies on the (socio)linguistic consequences of the Flemish emigration

Therefore, this project proposes an in-depth study of the language use of Flemish emigrants in North America in the 19th and 20th century. Tackling English-Dutch language contact from three perspectives, I first pay attention to the societal aspects of language contact by means of a metalinguistic study focusing on discourse surrounding English in American-based Flemish newspapers. Next, I look at language contact and the individual by investigating the influence of social factors on the borrowing rate and borrowing type. To this end, I will use two corpora: a corpus of ego-documents and a newspaper corpus. This allows to take into account the impact of a pragmatic factor, viz. discourse genre. Finally, three case studies are conducted examining lexicon and word formation, morphological adaptation and semantic-pragmatic influence in order to give an indication of the linguistic aspects of language contact. In addition to analyzing a hitherto overlooked chapter in Dutch language contact history, the proposed study will also contribute to our understanding of the role of the pre-migration sociolinguistic context, by paying explicit attention to the Belgian language history.