Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe

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Language interest : Flemish

  • Language interestFlemish
  • Cultural Field:
    Language
  • Author:
    Rutten, GijsbertVosters, Rik
  • Text:

    Before 1760, only a handful of diverse linguistic texts were produced. From the 1770s onward, spelling guides and grammar books were published all over Flanders and Brabant; the main focus was on orthography. Another important characteristic was the pedagogical interest, most authors being teachers themselves. They were clearly aware of each other’s works, debated similar issues and reacted to each other’s proposals. A growing prescriptive convergence is noticeable, with most authors showing awareness of the simultaneously developing normative tradition in the Northern Netherlands. Certain choices in matters of spelling were distributed in a North/South distinction, generating slightly different Flemish vs Dutch* convention patterns.

    This schematic opposition continued into the early 19th century, when Southern authors came into more regular contact with Northern writing traditions. As a result of the reunification of the Low Countries in 1815 under King William I, a large number of grammar books and spelling guides were published between 1815 and 1830, in the tradition of Siegenbeek and Weiland (who had been active in the “Northern” Batavian Republic), which in turn sparked fierce linguistic debates in the Southern (“Flemish”) part of the kingdom about what was felt to be the imposition of fixed Northern standards.

    On the one hand, a group of grammarians often labeled “particularists” continued the Southern normative tradition of 18th-century vintage, e.g. J.A. Ter Bruggen’s Nederduytsche spraek-konst (“Netherlandic grammar”, 1815, abbreviated version in 1819) and C.L. Gyselynck’s Nieuwe grond-beginselen der Vlaemsche tael (“New fundamental principles of the Flemish language”). An even more outspoken anti-Northern position was taken in F.L.N. Henckel’s Nieuwe Vlaemsche spraek-konst (“New Flemish grammar”, 1815) and Pieter Jozef de Ré’s Gronden der Nederlandsche spel- en taelkonst (“Foundations of Netherlandic spelling and grammar”, 1820). At the other end of the spectrum, the so-called “integrationists” advocated the Southern adoption of officialized Northern norms, underlining the need for linguistic unity, and following Siegenbeek, Weiland or other Northern normative works; a well-known example among many being Petrus van Genabeth’s Beginselen der Nederduitsche taal ten dienste der lagere scholen (“Principles of the Netherlandic language for use in primary schools”, 1820).

    Many grammarians took an intermediate position. While Jan Frans Willems came, later in the century, to be seen as a leading integrationist, he too defended specific features from the Southern writing tradition, thus in his Over de Hollandsche en Vlaemsche schryfwyzen van het Nederduitsch (“On the Dutch and Flemish ways of writing Netherlandic”, 1823). Conversely, later particularists such as P. Behaegel still allowed for the possibility of finding a compromise between Northern and Southern language norms; witness his Nederduytsche spraekkunst (“Netherlandic grammar”, 3 vols., 1817-29). Generally, during the United Netherlandic period (1815-30), the fledgeling normative uniformity among Southern grammarians as established in the late 18th century eroded in favour of a stronger orientation towards Northern norms. This resulted less from an official language policy promoting Northern linguistic standards than from the prestige of, especially, the codified and officialized Siegenbeek spelling.

    The opposition between integrationists and particularists became stronger following Belgian independence in 1830. In the strongly French-dominant context of the newly-established kingdom, the emerging Flemish Movement, in vindicating linguistic rights for the country’s Flemish-speakers, recognized a need for the linguistic standardization of Flemish, either by modelling it on the Northern norms, or by means of the intra-Belgian standardization of a separate Flemish norm. A “spelling war” was waged between the opposing viewpoints, which was settled when a philological arbitration committee proposal (involving the likes of J.F. Willems and J.H. Bormans) ruled in favour of a largely “integrationist” spelling based on the Siegenbeek system (although it allowed for more traditional Southern spellings on a few minor points). The “committee spelling” was adopted by Royal decree in 1844, putting an end to the spelling war and reinforcing the idea of a shared language in North and South as exemplified by a (near-)shared spelling system. Full concordance was reached in 1864, when both the Netherlands and Belgium adopted the De Vries-Te Winkel system, consolidating the ascendancy of the integrationist view.

    Integrationist authors in the circle around J.F. Willems, such as Ferdinand Snellaert and Prudens Van Duyse, also initiated and participated in the Nederlandsche Taal- en Letterkundige Congressen (“Congresses on Netherlandic language and literature”), which aimed to unite linguists, literary authors and historians from the Netherlands and from Flanders. These conferences took place on a regular (annual to three-yearly) basis between 1849 and 1912, and initiated the work on the monumental Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal (“Dictionary of the Netherlandic language”). The first part of this historical dictionary, edited by the Dutch philologists Matthias de Vries and L.A. te Winkel and the Flemish scholar Jan-Baptist David, appeared in 1864; the entire enterprise, amounting to 400,000 entries in 43 volumes, would only reach completion in 1998. The dictionary was seen as an important step in the elaboration and implementation of Northern Dutch in the Southern provinces.

    All these linguistic activities took place against the background of strenuous social and political action over language rights, which is covered in a separate article.

    Word Count: 827

  • Notes:
    Netherlandic refers to the language spoken in both the Netherlands (“Holland”) and the northern half of Belgium (“Flanders”). “Dutch” and “Flemish” refers, colloquially, to the inhabitants of those respective areas and to their usage of Netherlandic.

    Word Count: 36

  • Article version:
    1.1.1.2/a
  • Rutten, Gijsbert (2013). Snoeijmes der Vlaemsche Tale: Een anonieme tekst over taalkunde uit de achttiende eeuw (Gent: Koninklijke academie voor Nederlandse taal- en letterkunde) [The pruning knife of the Flemish language: An anonymous metalinguistic text from the 18th century]

    Rutten, Gijsbert; Vosters, Rik (2011). Een nieuwe Nederduitse spraakkunst: Taalnormen en schrijfpraktijken in de Zuidelijke Nederlanden in de achttiende eeuw (Brussels: VUB Press) [A new Dutch grammar: Language norms and linguistic practices in the Southern Low Countries in the 18th century.]

    Rutten, Gijsbert; Vosters, Rik (2013). “Une tradition néerlandaise ? Du bon usage aux Pays-Bas (1686-1830)”, in Ayres-Bennett, Wendy; Seijido, Magali (eds.) (2013). Bon usage et variation sociolinguistique: Perspectives diachroniques et traditions nationales (Lyon: Editions de l’ecole normale supérieure), 233-243

    Vosters, Rik (2011). Taalgebruik, taalnormen en taalbeschouwing in Vlaanderen tijdens het Verenigd Koninkrijk der Nederlanden: Een historisch-sociolinguïstische verkenning van vroeg-negentiende-eeuws Zuidelijk Nederlands (doctoral thesis; Brussels: Vrij Universiteit Brussel) [Language use, language norms and linguistic identities in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands: A historical sociolinguistic perspective on Southern Dutch in the early nineteenth century]

    Vosters, Rik; Belsack, Els; Puttaert, Jill (2014). “Norms and usage in 19th-century Southern Dutch”, in Rutten, Gijsbert; Vosters, Rik; Vandenbussche, Wim (eds.) (2014). Norms and usage in language history, 1600-1900: A historical-sociolinguistic and comparative perspective (Amsterdam: John Benjamins), 73-100

    Vosters, Rik; Rutten, Gijsbert; Wal, Marijke van der (2012). “Spelling and identity in the Southern Netherlands (1750-1830)”, in Jaffe, Alexandra; Androutsopoulos, Jannis; Johnson, Sally (eds.) (2012). Orthography as social action: Scripts, spelling, identity and power (Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton), 135-160

    Willemyns, Roland (2013). Dutch: Biography of a language (Oxford: Oxford UP)


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    All articles in the Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe edited by Joep Leerssen are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://www.spinnet.eu.

    © the author and SPIN. Cite as follows (or as adapted to your stylesheet of choice): Rutten, Gijsbert, Vosters, Rik, 2020. "Language interest : Flemish", Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe, ed. Joep Leerssen (electronic version; Amsterdam: Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms, https://ernie.uva.nl/), article version 1.1.1.2/a, last changed 04-07-2020, consulted 06-05-2021.