Summary Dick Smakman presentation

“You can’t speak standard language and be sloppy at the same time” was Dick Smakman’s final conclusion when presenting his paper calledStandard Dutch in the Netherlands. What it is and what it sounds like”. Earlier this year, on 12 June, Smakman successfully defended his doctoral dissertation at the University of Utrecht, titled: Standard Dutch in the Netherlands. A Sociolinguistic and Phonetic Description and the Codifiers Project had invited him to speak about the topic of his thesis during their 5th Monthly Lunch Meeting on 15 September 2006.

The abstract for the presentation read as follows:
“Standard Dutch in the Netherlands has been subject to lively scholarly debate since its rise in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Lay beliefs have received relatively little attention in this ongoing discussion. I’ve looked into contemporary lay beliefs on the standard language and compared them with (contemporary and past) expert opinions hereon. My research consisted of two consecutive parts: a sociolinguistic and a phonetic part. The sociolinguistic part tried to answer the simple question: ‘What is Standard Dutch according to Dutch laymen and experts?’ To put the Dutch data in an international context, I’ve also collected language beliefs and descriptions in countries with new and old standard languages, for instance, New-Zealand and Japan. All in all, the results paint a modern-day picture of the standard language phenomenon, and this picture I will present in the paper. The sociolinguistic part of my research yielded seven prototypical speakers of Standard Dutch, and I’ve described selected phonemes in the speech of these speakers, through transcriptions and acoustic measurements. This phonetic description has created sociolinguistic insights into the standard language phenomenon, and I will briefly touch on these as well.”

During the presentation Smakman dealt with various questions, such as: What is Standard Dutch? What is a standard language? What does pronunciation tell us about standardness? The answers had to come from “experts” (linguists in this and the last century, teachers in previous centuries) as well as, interestingly, laymen, to which end he had conducted an elaborate questionnaire. Smakman approached these questions from various perspectives:

1) Intrinsic: language characteristics.
Two lay characteristics that were distinguished were “general” (of all people) and “cultured” (typical to the elite). Standard languages are both inclusive and exclusive (excluding people). Only old standard languages – languages which have a long established standard such as English or Dutch – have an exclusive function, though inclusivism is the most universal of the two.

2) Speaker: speaker characteristics.
The most predominant users of the standard language in the Netherlands are primarily considered to be newsreaders. Geographically speaking, usually only the western part of the country is mentioned. Almost everybody claims to be able to speak standard Dutch though whether they actually do so is another matter.

3) International: comparison to five other countries.
It appeared that the use of a standard as a lingua franca was the only “universal” characteristic. Non-regionality scored comparatively high in the Netherlands. However, non-regionality was found NOT to be a universal feature, not even for old standard languages.

4) Perceptual: listener agreement.
It was found that young western women scored higher for Standard Dutch; moreover, regional origin and level of education of listeners did not affect evaluations significantly.

5) Phonetic: pronunciation of Standard Dutch.
The survey showed that generally when disagreement for one phoneme disappears, a new realisation of another one will surface. For instance, (r) realisations have grown more, while (g) realisations have been halved.

Lyda Fens-de Zeeuw

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