Hundreds of Dutch language and literature enthusiasts gather in Leuven


Teachers and learners of the Dutch language and its literature are at the University of Leuven this week to discuss trends and share experiences

‘Language is power’

Dutch language and literature studies are booming – just head to Leuven to see it for yourself. Currently in its 20th year, the triennial Colloquium Neerlandicum conference brings together those studying and teaching Dutch.

Organised by the International Association for Dutch Studies (IVN) with financial support from the Dutch Language Union, the five-day conference at the University of Leuven attracts some 300 lecturers from 40 countries for lectures, panel discussions and presentations.

Attendees of the conference, which is running this week, discuss what’s new in the world of Dutch language and literature and debunk a couple of myths in the process.

Focus on Bredero

The Colloquium includes discussions on language variation and changes in the Dutch standard language as well as more technical and research-oriented lectures. The conference will also push Bredero into the spotlight, the Dutch poet and playwright of the Golden Age, on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of his death.

“The aim is for us to come together, to discuss trends in the field, to examine how we can support one another,” says Henriëtte Louwerse, chair of IVN. The conference also wants to examine, she says, how those teaching and researching the Dutch language can better demonstrate the importance of language education abroad to their fellow Dutch and Belgian citizens.

“When you introduce people to your language and culture, you can influence not just economics, but also culture and diplomacy,” she explains. “Languages influence; language is power.”

Some graduates join Dutch or Flemish companies with entities in their own country, or they’ll come here to work

- IVN chair Henriëtte Louwerse

There are nearly 14,000 people pursuing Dutch language and literature studies around the world, which far outnumbers the number of students studying it in Belgium and the Netherlands. That figure has been dwindling for a number of years – although no exact figures exist because Dutch is always studied in combination with another language in Belgium.

By showing the appeal of the Dutch language outside the Low Countries, a conference like Colloquium Neerlandicum can also debunk misperceptions students in those countries might have about their career options, Louwerse says. “And show that you can very easily go to Riga or Budapest when you are studying Dutch.”

But why would someone in Poland or Los Angeles want to study Dutch language and literature? According to Louwerse, there are varying reasons outside of considering travelling or working here. Some people having Dutch-language friends or relatives, want to specialise in a niche subject or want to specifically study a Germanic language.

What is clear across the board, she says, is that an overwhelming majority of these graduates enter the corporate world after finishing their programme. “Some graduates join Dutch or Flemish companies with entities in their own country, for instance, or they’ll come to the Low Countries to work here.”