Dictionary will collect words from Flemish dialects

Summary

After an online petition was signed by 10,000 people, the government of Flanders and the Dutch Language Union decided to invest €800,000 to finalise and digitalise a dictionary of Flemish dialects. The linguistic department at Ghent University started the project in 1972.

After an online petition was signed by 10,000 people, the government of Flanders and the Dutch Language Union decided to invest €800,000 to finalise and digitalise a dictionary of Flemish dialects. The linguistic department at Ghent University started the project in 1972.

The Dictionary of Flemish Dialects collects the vocabulary of West and East Flanders plus the Flemish dialects of Zeeuws Flanders in the Netherlands and of French Flanders in the north of France. It is the final part of the trilogy of dictionaries that include Brabantse and Limburgse, which were published by the Dutch University of Nijmegen and the University of Leuven in the past decade. By the end of 2015, this entire linguistic heritage should be accessible online.

Each dictionary has three volumes, dealing with agriculture, crafts and general vocabulary. Each of these volumes is again divided in thematic chapters – for example “the human body” – which can contain thousands of words.

According to coordinator Jacques Van Keymeulen, the speakers of these dialects are becoming rare. “Since around 1950, standard Dutch has been taught in schools. Better education, new media and increasing mobility have caused the dialectic vocabulary of [individual] towns to disappear, and most people now just have the dialectic pronunciation of their home region.”

Van Keymeulen emphasises the importance of conserving this knowledge: “Dialects are an essential source of knowledge about our language history and culture, such as, for example, on agriculture techniques from medieval times.”

Aside from registering the vocabulary, the team at Ghent also wants to analyse the origin and meanings. An ultimate goal is to create a “word atlas”, where terms are linked to their origin on maps. Next year, the researchers will for the third time submit a request to the government for the establishment of a Flemish research centre that studies language variation.

Dictionary will collect words from Flemish dialects

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