Research

My research focuses on contact between closely related language varieties, in particular (varieties of) Dutch and German. In a similar vein, I investigate variability and change in informal spoken language.

Dissertation

I submitted my dissertation (supervised by Prof. Leonie Cornips & Prof. Peter Auer) in August 2020 and defended in January 2021 (with distinction, the Dutch cum laude). In Language Contact in a Mining Community: A Study of Variation in Personal Pronouns and Progressive Aspect in Cité Duits, I studied the linguistic and social practices of former miners in Belgian-Limburg. Cité Duits (lit. ‘mining district German’) emerged as a Belgian Dutch-Maaslands-German contact variety among the sons of immigrant miners in the coalmining district of Eisden in the 1930s. Today this language variety is on the verge of disappearing, with fewer than a dozen speakers left. Following a sociolinguistic and grammatical framework, I examined the linguistic character of Cité Duits with a focus on personal pronouns and progressive aspect. 

Despite the speakers’ label Duits ‘German,’ the linguistic analysis of my dissertation reveals that Cité Duits cannot be easily characterized as a variety of German, or Dutch. Rather, there is much evidence toward an amalgamation of features due to intensive language contact between Belgian Dutch, the Maaslands dialect spoken in Eisden and varieties of German. If the lexicon resembles colloquial German, next to words from the French-Walloon mining vocabulary, boundaries between the three contact varieties are often blurred. While much of the syntax can be associated with Belgian Dutch and Maaslands, Cité Duits exhibits fewer constraints, also on the level of semantics.

Furthermore, I show that Cité Duits emerged in a setting of multilingualism where speakers already shared a common language (Belgian Dutch), and therefore it served to mark an in-group identity but not to ensure communication. In addition, Cité Duits could only develop due to a combination of sociolinguistic conditions present in the cité of Eisden in the 1930s. Furthermore, it has not been transmitted to subsequent generations of speakers and is clearly moribund. Finally, I claimed that the absence of female speakers goes back to the fact that speaking Cité Duits has always been ‚indexical‘ (Eckert 2008) of masculinity linked to the underground miner. Girls from Eisden-Cité with numerous brothers may have picked up some Cité Duits, but female speakers were rather the exeption.

Fieldwork

Most of my data collection took place in Eisden-cité (Belgium) between August 2015 and November 2016 (see map). The linguistic analysis of Cité Duits is based on a six-hour audio corpus of spontaneous-like group interactions of male speakers, collected by adopting a specific method of sociolinguistic fieldwork (Labov 1972; 2001). In addition, to develop a more nuanced understanding of the linguistic resources employed within the studied community, I did group recordings and engaged in participant observation, while I also collected written materials, took photographs of public signs, and conducted a large number of semi-structured interviews.

Fieldwork in the Museum of the Mining House in Eisden (B)

References

Eckert, Penelope. 2008. Variation and the indexical field. Journal of Sociolinguistics12. 453-76.

Labov, William. 1972. Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Labov, William. 2001. Principles of Linguistic Change. Volume 2: Social Factors. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.