Indo-European / Germanic / West Germanic / Rhinelandic
Limburgish is spoken in the two provinces of Limburg (Netherlands &
Belgium), and in a few border villages in a small neighbouring part of
Germany (the Selfkant area).
There are many varieties of Limburgish. Each village and city has its own
dialect, but they are all mutually intelligible.
The dialects in the north of Dutch Limburg are not considered Limburgish.
The north boundary of the language is roughly marked by the "ik-ich
isogloss". In this area, a lot of linguistic boundaries converge. In
the east, there is a gradual transition to the Rhenish dialects
(Kerkrade-Aachen, Sittard-Selfkant, Venlo-Krefeld).
The name “Limburgish” for the language spoken in today’s provinces
of Limburg is relatively new. The language was named after the province,
and this goes back to 1815. The then still undivided province received
this name from King Willem I. An alternative would have been to name the
province after its capital city: Maastricht. However, this never happened.
Generally speaking, the Limburgish language shares its ancestry with both
Dutch and German, and it represents a transition between the Low
Franconian dialects in the west (Netherlands) and the Central Franconian
(German) dialects in the east. The Limburgish language is a link between
German and Dutch. This is the impression one gains from medieval records
(accounts and documents from the parishes of Alden Biezen, Maastricht,
Sittard, etc.) as well as from literary texts such as the works of Henric
van Veldeke, de Aiol—fragments, the Limburger Sermons and various
Limburgish-Ripuarian editions of the late medieval novel Heinric en
Margarete van Limburg. With Henric van Veldeke as its cardinal figure,
Limburgish was the oldest predominant variety of the Low German language
group, but following the rise of Brabantish in the 13th century Limburgish
came to be gradually marginalized within the literary culture of the Low
Countries. Incidentally, it is difficult to determine the exact age of
Limburgish. Its earliest know written form goes back to about 1170 (the
works of Henric van Veldeke).
Linguists assume that linguistic differences between various parts of
Limburg are now much greater than they used to be. Dialect differences
within Limburg were minor around the year 1200. Since then, dialect
differences have grown to what they are now, due to decreased
Number of speakers
Research has shown that approximately 75% of the inhabitants of the Dutch
province of Limburg are able to speak the language. In a population of
1,200,000 people, this makes ± 900,000 speakers. The number of speakers
is higher in the south, and lower in the northern parts and the city of
Heerlen. The number of speakers in Belgian Limburg (675,000 inhabitants)
is not exactly known. It is spoken in the entire province, but in a less
extensive range of situations.
Since 1997, the Limburgish language has been recognized as regional
language by the Netherlands' government, according to Article 2, paragraph
1, of the "European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages".
Because of this, the Dutch Government is obligated to encourage the use of
the language, although no specific rules or arrangements have been set.
With regard to social status, Limburgish is better off than many other
regional languages. Not only the common people, but also the middle
classes and the elite speak Limburgish.
Limburgish is in many cases the everyday speech of municipal and
provincial governments, and it is also used in social intercourse between
the government and the people in an endeavor to bridge the gap between
administration and citizenry.
In churches, Limburgish is not officially used, because of reticent policy
of the Roman-Catholic authorities. However, the language is used
throughout the province in mass and in oecumenical services, especially
around Christmas, Carnival and local holidays.
The language is used in hospitals, public administration, and in providing
commercial, governmental or cultural information. Telephone operators and
reception employees in trade and industry, as well as for instance
policemen and employees of public libraries, will speak Limburgisch if the
client so desires.
There is no provincial education program to teach the language, but
Limburgish is often used in class, as everyday speech. On a local level
there are small projects, for instance in Maastricht, where a Limburgish
educational course has been developed. There are earlier experiences in
this field, as a result of the so-called "Kerkrade Project," in
which the linguistic situation in Kerkrade was researched for the benefit
of primary-level education.
Regional and local radio stations, advertisements in provincial newspapers
and magazines use Limburgish frequently and freely. Also the regional
television station "L1" has numerous programs in Limburgish.
Limburgish also plays a role in cultural spheres. Pop music has been using
the language for many years. This music is not only popular in Limburg,
but some artists even have gained national acclaim. Above that, there has
been a lively tradition of cabaret in Limburgish. This tradition ranges
from the very popular type of carnival entertainment to the more serious
art of cabaret.