Low Saxon

by Henk Bloemhoff
with assistance from Pieter Jonker, Lex Schaars, Philo Bloemhoff and Siemon Reker
- translated from Dutch by R. F. Hahn

There are several varieties of Low Saxon in the Netherlands. Important differences are noticeable in Drenthe and parts of Eastern Overijssel, the Veluwe and the Achterhoek. Besides in Eastern and Western Stellingwerf in Friesland, the Stellingwerf variety is spoken in Northwestern Overijssel and in the municipality of Westerveld in Southwestern Drenthe. Linguistically speaking, Low Saxon in the Netherlands is related to Low Saxon/Low German in Northern Germany which is recognized in most German states in accordance with the framework of Part III of the European Charter.

The area in which Low Saxon is spoken in the Netherlands comprises the provinces Groningen, Drenthe, Overijssel, the municipalities Eastern and Western Stellingwerf in Southeastern Fryslân and the districts Achterhoek and Veluwe in the province of Gelderland.

Drenthe has 457,347 inhabitants, Groningen 557,951, Overijssel 1,057,186, the Low Saxon parts of Gelderland a total of 873,414, and the municipalities Eastern and Western Stellingwerf a total of 50,000. The total number of inhabitants is 2,995,898. A survey conducted some years ago by the regional radio broadcasting station of Groningen showed that around 65 percent of the inhabitants in the province speak Low Saxon, namely the Groningen variety. If we conservatively assume 60 percent and extrapolate this over the entire area we arrive at the number of 1,797,539 speakers.

The provincial government of Drenthe, Groningen, Overijssel and Gelderland, the municipal administrations of Eastern and Western Stellingwerf as well as the provincial government of Fryslân recognize the need to protect and promote Low Saxon and have been taking measures to do so. Low Saxon is being recognized by the Netherlands government within the framework of the European Charter, part II. The district governments have furthermore requested national government recognition according to Part III. Comprehension of Low Saxon by Dutch speakers is anywhere between fair and excellent, and there is a generally tolerant attitude vis-à-vis the language. Low Saxon therefore enjoys total acceptance.

Public Organizations and Services
Usually one may address the regional authorities and various organizations in Low Saxon, either written or spoken. Also, the regional authorities sometimes use Low Saxon themselves. Low Saxon is not used in judicial arenas, but its use by defendants or witnesses is not prohibited. In everyday situations, mutual comprehensibility is the overriding consideration, and there is a general atmosphere of tolerance.

As far as elementary education is concerned, only the municipalities of Eastern and Western Stellingwerf consider the Stellingwerf variety in their planning, and this is being put into action in the curriculum. It is mostly a matter of passive proficiency in written Stellingwerf Low Saxon, for instance through access to a triannual children’s periodical or in language education in project form. In the other districts attention is being paid to Low Saxon occasionally, mostly on a project basis. This also applies to post-elementary education throughout the language area. There are courses at various institutes in these areas. It is possible to study Low Saxon at the National University of Groningen. Courses for instructors are offered occasionally.

Generally speaking, at times the various regional and local broadcasting stations use Low Saxon anywhere between regularly and very often in programs that deal with regional culture. These programs vary in length between one and five hours per week. The use of Low Saxon in newspapers and magazines is not uncommon in some regions, but is is quite common in prose, poetry and non-fiction dealing with regional culture. Among other things, this dependends upon frequency of publication and upon the availability of cultural sections in a given edition, therefore varying between once or twice per week to once in two weeks.

Low Saxon literary tradition and book publishing are significant. Each year between eight and ten new titles are being published in the regional language in each region, amounting to about 50 for the entire area. Publication of CD’s in the regional language is worth noting. In Groningen, for example, ten new titles are being published per year, and in Gelderland circulations of 3,000 copies are not uncommon.
A great many regional language performing arts events are being staged throughout the Low Saxon language area, including cabarets, revues and amateur performances. Church services are regularly held in the native language. A great number of noteworthy museums, libraries and cultural centers are found in the Low-Saxon-speaking area.