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.
Area 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.
Distribution 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
Status 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.
Education 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.