Zeeuws or Zeelandic is a regional language with a lot of North Sea
Germanic features and is therefore related to Frisian, Scots and English.
Some of these features can be found in Frisian as well, but others are
exclusive to Zeeuws. As a reslut of continuing influence on Zeeuws by the
Dutch standard language since the 17th century, a lot of these features
have disappeared and made way for more 'Hollandic' forms.
Together with West-Flemish and the Flemish spoken in nothern France,
Zeeuws is part of a cluster of remarkably homogenic dialects. The
homogenicy of the dialects in the area make that someone from the island
of Schouwen, in the north, can easily speak with someone from French
Flanders in the south. But whe the speaker from Schouwen speaks his
dialect to someone from Rotterdam, a Dutch-speaking city only 30 km north
of Schouwen, he will not be understood.
In the Middle Ages, Zeeuws (then often spelled as Zeesch, 'Sea-ish') was
the name of the costal language of Zeeland and West Flanders. Nowadays,
the term Zeeuws is used only for the dialects spoken in the Dutch province
Today, while the language is under threat by Standard Dutch, more and more
people find that Zeeuws or Zeelandic should be protected. A lot of people
are in favour of recognizing Zeeuws officially as a regional language,
based on the European Charter for Minority and Regional Languages.
If this official recognition would go through in West and French Flanders
as well, a huge linguistic area would become to exist with more than 1,2
million speakers. Zeeland and French Flanders are allready on their way.
Dialects of Zeeuws
Zeeuws can be divided into a number of dialectgroups: Svores (a
very small area around the village of Oostvoorne in the province of South
Holland), Goereês, Flakkees (both in South Holland, too), Fluplands (St.
Philipsland), Thools, Schouws, Duvelands, Noord-Bevelands, Zuud-Bevelands,
Walchers, West-Zeêuws-Vlaoms and Land-van-Axels. Besides that, Zeeuws is
very homogenic with West Flemish.
The dialects in the easternmost part of Zeeuws Vlaanderen (Zeeland
Flanders), and some villages on the Belgian border aren’t Zeeuws, but
Eastern-Flemish (and therefore Frankish instead of Friso-Frankish).
Within the dialects mentoned above, most villages,
towns and cities have their own dialect. These local dialects differ only
very slightly from each other. On the island of Wacheren, for instance,
only the oldest people are able to locate speakers on basis of their
dialect. But some very strong local dialects have survived. Costal towns
and villages as Ouddorp, Bruinisse, Yerseke, Arnemuiden and Westkapelle
still have some very characteristic features and speakers use their
dialect with pride.
The urban dialects of Zeeuws, spoken in Middelburg and Vlissingen, differ
very strongly from the rural dialects of the rest of Zeeland. Smaller
cities like Zierikzee, Goes, Veere, Tholen, Oostburg, Axel and Terneuzen
show far less differences with rural dialects.
From north to south, the language gets more and more West Flemish. The dialects
of western Zeeland Flanders are basically West Flemish dialects with a lot
of Zeelandic influence. There, in Zeeland Flanders, one can also see quite
clearly what Standard Dutch has done to Zeeuws. A lot of the original
vocabulary, still very much in use acrosse the border in West Flanders
(where the influence of Standard Dutch is only quite recent), is lost.
From a number of inquities, one can conclude that in Zeeland
almost 60% of the population still speaks Zeeuws (about 250.000 speakers
all together). The rest of the people of Zeeland have at least some
passive knowledge of the language. The language is under pressure in
Walcheren (especially in around the cities of Middelburg and Vlissingen),
the eastern part of Tholen, parts of Schouwen and parts of Flakkee. The
language is still very much alive in parts of Zuid-Beveland, in Goeree,
Duiveland and western Zeeuws.Vlaanderen. In villages as Bruinisse,
Arnemuiden and Westkapelle (where even more than 90% of the people under
20 speak the language) and most villages in western Zeeuws-Vlaanderen,
Zeeuws is still the dominant language in most language areas; sometimes
it's even the only language used in supermarkets.
In West Flanders almost 90% of the population still speaks West Flemish
(over 1 million speakers). In French Flanders, a lot of older people still
speak the language (varying from around 15% of the people over 65 years of
age in the south up to 80% near the Belgium border). Only 10-50% of the
people older than 50 know and use the language. Under 50, language use is
almost extinct, but a lot of people still have some passive knowledge of
the language and some youngsters try tpo learn the language of their
grandparents. All together, around 20.000 people still speak West Flemish
The total number of speakers of Zeeuws/West Flemish/French Flemish,
including immigrants living in Michigan, Detroit and Brazil, is about 1.5
Especially in the western part of Zuid-Beveland, there are a lot
of people that are active in writing, storytelling, theatre, music and
other activities in their own language. On Walcheren there is the biggest
audience for activities in Zeeuws. People are less active in using their
language for cultural purposes there, but books and magazines in Zeeuws
are very populair there.
In western Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, there is not much interest in Zeeuws. That
desinterest is even bigger in West Flanders. In these parts, Zeeuws and
West Flemish are still very much an everyday language. more than 85% of
the population still speaks it on a daily basis.
Compared to other regions, Zeeuws is very much negelcted by local
and regional government. There are almost no efforts to change this
situation. Nevertheless, private initiatives have led to a dictionary
Zeeuws-Dutch, a cd-rom with a spoken dictionary, a magazine in Zeeuws and
some other, smaller projects.
The only organizations that try to do something to promote the language
are Stichting Zuudwest 7 (publisher of the Noe-magazine), the Stichting
School en Dialect (that is working on very small scale educational
projects) and the Zeeuwsche Vereniging voor Dialectonderzoek.
In West Flander, the situation is even worse, even though the chances for
the language to survive are much better there tha they are in Zeeland. IN
French Flanders the centralized Parisian regime is still working against
initiatives to do something for regional languages. Nevertheless, thanks
to private initiatives one can learn the language in most towns and
villages and Flemish roadsigns are now qite common throughout French