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Dag van de Grunneger Toal: a minority language in the spotlight

Minority languages, who even cares about those anymore? Well, on the 17th of March at least 1300 people did, on the Dag van de Grunneger Toal at the Groninger Archieven (on a saturday, mind you!). This day aims to celebrate the language of the Dutch province of Groningen via lectures, a book market and music. The theme of this year was “The survival of Gronings”, and the lectures were centered around this theme.

For us, however, the main priority was the task of interviewing other attendees, so unfortunately we could not attend all the interesting lectures that took place. In duos we set out with a tablet and a list of questions to gather data for a master student’s thesis, with the furtherance of science as a consolidation for missing talks of poet Jan Glas and musician Marlene Bakker among others. In addition, the small interviews were also displayed on a television at the day itself.

Image 1. The bookmarket
These interviews were centered around the language Gronings. Questions included how well people rate their own knowledge of the language, when and where they use it, if they ever have been in a situation in which they were ashamed of Gronings and which characteristics they would attribute to a ‘real’ Groninger. Moreover, the interviewees were asked to count from 1 to 10 and were asked to read aloud some words, as well as describe some things depicted on pictures.

A lot of the attendees of the Dag van de Grunneger Toal were happy to partake in the interviews despite it being videotaped. Most of the participants were around the age of 60 or 70 and were born and raised in the province Groningen. Remarkable was that, though many people spoke Gronings, almost all of the interviewees raised their children in Dutch. A decision that many of them actually regret nowadays, since it is very unlikely that the children acquire Gronings later. It is not a school subject nor a language of instruction in schools and decreasingly less people are speaking it. Speaking Gronings was something that a lot of people had been ashamed for during their teen years.

We also noticed that there are many varieties within Gronings, like “Westerkwartiers” or “Stadsgronings”. Every Groninger speaker was very aware of this as well. When, for example, asked to count from one to ten, some said “vaaier” whereas others said “vare” (meaning four).The interviewees were very conscious about this, as many pointed this out during the little word tasks.

Image 2. Looking at the interviews
Another interesting thing is that we met and interviewed a couple of ‘new speakers’ of Gronings. They were mainly younger people - around the age of 30 - that are not originally from Groningen but have been living there for some time and wanted to learn the local language. They followed a short language course (in the Groninger Archieven as well, more information on that here.) and they did surprisingly well on the small tests we gave them!  On this day they felt comfortable speaking Gronings, but in daily life they are often a bit ashamed, and afraid they are not speaking the language ‘properly’ (if there even is such a thing as proper Gronings...). This connected nicely to the take-home message of some of the lectures of the day, which is that we should be more tolerant towards languages and towards imperfect and new speakers - so people are not scared away from speaking, but encouraged instead. This might be the only way such a marginal language could survive!

At the end of the day it was a successful and interesting day for everyone who attended the Dag van de Grunneger Toal and who wanted to either support and celebrate the language or obtain information about the language. Nonetheless, for us, it was a rewarding day as well. De Dag van de Grunneger Toal was a great opportunity for us as students of an university programme to do some field research in a setting that fits perfectly in the bachelor of Minorities and Multilingualism. It did not only gave us the chance to learn about conducting interviews, but also to experience why this kind of research is important. By conducting such interviews, researchers are able to come in contact with speakers of a minority language and talk to them about their experiences, which is fundamental to understand the challenges minority languages, such as Gronings, and its speakers face every day.  

How do you feel about events such as the Dag van de Grunneger Toal? Are such activities the best way to promote use of Gronings and ‘save’ the language?

Authors: MMK, WvdV, EMvG, AE


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