Artikel van Eurolang (Europese website voor minderheidstalen) over het Limburgs.
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Controversy marks beginning of Limburger language policy

Maastricht 14/3/02 , by Onno P. Falkena

The provincial parliament of the southernmost Dutch province of Limburg is expected to adopt its first multiannual programme on language policy tomorrow. For the province, the programme is a result of the recognition of the Limburger language by the Dutch Government, according to chapter two of the Charter for Regional and Minority Languages of the Council of Europe.

For the first time, language policy will get an annual budget of 230,000 euro. The adoption of the programme also means that language promotor Pierre Bakkes can move ahead with the production of schoolbooks in the Limburger language, and do a course for teachers to help them teach Limburger. Bakkes was appointed last year with the assignment to develop a language policy for Limburg.

'Next week we have our first meeting on planning and developing a Limburger course for schoolteachers', Bakkes tells Eurolang. 'In the long run we want to develop a certificate for the teaching of Limburger, like the certificate for Frisian. But unlike Frisian in Friesland, Limburger will be a subject of choice and not an obligatory subject.'

To begin with, the schoolbooks for primary schools will be made available in five different dialects. According to Bakkes this is necessary, because the Limburger spoken around the city of Venlo in the north is very different from the Limburger spoken in the former mining town of Kerkrade in the south of Limburg.

Paul Prikken of the working group for a unified written Limburger - Algemeen Geschreven Limburger - disapproves strongly with the intention to publish schoolbooks in five different dialects. 'One edition in a unified ortography can be used all over Limburg. Editions in different dialects complicates matters, because it requires for instance that the schoolteacher speaks the same variety, which is not always the case. It is expensive and above all it teaches children different ortographies.'

Last year the working group of Prikken published a unified dictionary of Limburger, based on the variety spoken alongside river Maas in central Limburg. This dictionary was compiled without any subsidy.

'We have to develop a unified Limburger in order to save all varieties', Prikken says. 'To disapprove of unification because of the differences is foolish.' The province of Limburg, on the other hand, is engaged in developing a scientific dictionary for all Limburger dialects by the Dutch university of Nijmegen, which will be completed by 2004.

The Limburger language is spoken in both the Dutch and the Belgian province of Limburg. Belgium however decided against recognition of the Limburger language, which means that for the time being no language policy whatsoever is being developed in Belgian Limburg. Crossborder collaboration is limited to a Belgian representative in the new Council for Limburger (Road veur't Limburgs). In order to develop language policy further, the province of Limburg has widely advertised a public inquiry on internet, on the Limburger language and on language attitudes in Limburg. The results of this inquiry will be presented on a conference on language revitalization in Maastricht in May.

In spite of the publishing of varieties, Prikken is still positive on the intention of the province. 'We have been asking for a policy for 14 years. Nowadays we at least have a policy, a budget and a language promotor. If this is sufficient to save the language remains to be seen, because in the north the language is losing ground rapidly.'

Bakkes estimates that the language is currently losing 20 percent of its speakers with every new generation. At present Limburger is still spoken by an estimated 2 million people in the provinces of Limburg in the Netherlands and Belgium. An overwhelming majority of them are illiterate in their own language. According to the Limburger language association Veldeke, the language counts as many as 500 different dialects. (EL)