Minority languages between reformation and revolution
Knooihuizen, Remco Mathijs
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In this thesis, I intend to further our knowledge of the sociolinguistics of Early Modern minority languages. Social and political developments in North-Western Europe in the 16th to 18th centuries caused an emancipation of vernacular languages, which took over from Latin as the main language in official domains. The sociolinguistics of this change are well known (e.g. Burke 2004); the fate of languages that did not make it to this new status, emerging ‘minority languages’, remains under-researched. Chapter 2 introduces some of the terminology used in this study. I discuss four categories of research methods into minority language shift and how they are applicable to research on historical situations, which often suffers from ‘bad data’. I then present a model of ethnolinguistic vitality that I use to survey the socio-historical backgrounds of several minority language groups in Chapter 3. Chapter 3 begins with a brief presentation of minority language groups from the Early Modern period. I choose three language groups to focus on in more depth: speakers of Norn in Shetland, of Flemish in Northern France, and of Sorbian in Germany. A survey of these three cases, with the initial wider presentation, identifies three recurring issues that are the focus of the subsequent chapters. The first of these is the influence of demographic change (Chapter 4). In the formation of nation-states in this period, many speakers of the majority language migrate to peripheral minority-language areas. I present two historical-demographic studies showing the integration of immigrants into the local community through intermarriage, based on 17th-century population registers from Shetland and Dunkirk (France). Both show a large amount of intermarriage, despite a bias towards in-group marriage. Intermarriage brings the majority language into the minority-language home; the strength of the bias against intermarriage is likely to be a factor in the rate of shift, one of the main differences between Shetland and Dunkirk. Language policies are the topic of Chapter 5. They are an important part of minority language studies in the present day, particularly with regard to language maintenance. I survey the language legislation that existed in Shetland, French Flanders, and Lusatia, its purpose and implementation, and its effects on language shift. Purpose and implementation of language policies were limited, and its effect on minority language communities therefore only secondary. Chapter 6 is about target varieties in language shift. The question of whether language shift happened through education in a standard variety or through contacts with majoritylanguage speakers from nearby areas can be answered by looking at the new majoritylanguage dialect in the minority area. I undertake two different studies in this context. The first is an analysis of Shetland Scots using theories of dialect contact. The dialect has a number of ‘standardised’ features, but I argue these are mainly due to koinéisation of various dialects of Scots immigrants to Shetland and a second-language variety of Scots spoken by the local population. The second is a study of the French dialect of French Flanders using computational methods of data comparison on data taken from dialect atlases. This dialect shares features with neighbouring Picard dialects, but we can also identify Standard French features. This pattern correlates with what we know of migration to the area (Chapter 4). Both new dialects suggest the shifting population acquired the majority language mainly through contacts with majority-language speakers in their direct environment. In conclusion, I show that language shift in the Early Modern period was an organic process, where the inception, the rate, and the result of shift were steered by the minority population’s social networks. The influence of institutions often blamed for language shift in modern situations – educational and language policies – was very restricted. In addition, I show that methods used in modern sociolinguistics can be successfully applied to historical situations, despite the bad data problem. This opens the door for more extensive research into the area.