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  • Writer's pictureSaar van Ommen

Hope of Preserving the Groningen Dialect Rests on the Young Generation

© Saar van Ommen

While the dialect Grunnegs is not taught in schools in Groningen, the Centre for Groninger Language and Culture continues to promote the use of the local dialect among young people by organizing a vlogging competition.

Participants of the competition Vlog Em Mor!, organised by the Centre for Groninger Language and Culture, have to send in a video in which they speak as much Grunnegs as possible.

The organisation stresses that it does not have to be error-free, they aim to encourage the youth to use the dialect in their daily life.

Grunnegs is not a dialect of the Dutch language but of Low Saxon. Versions of Low Saxon are spoken in the North and East of the Netherlands as well as in parts of Germany and even as far as Denmark.

'It's culture, and it should evolve'

Although the dialect has no mandatory or consistent place in the local school system, it is still quite widely spoken. In 2021 CBS reported that Low Saxon is the most spoken language in 25% of Groningen households but determining the exact number of speakers today is difficult.

Studies come to widely different conclusions and the level of understanding or competency among speakers varies a lot.

For many young people, their contact with Grunnegs is limited to visits to their grandparent’s house. Jeffrey van Sluis (25), a student at the University of Groningen, speaks a little bit of Grunnegs. “My grandparents still speak it a lot, so I picked it up from people around me.”

Jeffrey van Sluis © Van Sluis

The language is important to Jeffrey and an important part of Groningen identity and regional pride. While he finds it important that the language continues to exist, he is not sure what the best way forward would be.

“It's culture, and it should evolve in a way that keeps people interested,” Van Sluis says. He does not know how useful it is to teach it in schools but thinks it would be nice to keep it alive informally.

Fun things such as music and humour are a way for young people to learn and also keep the language interesting, he says. “I listen to a lot of music in the Groningen dialect and when other people speak it, I really enjoy talking or joking with those people. It is part of my identity and my culture.”

‘I prefer standard Dutch’

Jolanda Heikamp (67) is also from Groningen and connects the dialect to her family home. “It's part of where you come from. My family spoke it, I have memories of my grandfather and grandmother from Windschoten.”

Jolanda herself does not speak the dialect and does not want to learn it. “I prefer standards Dutch, but I think it is important that it continues to exist.”

The reason that the language is no longer consistently passed down is the fear that it would not be beneficial to children, says PhD candidate Hedwig Sekeres who researches pronunciation differences in Groningen. “Parents were concerned that it would be bad for children to be raised bilingual and an accent could have negative consequences for the child.”

This concern is not wholly unfounded. Jeffrey van Sluis, even with his slight regional accent, experiences the negative effects.

“I always think that the Groningen accent, as is the case with every dialect or accent, that people connect those accents to a lower level of intelligence.”

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