Forward to next post: The General Lousiness of Everything, Account’d For
The Dutch are famed for, among other things, their excellent command of English. Children here start studying it at the age of ten or so, though they have generally been exposed to it on TV and in music from a much earlier age.
What very few people outside of the Netherlands realize is that, for a substantial proportion of the population outside the Randstad, English is not the second language, but the third. The old dialects and regional languages are still the mother tongues of children in many parts of the country, most particularly in Friesland and Limburg.
Fans of Eddie Izzard know all about Frisian already. I’m more closely acquainted with Limburgs dialect, since my better half grew up in those parts. (He doesn’t speak dialect, but it sounds like home to him.)
Limburgs is old. We have written examples of it from about 1170. But it isn’t a single entity; there are actually over 550 dialects, pretty much one for every village and hamlet in an area that covers the southernmost province of the Netherlands, parts of northern Belgium, and a fair chunk of land in Germany. It has something under two million speakers, for most of whom it is the modertaol, the mother tongue. It’s the language they speak at home and at the local bakery1, the tongue of lovers and mothers and talkers in sleep. Dutch is for school, for work, for outsiders.
So it has been for nearly a thousand years.
Then into this descendant of Babel comes the internet.
But creating a Wikipedia in a language like Limburgs isn’t easy. First off, most Limburgs speakers are barely literate in the language. They all learned to read in Dutch, remember, because that was the school language. This is both a practical and a psychological barrier, and the page on writing in the language (which also has a Dutch version) is written in very reassuring style:3
How do I write in Limburgs?
Many Limburgers ask themselves that when they read books, newspapers, or other material in Limburgs. Speaking it isn’t a problem, but writing it? We only learned to write Dutch in school. In the beginning it may be a problem to even figure out what it says here! And it’s even harder to learn to write well. Nevertheless, anyone who speaks Limburgs can, in principle, write it. You can find a few easy tips for doing so on this page.
The other major problem that the Limburgs Wikipedia has is that there isn’t one single master dialect4. Every village has its own usages, its own terms and grammatical quirks.
There is an ongoing attempt to create something called Algemein Gesjreve Limburgs, a kind of lingua franca of Limburg dialects. The common articles in the Limburgs Wikipedia are written using it (including Wie shrief ich Limburgs itself). But since very few Limburgers seem to use AGL as a regular thing5, it would constitute another barrier to contributions.
So the Limburg Wikipedia has taken another tack6. Each article is written in the dialect of the original author, which is marked at the top of the page. Subsequent contributors try to match the article dialect in small corrections, and trust that a native speaker will fix any mistakes they make.
But sometimes a contributor will want to add or change a significant portion of text—a paragraph or more. In that case, they can write the paragraph in their own dialect, and tag it appropriately. So you can have an article whose head and foot are written in ‘t Mestreechs (Maastricht dialect) but whose inner paragraphs are in ‘t Norbiks (from Noorbeek, about 20 kilometers to the southeast).
There’s no real point to this. I just enjoy seeing people do neat things op anger tale (in different languages).