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Regional Accent Variation and Social Identification

When I first moved to Leiden, I was immediately known as the girl from the south. Whereas this often leads to people naturally assuming character traits such as ‘bourgondisch’, and ‘carnavallover’, this is not true by necessity for all Limburgians. Similarly, not all people from Rotterdam wear snapbacks and fake Louis Vuitton bags, and not all people from the northeast are farmers. Even though these implications caused by commonly shared prejudices sometimes lead to frustration, I quite enjoy these prejudices. Even though I personally do not solely drink beer, eat hearty food and celebrate carnival as most people might expect from a Limburgian, I do feel as these prejudices portray a sense of regional and local pride as a result of social differentiation. Even on a smaller level, namely between different villages, differentiation as a result of regional accent occurs. You may be thought of as a bit more antisocial, or a bit more conservative, based on your regional pronunciation characteristics.

Identification of social identity through regional accent occurs in the USA and UK as well. As a result, stereotypes and generalizations are formed. For instance, when I hear a Southern American accent, I immediately envision a stereotypical conservative “Howdy! How y’all doing?” redneck cowboy. Similarly, when I hear a valley accent, an image of a stereotypical vain “Oh my God, like, I can’t even!” sixteen year old valley girl comes to my mind. In the UK, stereotypes as a result of identification through regional accents are formed as well. For instance, when I hear a Geordie accent, I immediately imagine a stereotypical “Howay, I smashed a worldy like” cast member from MTV’s Geordie Shore. Even though I know that these are, of course, generalizations which are influenced by the media, it doesn’t matter whether the speaker actually conforms to the stereotypical view which the accent conjures. When I hear that accent, I immediately have certain expectations of what the speaker will be like.

It appears that your regional accent does not only influence your selfimage, it also influences how others see you. Identification of social identity through language use and being able to speak in multiple accents can even be beneficial as second accent acquisition enables you to influence how others perceive you in a certain context. Likewise, attitude formation towards a speaker can be based on regional accent. In my case, this results in being judged for having a ‘zachte G’ when speaking in front of a class at a high school based in the Randstad, but likewise being judged for having a ‘harde G’ when attending a family gathering in the south. If I am in control of my accent and change my accent, I control how others perceive me in different situations. As such, it can be said that speaking in multiple accents can lead to having different and changing social identities. This of course can help you in many social situations, as you can easily adapt and cater to your audience.

The future of the variety in Dutch accents may be gloomy. Whereas I applaud social and regional varieties of the Dutch language, the current use of Dutch language has the tendency to become more and more assimilated, as Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands holds more prestige than regional dialects from distant corners of the country. For example, a famous and respected guest lecturer at University will rarely give his presentation in a thick The Hague accent (“spreke is zilvâh zwège is gâhd”). Rather, he would make an effort to speak ABN (to the best of his abilities) to cater to his audience. I do not, however, believe that regional accents will ever disappear completely. In my experience, people value factors with which they are able to differentiate themselves from other groups in Dutch society. Even in the UK, regional dialects can help you in the inclusion within a social group. For instance, a posh RP speaker would not fit into MTV’s Geordie Shore even if he was from Newcastle. “By Jove Gaz, that shirt is absolutely marvellous, old chap!” wouldn’t quite fit. And to be honest, I, as the audience, wouldn’t like it. I enjoy it when my expectations are met. It wouldn’t like it if Honey BooBoo started speaking in a New Jersey accent either as it simply would change the way people would perceive her social identity. Similarly, imagine how Louis van Gaal would sound in a Limburgian accent, he just wouldn’t be the same person.

Finally, I have one word of advice left. If you want to have a laugh at the diversity of Dutch regional accents, please watch the following video, (Nederlandse Dialecten Jochem Myer Even Geduld Aub!), in which Jochem Myer explains quite perfectly why a Western movie played by people from Friesland and Twente wouldn’t work.

By by Jolijn Bronneberg

Works Cited