Gender marking, i.e. the morphological marking of masculine, feminine and neuter lexical gender, is highly variable in Dutch and its dialects, and is changing rapidly. This project delves into variation patterns to gain insight into the more general processes of language variation and change. We focus our research initially on Brabantish dialects with a three-gender system, where we find an abundance of variation in present-day social and regional varieties that is indicative of language change in progress. Studying a change in progress within the empirically restricted domain of Dutch dialects gives us a unique insight into the interaction of cultural, social, stylistic and grammatical factors in language variation and change in general. This project breaks new ground by systematically combining two (traditionally opposing) views on language: (i) language as a cognitive system with its own principles and rules, and (ii) language used as a social instrument, playing an important role in identity formation and social groupings. We hypothesize language change results from a dynamic interaction between those two domains. In particular, the cognitive module defines the domains of grammar that are open to variation and change and the use of language in a social context determines which possibilities are used by whom and in which spatio-temporal contexts. The project brings together methods from both disciplines, with linguistic and metalinguistic data from offline and online interactional behaviour. Among other things, research findings will be disseminated in working together with cultural organizations to increase awareness of the processes of dialect change.
Shifts in nominal gender marking attract the attention of many language users. In Dutch, phrases like ‘de meisje’ are for example quite salient, but also in Dutch dialects there is an abundance of variation. In this project we study Brabantish dialects that originally had different markers for masculine, feminine and neuter lexical gender. Which varieties do we find and why? We will not only investigate the grammatical restrictions on dialect change, but also the social function of dialect use, for example in identity construction. The insights we gain will be disseminated to heritage organizations, educational institutions and language policy-makers.