In much of Western Europe, the last five to six decades are generally seen as the era of pervasive dialect levelling and dialect shift, processes that are taking place with varying intensity and speed, on account of the ever-encroaching impact of linguistic standardization, intensified communication and increased geographical and social mobility in modern nation-states (Hinskens, Auer & Kerswill 2005; Vandekerckhove 2009). At the same time, there are more and more signs that dialect death and attrition are counterbalanced by a range of processes pointing to the vitality rather than the obsolescence of vernacular language forms:
- The use of ‘old’ dialects is generally not replaced by standard language use, but rather by new, often hybrid or “koineized, ‘‘compromise’’ dialects, shaped by contact between local, regional, interregional, and other, including standard, varieties” (Britain 2009: 122; cf. also Kerswill & Williams 2000). These mixed varieties are moreover increasingly common in public discourse, as seems to be the case with Estuary English in the UK (Mugglestone 2003) or tussentaal in Flanders (De Caluwe 2009; Grondelaers & van Hout 2011).
- Traditional dialects are sometimes observed to experience a renaissance (Hinskens et al. 2005: 36) as they are increasingly and unapologetically used in contemporary music, TV fiction and social media (Androutsopoulos 2010; Nobels & Vandekerckhove 2010; Van Hoof 2015), and commodified in advertising and forms of city or region marketing (Johnstone 2009; Strand 2015).
- Traditional dialects are being appropriated by urban speakers with mixed ethnic backgrounds, although the use of these traditional dialects may only be partial and combined with a range of other linguistic resources (Jaspers 2011; Rampton 2006; Van Meel et al. 2014). At the same time, some features of ethnic minority languages get picked up by those not normally seen to own them (e.g., Nortier & Dorleijn 2008; also see Van der Sijs 2014).
- There are indications that new types of vernacular emerge with a distinct local, often urban colour (see Madsen 2013 and Cornips et al. 2015 on ‘street language’, Wiese 2012 on ‘Kiezdeutsch’, Marzo & Ceuleers 2011 and Svendsen & Marzo 2015 on ‘Citétaal’ and ‘Kebabnorsk’). Traditionally labelled ‘youth language’ or ‘ethnolects’ (Muysken 2013), they have alternatively been dubbed ‘contemporary urban vernaculars’ (Rampton 2011), to emphasize their durability, use across different ages and ethnic groups, and similarity to traditional dialects in terms of their indexicality and function.
- Who can legitimately claim to speak a dialect? Who authenticates whom as a legitimate dialect speaker, when, and why?
- What (dis)advantages can be identified by calling newly emerging urban vernaculars ‘dialects’ (cf. Wiese 2012 on Kiezdeutsch) or ‘(multi-)ethnolects’ (Hinskens 2011, Van Meel et al. 2014)?
- Do we also find new vernaculars in more recognizably rural contexts?
- What (new) social meanings are ‘old’ dialects imbued with? By which metapragmatic machinery (explicit commentary, language labels, stylisation, usage accounts, next turn responses, …) are dialects currently (re-)enregistered? (cf. Agha 2007; Snell 2010).
- Must we take contemporary recyclings of ‘old’ dialects, whether in daily language use, music or TV fiction, as nostalgic or ironic performances that reproduce their stigmatized status, or as genuine and perhaps increasingly important tokens of meaning making? Under what circumstances do local forms of speech become valorized, attractive and sellable (cf. Johnstone 2009)?
- To what extent should dialect studies include non-native speakers and new speakers in studies of dialect evolution and change (cf. Bucholtz 2003: 404)?
- How are new urban vernaculars perceived by different groups of speakers and compared with other varieties in terms of vitality and prestige?
- Which features from traditional dialects or ethnic minority languages are picked up and restyled as part of urban vernaculars, and what factors seem to influence their uptake?
- Leonie Cornips (Meertens Institute Amsterdam and Maastricht University)
- Lian Malai Madsen (University of Copenhagen)
- Julia Snell (University of Leeds)
- Reinhild Vandekerckhove (University of Antwerp)
Jürgen Jaspers, Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB)
Sarah Van Hoof, Ghent University