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  • Seven perspectives on Bildts
  • Paulus van Sluis

In July 2015, the Mercator European Research Centre on Multilingualism and Language Learning hosted at the Fryske Akademy in Leeuwarden published an advice report on Bildts, a minority language spoken in municipality Het Bildt in the Netherlands.1 This municipality will merge into a larger municipality in 2018, necessitating a more formalized Bildts language policy. The report gives an overview of the current linguistic and social status of Bildts, and then puts this status in perspective with seven minority languages in a similar situation. On the basis of these comparisons, the report recommends the formation of an independent advisory body on Bildts language matters and inclusion of Bildts within the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, among others.


Bildts is a minority language spoken in the northwestern part of the province of Fryslân in the Netherlands. It has some 6000 native speakers. Currently, Bildts does not have official recognition as a minority language in the Netherlands, although it receives support from both the province and the local municipality, Het Bildt. This municipality is planned to be merged into a larger municipality in 2018. Due to this merger, the future for the Bildts language has become a matter of concern. At the same time, the municipal council of Het Bildt has set elevation of Bildts as one of its policy goals.

This report provides a vision for a Bildts language policy to be set out in the preparatory process towards this merger of municipalities. More specifically, it explores chances for and expected consequences of inclusion of Bildts in the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. This exploration is done through a literature review of the language status of Bildts and through comparison with other minority languages in Europe. Some of these other languages studied are presently protected by this Charter, while others are not. In this manner, the expected effect of the Charter may be weighed against the alternatives. [End Page 188]

Part I: Description of the Bildts language status

The development of Bildts as a separate language began in the sixteenth century. In this period, dykes were built to enclose what would become Het Bildt. This land was then settled by colonists from Holland and Brabant. From this period onwards, the dialect of these settlers evolved independently to become Bildts. In the centuries following, Bildts developed mainly under Frisian influence.

The consciousness of Bildts as an integral part of Bildts identity started in the first half of the twentieth century. In the 1970s, a Bildts language movement arose as a reaction to the introduction of Frisian in education and to the reorganization of municipalities in 1984. The effort of this movement resulted in the optional inclusion of Bildts in primary education and the development of Bildts teaching materials.

Since roughly the year 2000, Bildts is increasingly used in writing, for example in advertisements and articles in the local newspaper. Moreover, the Bildts standard language has been made accessible with the publication of a dictionary that serves as a work of reference and as a usage guide.

The relative amount of speakers of Bildts has remained steady, with around 35% of the population of Het Bildt speaking Bildts natively. Similarly, Bildts has retained its function in the public space, meaning it is still used in several domains. It is used in education and administration but also as a family language, for example.

In order to be included in the Charter, Bildts must be a language and not a dialect. Comparison with Standard Dutch and Standard Frisian demonstrates that neither of these languages may be seen as the standard Bildts is a dialect of. Like Standard Dutch, Bildts has its genesis in primarily Hollandic dialects, but these two languages have been geographically isolated from one another since well before either standard developed. Due to this isolation, there has never been a dialect continuum between Bildts and what would later come to constitute dialects of Standard Dutch. This is a qualitative difference with Zeelandic and Low Saxon, both of which may be considered dialects of Dutch within this definition. Moreover, Frisian serves as a standard for Bildts, which has led to a...


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