Have you ever been in Grunn? That’s a tricky question for many international students who don’t know that Groningen has another name, Grunn, in the local dialect of Gronings.
When Jules Craig came to Groningen from the US and Korea to study minorities and multilingualism, she knew nothing about Gronings, too. Luckily, some of her housemates happened to be speakers of the dialect, so they gave her some pointers. ‘If you really want to sound like you are from Groningen, say ‘moi’ when you see people on the street and say it from your chest.’
Meaning ‘hi’ in Gronings, this short word turned out to be useful for connecting with locals, even if only for greeting her neighbours and older people on the street. ‘Some of them keep speaking in Gronings to me and I actually don’t even speak Dutch’, she says, giggling. ‘So when I tell them that I am not Dutch, they look quite confused.’
Even though the dialect, as a part of the Low Saxon language, was officially recognised in the Netherlands three years ago, the number of its speakers is declining.
‘Less parents want to pass Gronings on to their children fearing that would affect their knowledge of Dutch’, says dialect expert Olaf Vos with the Centre of Groningen Language and Culture (The Centrum Groninger Taal en Cultuur) during a guest lecture for the students of minorities and multilingualism. The expert’s parents didn’t speak in Gronings to him, either, he says. ‘But I learned it on the street.’
His love of Gronings was awakened, however, when he began hosting a two-minute evening programme on a regional television station, the Grunnegers. ‘During those five years, I learned a lot about the dialect and realised that it is very beautiful and has a unique pronunciation, which varies from one part of the province to another.’
Music and TikTok
But the dialect has a more personal value to its speakers, says Vos. The sound of it triggers memories of childhood ‘when I was young with my parents listening to music on radio’.
Now Vos tries to inspire children with music, too. Fortunately, there are quite a few local bands performing in Gronings, for example, a hip-hop band Wat Aans!. When Vos, a singer himself, noticed that whenever they release a new song, children know about it, he started incorporating their songs into his Gronings lessons. ‘It’s really an inspiration for them.’
Still, there is a difference between how younger and older feel Gronings ‘because younger people don’t usually know what the real Gronings is’, he says, referring to TikTok Tammo. The TikTok blogger became popular when he started posting funny videos about Groningen and was even given the Groninger of the Year award earlier this year. ‘A lot of young people think he speaks in Gronings, but he doesn’t’, says Vos. ‘He’s just shortening all the words like we do.’
Theory and practice
And that’s something students that study the dialect can’t find in books, says assistant professor of language and society Aurélie Joubert after the lecture. ‘Personal stories behind the dialect enrich the theory and help connect students to the local culture.’
Giang Le, a student of applied linguistics from Vietnam, agrees: ‘Listening to someone who speaks the dialect was very relevant to what we have been studying these weeks.’ And she enjoyed trying to pronounce some sayings in Gronings, she says. ‘I will try to use “komt goud mien jong”, which means “everything will be okay”.’