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Language Varieties and Educational Achievement of Indigenous Primary
School Pupils, Geert Driessen and Virgie Withagen, Institute for Applied Social
Sciences (ITS), University of Nijmegen, PO Box 9048, 6500 KJ Nijmegen, The
Netherlands, 0790-8318/99/01 0001-22 $10.00/0, © 1999 G. Driessen & V. Withagen
LANGUAGE, CULTURE AND CURRICULUM, Vol. 12, No. 1, 1999
Source: www.multilingual-matters.net .
This paper explores the relations between standard-language and arithmetic test performance and a range of language-related family characteristics in the Netherlands. The sample consists of 7730 pupils from nearly 700 primary schools. The variables analysed are: the language variety the child chooses in conversations with its father, mother, siblings and friends; the language the parents communicate in; the importance the parents attach to their home language; the parents' command of standard-Dutch; the parents' educational level; the child's gender; the province. The main question is whether pupils who use standard-Dutch perform better than pupils who generally speak another language variety, i.e. a Dutch dialect or Frisian. The results show that only the parents' educational level and the province are relevant in explaining differences in standard-Dutch and arithmetic test results. Most remarkable are the results from Limburg and Friesland. On average the children from both provinces speak non-Dutch in 47% of the language domains. Yet the pupils from Limburg perform best and the pupils from Friesland worst on the standard-Dutch and arithmetic test, even after controlling for the family characteristics. Within these groups there are no differences between the pupils who generally speak Dutch and the pupils who generally speak a Limburg dialect or Frisian.
Recent Dutch studies into the effects of bilingualism on educational achievements have generally focused on non-indigenous pupils who are non-native speakers of Dutch. Research into the educational achievements of children who speak a Dutch dialect or vernacular at home, which Dutch sociolinguistics initially concentrated on, has moved into the background. In this article we try to fill the gap that exists with respect to the school success of non-standard Dutch speaking pupils in primary education. The article is built up as follows. First, we present a brief outline of the language situation in the Netherlands. Generally speaking the Dutch language area covers both the Netherlands and parts of Belgium. In this article we will, however, restrict ourselves to dialects and vernaculars spoken within the boundaries of the Netherlands. Next, a number of Dutch studies into the use of dialects and vernaculars and educational achievements are discussed. We present an outline of research that was carried out into this area in the 1970s and 1990s. After that, we look at the design of the Primary Education cohort- study. We used the data from this cohort to answer the research questions. The results of the analysis are dealt with next. This article is rounded off with a summary and conclusions.
Indigenous Language Varieties in the Netherlands
A large number of different dialects are spoken in the Netherlands in addition to the standard language, i.e. standard-Dutch. Dialects, which lie very close to each other in geographical terms, are often fairly easily understood by people living in a particular area. As the distance between the dialects increases, it becomes more difficult for people to understand each other. It is therefore not easy to make a clear classification of separate dialects. Dialectologists often divide the Netherlands into a number of dialect groups (for an overview see Daan & Blok, 1969).
Within the Netherlands, the 'Randstad', which is situated in the provinces of Noord-Holland , Zuid-Holland and Utrecht , is the economic, demographic, political and cultural centre. The Randstad is a conurbation in the mid-west, which encompasses the four biggest cities of the Netherlands: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. Outside that area the population density (largely rural areas) is much lower, in particular in the north (Friesland and Groningen ) and the east (Drenthe ) and south-west (Zeeland ). In the latter provinces about half of the working population is employed in agriculture. The two southern provinces of Noord-Brabant and Limburg and the (eastern) provinces of Overijssel and Gelderland can be characterised as urbanised rural areas. Flevoland is the newest Dutch province, in fact a polder that has been reclaimed from an inner sea. In the west of the Netherlands, the area between Amsterdam, Utrecht, the Hague and Rotterdam, most people speak standard-Dutch. The dialects spoken in this area, in the provinces of Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland, are closest to the standard language. Most people therefore do not see themselves as speakers of a dialect, even though their use of language has characteristics of a dialect (Van Hout, 1984; Hagen, 1989). Dialects have a relatively strong position in the north, east and south of the country. The general pattern is, the greater the distance from the west of the Netherlands, the greater the distance from the standard language (Hagen & Giesbers, 1988).
The Netherlands is one of the most urbanised areas in Europe. A lot of dialects are therefore also city dialects, which largely have a low prestige. City dialects are often associated with a lower social class. There are a few exceptions to this, such as the city dialect of Maastricht, which is spoken by all social strata of the Maastricht population and is more of an expression of regional or local identity (Hagen, 1989). The city dialects of Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland (e.g. Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague) are judged most negatively because the link between dialect usage and socio-economic status is most evident here. One result of this stigmatisation is a reduction in the size of the dialect-speaking group. We increasingly see this development taking place also in cities outside the west of the Netherlands (Hagen & Giesbers, 1988).
Dialect-usage is more common in rural areas and in small towns than it is in the cities. Rural dialects often have less of a stigma attached to them because they are an expression of regional identity rather than low social status. Here it is often the case that people learn the standard language without giving up their dialect (Hagen & Giesbers, 1988).
In Friesland, situated in the north of the country, a minority language is spoken. Despite the strong influence of the standard language, the Frisian Language also has a strong position in particular in rural areas. In the cities of Friesland a city dialect is spoken, which is a mixture of old Frisian dialects and Dutch. Thanks to efforts of the Frisian movement and the Fryske Akademy , Frisian has been recognised by a European Charter. One of the reasons for recognising Frisian as a language is that there is a Frisian standard-language in addition to the Frisian dialects. This political recognition of Frisian as a language has had important consequences for instruction in the language and educational practice in the province of Friesland. Frisian has in the meantime become the language spoken at all primary schools in Friesland, with the exception of some exempted schools (Van Hout, 1984, Ytsma & De Jong, 1993). In addition to Frisian, Low Saxon and Limburgs have recently been recognised as vernacular by a European Charter. National figures on the use of dialects in the Netherlands, such as the ones that are available for Low Saxonin Germany (Stellmacher, 1994), do not exist. Careful estimates have been made, however, for example, by Boves & Vousten (1996).
According to their analyses on average 12% of all parents speak a Dutch dialect or Frisian with their child. They did however find major regional differences in this respect: in particular in the provinces of Overijssel, Drenthe, Limburg and Friesland a dialect is often spoken in the home situation. There are, furthermore, a number of sociolinguistic studies available carried out at a local or regional level, such as the one by Van Hout (1989) for Nijmegen.
In the Netherlands the use of dialect has declined considerably over recent decades. The reduction in the use of the 'old' dialects is not only evident from the smaller number of speakers, but also from the sociological and demographic characteristics of dialect- usage. The number of domains in which dialect is spoken has very much been reduced. There is a clear trend, which shows that dialect-speaking parents are increasingly starting to speak the standard language with their children. It is becoming less common for people to speak only dialect; they usually command the local dialect as well as standard-Dutch.
In addition, the linguistic structure of dialects is moving more closely towards that of the standard language: new linguistic variants are developing including varieties that lie somewhere between a dialect and the standard language. This development of interim forms, 'regiolects', is taking place at all levels of the language (Van Hout, 1984; Hoppenbrouwers, 1990).
Research into Language Varieties and Educational
Achievements Dutch research carried out in the 1970s into the educational achievements of dialect or vernacular-speaking pupils largely focused on a particular region or town in the Netherlands. Wijnstra (1976) wanted to make a contribution towards the discussion on Frisian as a subject and as a language of instruction in primary education. He did not find any differences in the written command of Dutch among pupils at mono- and bilingual schools in Friesland who were being instructed in Frisian under various conditions. He also did not discover any differences between the Frisian children and a control group of rural pupils from the central Netherlands. The Frisian-speaking pupils did however score considerably lower on reading and language tests at the end of primary school than those in the rest of the Netherlands. The arithmetic scores of the Frisian group were also lower, although Wijnstra suggested in his comments that this might be related to the amount of time spent on arithmetic in school. In the 1990s De Jong & Riemersma (1994) took another look at the educational achievements of pupils in Friesland. They concluded that pupils at Frisian primary schools did not do any worse than those in the rest of the Netherlands. According to their study, instruction in Frisian therefore also does not have any consequences for the fluency in Dutch of the Frisian children.
The so-called Kerkrade-project consisted of a sizeable study, which was carried out in Kerkrade, a medium-sized town in the south of the Netherlands, in the 1970s and early 1980s (Stijnen & Vallen, 1981). Pupils who had grown up speaking the Kerkrade dialect had a poorer command of standard-Dutch than standard-language speakers, in particular when it came to their grammatical and communicative command of the standard language and their participation in verbal interactions in class. Apart from this, the researchers came across hardly any differences in the educational achievements. The dialect-speakers were however more frequently given lower recommendations for secondary education and more frequently had to repeat a year. The researchers therefore concluded that the assessments of the teachers were also being influenced by their attitudes towards the dialect. Another important finding from this study was that the language factor and the social class factor each had an independent effect on school achievement. This implies that the negative effect of dialect speaking is felt in higher as well as in lower socio-economic classes. In Kerkrade research was not only carried out into the educational achievements of dialect-speaking children, but also into how the discrepancies established could be overcome. Once the dialect-speaking pupils were allowed to speak the dialect at school, the general achievement levels of these pupils were not any lower than those of their standard language-speaking fellow pupils. Parallel to the Kerkrade-project a comparable study was carried out in Gennep, a small city in the southeast of the Netherlands. The language background of the pupils appeared to have a great deal less influence in the tests administered here than in the Kerkrade- project (Giesbers et al., 1978).
After very little attention had been paid to the educational achievements of indigenous bilingual children for quite sometime, the subject was once again put on the agenda by some researchers in the 1990s. Results of a large-scale national study carried out in secondary education became available for the very first time.
Boves and Vousten (1996) noted that the educational achievements of pupils who spoke a variety of Dutch or Frisian with their parents were lower than those of children who generally spoke Dutch. For an explanation of the differences established they refer to Jansen Heijtmajer and Creemers (1993) who also found a difference in the educational achievement levels of these pupils. The indigenous pupils in this study who generally spoke a dialect or Frisian at home, performed worse even than their non-indigenous (mostly Turkish and Moroccan) peers. The study concerned children whose parents had not obtained any qualifications after leaving primary school (low socio-economic status parents). Boves and Vousten (1996) agree with the theory presented by these researchers, that there could be a link between the language spoken at home and the educational level of the parents and that this is the cause of the difference in the achievement levels. In other words, the relation between language spoken at home and achievements implies a statistically spurious effect.
A recent study by Van Reydt (1997) focused on the opinions of teachers with respect to the achievements of primary school pupils with a dialect background (compare the study of Stijnen & Vallen, 1981). The dialect-speakers were assessed less favourably on various personality traits, including intelligence, than the pupils who spoke the standard language. In the last year at primary school they also less frequently received recommendations for higher forms of secondary education. These results were in sharp contrast to a direct measurement of the opinions of the teachers. From this they generally appeared to have a positive attitude towards dialect and dialect-speakers. The teachers, however, did not approve of the use of dialect in the school situation.
As mentioned in the introduction, the general aim of this paper is to clarify the situation with respect to the school success of non-standard Dutch speaking children. To gain more insight into this situation we conducted an empirical study in primary education. Central to this study is the question as to whether the use of a Dutch dialect or Frisian in the home situation by pupils in the fourth year of primary education is related to their standard-Dutch and numeracy achievements. Using analysis of variance and correlational analysis as the main techniques we will focus on answering the following sub-questions: