Goal of the project

The varieties of Dutch spoken in The Netherlands and Flanders show a lot of wordorder variation, contrary to common belief. The project Syntactic Atlas of the Dutch Dialects (SAND) aims at providing a description and analysis of the syntactic variation in the varieties of Dutch. Because of the great amount of variation the project is restricted to four empirical domains:

There are good reasons to choose exactly these four. All four domains have been playing a central role in the development of syntactic theory in the past fifty years. Also, there is evidence suggesting that there are many correlations between the variation found in the different domains chosen, and this furthers the internal coherence of the SAND-project.

Interviews will be held in 250 locations in The Netherlands and Flanders to collect the data necessary for a detailed description and analysis of the existing syntactic variation.

A Syntactic Atlas of the Dutch Dialects

Project description

People involved

Goal of the project


Overview of activities and results

SAND Publications

Bibliography dialect syntax


The variation attested will be made accessible in two ways. It will be visualized in an atlas consisting of approximately 400 maps, divided into four volumes, one for each empirical domain. Every map will be complemented by an extensive explanation, a discussion of the relevant literature and a sketch of the theoretical relevance.

The usefulness of such an atlas is restricted. Due to the fixed number of maps not all possible correlations can be shown. Therefore, the data will be made accessible for further linguistic research through a database with cartographic software that enables the researcher to draw maps on demand. This database will eventually be available on the internet.

In addition to the atlas a number of articles will be published, and six of the PhD-students and research assistants involved in the project will write a dissertation on one of the empirical domains above.


The SAND-project started January 2000 and will end December 31, 2003. It is funded by NWO (the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research), FWO (Flemish Organization for Scientific Research) as a so called VNC-project (VNC = Flemish-Dutch committee for Dutch Language and Culture) and the Meertens Institute. The project was initiated by prof. dr. Hans Bennis (director of the Meertens Instituut, Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences), dr. Hans den Besten (University of Amsterdam), prof. dr. Johan Rooryck (Leiden University), dr. Johan Van de Auwera (University of Antwerp) and prof. dr. Magda Devos (University of Gent). Cooperating institutes are:

  • Meertens Instituut
  • University of Amsterdam (UvA)
  • University of Leiden (UL)
  • University of Antwerpen (UIA)
  • University of Gent (RUG)
  • Fryske Akademy (FA)

The motivation to start this project was threefold. First, the situation with respect to geographically determined linguistic variation is changing rapidly under the influence of increasing mobility and migration and the role of the mass media. Most researchers agree that there is a shift from local variation to regional variation and that a lot of variation is now disappearing. It is evident that a description of the currently existing variation is very important from the point of view of the history of culture. Moreover, a proper understanding of future developments in linguistic variation presupposes a detailed description and analysis of the current variation.
Secondly, the syntactic atlas will be the completion of a unique tryptich further consisting of a phonological atlas (FAND, the first volume of which appeared in 1998) and a morphological atlas (MAND). Together these atlasses will provide an excellent tool for research of linguistic variation in The Netherlands and Flanders in the final decennia of the 20th century.
Thirdly, the role of syntactic microvariation in theoretically oriented syntactic research has become prominent in recent years. The SAND-project will increase the empirical coverage of syntactic theory and will make it possible to investigate multiple correlations between linguistic variables.

Overview of activities and results

In the first year of the project an electronic bibliography of syntactic microvariation in The Netherlands and Flanders was developed. The bibliography covers more than 1300 books, articles and unpublished papers and is brought up to date up till 2000.

International cooperation
An international workshop was organized at the Meertens Instituut in Amsterdam to initiate international cooperation between syntactic atlas projects. Representatives of several research groups working on syntactic atlas projects came to Amsterdam to present aspects of their work. Participating institutes included:

  • University of Amsterdam (The Netherlands)
  • University of Freiburg (Germany)
  • Fryske Akademy (The Netherlands)
  • University of Kiel (Germany)
  • University of Leiden (The Netherlands)
  • McGill University (Canada)
  • University of Padova (Italy)
  • University of Regensburg (Germany)
  • University of Zürich (Switzerland)

Most papers presented there are published as the electronic publication Syntactic Microvariation. In november 2001 a second workshop was held at the University of Freiburg (Germany).

Written questionnaire
As a preparatory study for the fieldwork, a written questionaire was sent out to the Dutch and Flemish informants of the Meertens Instituut (Amsterdam). 370 informants responded, evenly distributed over the Netherlands and Flanders and providing judgements and translations for 424 test sentences. The answers of the informants are now in a database that is used for the preparation of the fieldwork. This database will also be used to check the results of the fieldwork and for other research purposes.

The fieldwork is currently being carried out. It is expected to be finished in september 2002.
Many of the fieldworkers involved are not native dialect speakers. This entails the risk that the informants answers will show effects of accomodation to the standard variety of Dutch. Therefore it was necessary to design a new method of interviewing that avoids these problems. In the relevant circumstances, two dialects speakers are selected. One of them acts as the interviewer while the other serves as the informant.

The spoken material collected will be put in a database, enriched with orthographic transcriptions, syntactic tagging and syntactic annotation. The database will be made accessible for further syntactic research by a user friendly (web) interface that enables the user to generate any map on demand.


Scientific Publications

  • Barbiers, S., L. Cornips & S. van der Kleij (eds). (2002). Syntactic Microvariation. Electronische publicatie van Meertens Instituut en NIWI. URL: http://www.meertens.knaw.nl/books/synmic
  • Barbiers, S. (2002). ‘Variation in Negation: Questions for the Syntactic Atlas of the Dutch dialects’. In: S. Barbiers, L. Cornips & S. van der Kleij (eds.), Syntactic Microvariation.
  • Barbiers, S. (ms). ‘Variation in the right-periphery: Questions for the Syntactic Atlas of the Dutch dialects.’.
  • Barbiers, S. (to appear). ‘Fronting in imperative clauses.’ In: W. van der Wurff (ed.), Imperative Clauses in generative grammar. Studies offered to Frits Beukema. Linguistik Aktuell/Linguistics Today. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Cornips, L & W. Jongenburger (2001). ‘Het design en de methodologie van het SAND-project.’ In: Nederlandse Taalkunde, 215-232.
  • Cornips, L. & W. Jongenburger (2001). ‘Elicitation techniques in a Dutch syntactic dialect atlas project.’ In: H. Broekhuis & T. van der Wouden (ed.), Linguistics in The Netherlands 2001 18. John Benjamins, Amsterdam/Philadelphia, 161-184.
  • Cornips, L. (2002). ‘Variation between the infinitival complementizers om/voor in spontaneous speech data compared to elicitation data.’ In: S. Barbiers, L. Cornips & S. van der Kleij (eds.), Syntactic Microvariation.
  • Cornips, L. & Poletto, C. (2004). ‘On standardising syntactic elicitation techniques.’ In: Lingua.
  • Craenenbroeck, J. van. (2000). ‘Complementerend van: een voorbeeld van syntactische variatie in het Nederlands.’ In: Nederlandse Taalkunde 5-2, 133-163.
  • Craenenbroeck, J. van. (to appear). ‘Van as a marker of dissociation: Microvariation in Dutch.’ In: J.-W. Zwart & W. Abraham (eds.), Germanic in syntax-typological settings.
  • Craenenbroeck, J. van & J.M. van Koppen (to appear). ‘Subject doubling in Dutch dialects.’ In: Proceedings ConSole 9.
  • Craenenbroeck, J. van & J.M. van Koppen (to appear). ‘Pronominal doubling and the structure of the left periphery in southern Dutch.’ In: S. Barbiers, L. Cornips & S. van der Kleij (eds.), Syntactic Microvariation.
  • Hoekstra, E. & M. van Koppen (2000). ‘Het Bildts as resultaat van Fries-Hollands taalcontact.’ In: D. Boutkan & A. Quak (eds.), Language, Substratum, Superstratum Adstratum in Germanic languages.
  • Hoekstra, E. & M. van Koppen (2000). ‘Het diminutiefsysteem in het Bildts: Fries of Hollands?’ In: D. Boutkan & A. Quak (eds.), Language, Substratum, Superstratum Adstratum in Germanic languages.
  • Neuckermans, A., G. de Vogelaer & G. Vanden Wyngaerd (2000). ‘Voegwoordcongruentie in de Vlaamse dialecten. In: V. De Tier, M. Devos & J. Van Keymeulen (eds.), Nochtans was scherp van zin, Huldealbum Hugo Ryckeboer. Vakgroep Nederlandse taalkunde, Gent, 215-221.
  • Neuckermans, A., Gunther de Vogelaer & Guido Vanden Wyngaerd (2002). ‘Complementizer agreement in the Flemish dialects.’ In: S. Barbiers, L. Cornips & S. van der Kleij (eds.), Syntactic Microvariation.
  • Zeijlstra, H. (2001). ‘Negation: answers and questions.’ HIL Project Description Paper. In: HIL Project Description Papers 2001.

Publications for a larger audience

SAND on the internet
Interview with Sjef Barbiers for bvn-television, 25 August, 2001 (in Dutch; to be viewed with Real Audio)

People involved

In addition to the initiators mentioned above (see Background en below), who will act as the supervisors of the project, the following linguists participate in the project:

Methodological advisors:



The Dialect Syntax Archive exists to facilitate the exchangeof research relating to Dialect Syntax and to stimulate cooperation between the Dialect Syntax research groups:

  • Dialect Syntax Archive

    Taal & tongval, journal of language variation, considers all language variational aspects (geographical, social, pragmatic and historic) within the Dutch-speaking regions as its domain:

  • Taal en Tongval