In recent years, concepts such as connectedness, community, identity, diversity, tradition, nation, and folk have found a prominent position in the socio-political debate in the Netherlands as well as abroad. These concepts often appear in discussions about the consequences (be they negative or positive) of processes such as individualization, secularization, immigration, and globalization. These debates reflect a search for identity and belonging. Since people feel that society is changing and feel threatened by that change, a growing need exists in the Netherlands, as well as throughout Europe, to make a distinction between “the self” and “the other”. The rise of nationalist political movements is merely one form of expression of this need in nearly all western countries.
In the current political climate, language and culture are often held up as the ultimate expressions of identity or being different – frequently in conjunction with ideas of what “belongs” within national borders. Language and culture are seen as contributors to “collective” identities. Although this appears to be an international phenomenon, this raises the question of the extent to which these distinctions are made and what unique characteristics are exhibited in the Netherlands. What role do language and culture play in everyday life?
For decades, research at the Meertens Institute has been focused on the language and culture of everyday life in the Netherlands from an international, comparative, and historical perspective. The developments in Dutch language and culture can be better understood through comparisons with other places in the world – this is what the Meertens Institute intends to contribute to international academia.
Researchers from the Meertens Institute are seen and heard more and more often in the media. In light of the aforementioned social developments, the need for the research provided by the Meertens Institute has recently become more urgent. The nuanced perspective that scientific research offers for social differences can act as a counterbalance to the sometimes intense emotions that arise during the debate. In the years to come, the institute’s research program will also zero in on questions about the current dynamic of interactions with language and culture and how the resulting changes to political identity should be interpreted. The various research fields in the diverse range of disciplines at the institute are unified by a focus on the disparate ways in which people think of and work on collective identities in society, such as how these are given form in everyday cultural and linguistic practices. With a multidisciplinary approach from several linguistic and ethnological perspectives, the institute would like to highlight how these processes of identification are layered. The ambition of the Meertens Institute is to give research a clearer voice in the social debate and to use the Dutch research data and conclusions to obtain a leading position in the scientific debate.
The ambitions of the Meertens Institute for 2018-2023 are, in sum:
1. We study culture and language in the Netherlands, in a globalizing world;
2. We study how language and culture change, how collective identities are constructed, and how these processes are shaped through embodiment and cognition. Both in the societal and the academic debates on these topics the Meertens Institute aims to play a leading role;
3. The Meertens Institute has a rich tradition of empirical and historical research into processes of change in culture and language. This long-term research is connected to the creation of extensive collections: documenting the gathered materials remains a key task of the institute;
4. We are open to innovations: we employ our existing expertise but are open to new paradigms, methods and techniques. We explore digital innovations and shape some of these innovations ourselves.
5. The institute is uniquely placed to take on long-term commitments and projects, such as digital infrastructure development, and take care of the active afterlife and long-term exploitation of such projects.
The Meertens Institute studies and documents language and culture in the Netherlands as well as Dutch language and culture throughout the world. We focus on the phenomena that shape everyday life in society. Together with the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands (Huygens ING) and the International Institute of Social History (IISH) the Meertens Institute forms the KNAW Humanities Cluster.
Managing Director: Prof. Dr Antal van den Bosch
Director of Operations: Yildiz van den Akker
Head of Research Council: Prof. Dr Irene Stengs
Head of Digital Infrastructure: Gertjan Filarski
The non-scholarly services and facilities of the institute – such as the departments of Personnel, Finance, Communications, DTP, Reception, and the Secretariat – have been housed at the Planning and Control Department of the KNAW Humanities Cluster.
Director of Operations: Yildiz van den Akker
The staff members of the Communications Department are responsible for the organisation of internal and external activities and expressions related to communications. These also include activities such as web editing and desktop publishing (DTP). In addition, the Secretariat provides support to the Management Team.
Communications & PR: Simone Wolff, MA
Webmaster: Dr Mathilde Jansen
For more than sixty years, the Meertens Institute has been acquiring archives and its researchers have been building collections. This unique material in the field of Dutch ethnology and variation linguistics is part of the national heritage of the Netherlands.
Library Coordinator: Lidy Jansen
Collection Manager: Douwe Zeldenrust, MA
The Digital Infrastructure Department moves at the interface of ICT, research, and cultural heritage. It also manages several websites on behalf of the Meertens Institute that enable accessibility of general information and reseach results to the general public and to other researchers.
Head: Gertjan Filarski
The Science Committee is a committee appointed by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) which advises both the management of the institute and the Board of Management of the KNAW. At present, the Science Committee includes the following members:
Prof. Dr John Nerbonne, M Sc (Head), University of Groningen
Prof. Dr Liliane Haegeman, Ghent University
Pf. Dr Valdimar Hafstein, University of Iceland
Prof. Dr Henkjan Honing, University of Amsterdam
Prof. Dr Roeland van Hout, Radboud University Nijmegen
Prof. Dr Marc Jacobs, Flemish Interface Centre for Cultural Heritage (FARO)
Prof. Dr Joep Leerssen, University of Amsterdam
Prof. Dr Alexandra Lenz, Institute of Germanic Studies (University of Vienna)
Prof. Dr Andreas Witt, University of Cologne
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The Meertens Institute studies the diversity in language and culture in the Netherlands. Within this broad empirical domain, four research fields are being distinguished: oral culture, traditions and rituals, syntactic variation and phonological variation. The research area referred to as oral culture investigates the oral tradition of songs and folk tales in the Netherlands. Traditions and rituals are primarily considered as forms of (public) action in which a person or group experiences and propagates his, her or its identity. Syntactic variation focuses on linguistic variation within sentences, whereas phonological variation focuses on linguistic variation within sounds. These four domains have a long history in the Meertens Institute: they are supported by large constructed corpora, and the Institute’s researchers belong to the international top of their fields.
The four research fields employ a synchronic and a diachronic perspective while focusing on the understanding of the present situation. They study how present-day phenomena came about and how they spread an develop.
Given the variability and complexity of the data, the research fields are studied by four theoretical approaches. First of all, we have the structuralist approach which approaches the empirical object by investigating the observable properties and trying to find empirical generalizations that may give rise to an explanatory theory. In linguistics, the generative theory is important at the Meertens Institute. In ethnology, there are various approaches that are reminiscent of the structuralist approach, especially in the study of oral culture. A second option is the interpretive approach, which at this point is an important perspective in ethnology, focusing on the meanings and symbols people employ in human interaction and emphasizing agency and performance over structure. The interpretive approach is part of modern sociolinguistics as well, and as such connects to the main perspective in ethnology. Another way to gain insight into the phenomena is a quantitative approach making use of statistical techniques. In sociolinguistics, for instance, structuralist approaches are quite naturally connected to quantitative approaches. A quantitative orientation is relevant in some domains in the cultural sciences as well. Finally, we have the rather new and daring cognitive science approach to variation in language and culture. Obiously, the selected research domains have a cognitive significance, for instance with regard to the mental organization of the linguistic system or the way music is organized in the brain.