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Study Shows Changing Attitudes To Dutch Language

Award Winning Study Shows Attitudes To Dutch Language Mainteance Changing

The winner of the first Hanny van Roekel Prize, Julia de Bres, is continuing the linguistics studies that earned her the prestigious award, undertaking a doctorate in language and its promotion.

The prize, awarded by the New Zealand Netherlands Foundation, recognises a contribution to cultural, educational, and scientific relationships between The Netherlands and New Zealand.

Ms de Bres, daughter of Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres, won the award for a research paper which examined the maintenance of language in a different culture.

As the third generation of a Dutch immigrant to New Zealand, Ms de Bres was interested to observe how the immigrant language survived in a new culture.

Meeting with the Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Rasha H.E. ter Braack, in Wellington, Ms de Bres explained her findings which found there was a quick rate of language assimilation by early Dutch immigrants to New Zealand.

“I interviewed people from families at different rates of arrival – in the 1950s, 60s/70s and 90s,” Ms de Bres said. “What I found from those who arrived in the 50s was that the first generation naturally spoke fluent Dutch, the second generation were bi-lingual while the third generation – like myself – speak no Dutch at all. I am part of the phenomenon.”

She found that unlike other cultures, such as Samoan which feels a greater urgency to preserve their own language, the Dutch immigrants to New Zealand had a desire to assimilate into their new environment.

“In the 1950s there was Government and societal pressure for the immigrants to ‘fit in’,” Ms de Bres says.

Joris de Bres was seven-years-old when he and his six brothers and sisters were brought to New Zealand by his parents.

“We recently had a family reunion at which not a word of Dutch was spoken,” Ms de Bres says.

However, she says, those forces to divorce people from their own cultures are not so strong now as they were then. The more recent arrivals feel more positively about maintaining their Dutch ties as well as being part of their new home.

“While it is not possible to say what the third generation of arrivals in the 1990s’ attitudes and abilities will be in speaking Dutch, the indications are that newer Dutch arrivals will pass on more of their culture and language to generations to come.”

Ms de Bres’s current PhD studies at Victoria University’s Linguistics Department are into Maori language promotion and non-Maori attitudes towards this.

“I’ve been looking into what the Government is doing in this area and its recognition of a responsibility to save the Maori language.”

She believes that compared with a number of other countries, New Zealand is doing well in this area.

HE the ambassador Rasha ter Braack says meeting Julia de Bres was a pleasure and an inspiration.

“It’s wonderful to see how new generations of people with Dutch origins can both fit into their own culture and yet recognise they have strong links to another part of the world.

“New Zealand and the Netherlands have had strong relations for many years and it is very pleasing to see the work of the New Zealand Netherlands Foundation fostering those ties.”

Julia de Bres won $1250 for the continuation of her studies as her prize. Ms de Bres also has a first class honours degree in French and Italian.

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