Gazette van Detroit and Emigrant Dutch

Door Christopher Joby

Printing is an important means by which migrant communities can keep their language alive. In sixteenth-century Norwich, the Brabander Anthonie de Solempne operated a press for several years, printing psalters and liturgical books for use in the Dutch language church.

Printing also played a role in supporting the use of Dutch among the tens of thousands of Dutch and Flemish who emigrated to the United States and Canada in the nineteenth century for religious and economic reasons. Roland Willemyns records that the first Dutch-language newspaper begun by the immigrants was the Sheboygan Nieuwsbode in 1849. By the outbreak of WWI in 1914 there were 25 Dutch-language newspapers and periodicals in the United States. In that year the Gazette van Detroit was founded as a Dutch-language newspaper for Flemish car workers in Michigan. Over time, as migrants shifted towards English, it became bilingual and shifted from being a daily to appearing twice weekly. Circulation numbers dwindled, but in 2006, funding from the Flemish government gave it a new breath of life online, using subscriptions as a source of income. However, by 2018, with subscriptions low and perhaps as well a reduction in readers who knew Dutch, the Gazette van Detroit has had to call it a day.

To judge from posts in Facebook groups such as ‘Dutch Culture and Traditions’, the descendants of emigrants still hold to some of the customs of the Low Countries. As to whether they keep alive the language in Michigan, or in other parts of the world to which Dutch and Flemish have migrated, this is one of the questions that the new Citizen Science project, ‘Vertrokken Nederlands – Emigrant Dutch‘ hopes to answer. According to one scholar, migrants and their descendants continue to use the emigrant language for 6-8 generations, although this depends on factors such as the relative isolation of the migrant community and the dominant language in their adopted country. Whether the Dutch and Flemish are any different to other groups of migrants in this regard is a question that this project hopes to answer.

Further reading and web resources:

Dit stukje verscheen eerder op het blog The History of Dutch.