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Expert in the spotlight in March 2013: Eric Hoekstra

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Featured Expert / Area of focus:

Dr. Eric Hoekstra is working as a linguistic researcher at the department of linguistics at the Fryske Akademy in Ljouwert/Leeuwarden. The Fryske Akademy carries out fundamental and applied research in the fields of the Frisian language, culture, history and society. The results of this research have scientific as well as social importance. The department of linguistics conducts linguistic research on the Frisian language, its dialects and its historical development, as well as on the relation between Frisian and Dutch.

Eric’s specialisations are: linguistics, literature, culture and identity, digitalisation and politics.

Face to face with Eric Hoekstra

What is your background in the field of regional and minority languages/education/ multilingualism? 

My expertise is syntax and morphology, more specifically, changes in the syntax and morphology of a minority language (Frisian) under the influence of a dominant national language (Dutch). Knowledge of the interaction between a minority language and a dominant language may help minority language planners to choose realistic aims in language preservation. Often, the language planners try to preserve characteristics of the language which are anyhow doomed to disappear, or which have even also been lost in dominant languages. On the other hand, phenomena which have a chance of surviving language change are often neglected by language planners out of sheer ignorance.

What do you think is the major challenge in your field of work?

The grammar of minority languages is often not well investigated, since linguists focus on big languages. Yet those linguists investigating minority languages face the challenge of describing it in relation to the dominant language which has influenced its grammar. Linguists working on minority languages might profit from each other’s knowledge and experience if there were a forum where they could meet on a regular basis: for example an annual conference. If scientists know each other personally, then communication improves and they can profit from each other’s knowledge.

What is one of the hottest new projects / items you are working on?

At present, I am working on the largest Syntax of Frisian ever written (around 500 pages). It describes the syntax of Frisian in its own right while focusing at the same time on the syntactic areas in which Frisian differs from Dutch. I would love it if such descriptions were available for Welsh, Catalan, Occitan, North Frisian, and so on!
In addition, I am working with Prof. Arjen Versloot (University of Amsterdam) on developing a formula which explains the strength of attraction which a word in the dominant language exerts on an equivalent word in the minority language, that is, a word resembling it and having the same meaning. This strength of attraction is a function of the frequencies of the two words involved and of the degree to which their lexical shapes resemble each other.

Are there any important references such as articles, links, etc. you would like to mention?

Hoekstra, E and B. Slofstra (2008) “How majority languages influence minority languages: the linguistic mechanisms and some consequences for language maintenance through education.” In: Endangered Languages and Language Learning. Proceedings of FEL XII 24-27 September 2008, (pp. 31-37). 

Hoekstra, E. and A. Versloot (2013). Unpublished article. Fryske Akademy, Ljouwert. Available on request at:

Do you have any questions on these topics?
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Featured topic:

Our focus this month lies on linguistics and minority languages.