Abstract In this experimental study, we aim to arrive at a global picture of the mutual intelligibility of various Dutch language varieties by carrying out a computer-controlled lexical decision task in which ten target varieties are evaluated – the Belgian and Netherlandic Dutch standard language as well as four regional varieties of both countries. We auditorily presented real as well as pseudo-words in various varieties of Dutch to Netherlandic and Belgian test subjects, who were asked to decide as quickly as possible whether the items were existing Dutch words or not. The experiment's working assumption is that the faster the subjects react, the better the intelligibility of (the language variety of) the word concerned.
When speakers of different languages or language varieties communicate with each other, one group (generally the economically and culturally weaker one) often switches to the language or language variety of the other, or both groups of speakers adopt a third, common lingua franca. However, if the languages or language varieties are so much alike that the degree of mutual comprehension is sufficiently high, both groups of speakers might opt for communicating in their own language variety.
This type of interaction between closely related language varieties, which Haugen (1966) coins semicommunication and Braunmüller and Zeevaert (2001) refer to as receptive multilingualism, has been investigated between speakers of native Indian languages in the United States (Pierce 1952), between Spaniards and Portuguese (Jensen, 1989), between speakers of Scandinavian languages (Zeevaert, 2004; Gooskens, 2006; Lars-Olof Delsing, 2007) and between Slovaks and Czechs (Budovičová, 1987).