Research summary: The use of English in Dutch text messages

Lettinga, A., van Wijk, C., & Broeder, P. (2017). The use of English in Dutch text messages as a function of communicative constraints. Taal en Tongval: Tijdschrift voor taalvariatie, 69(1): 71-87

(This one is not specifically about English in Dutch higher education, but it’s super interesting nonetheless!)


  • How often and in what ways do Dutch young adults use English in their text messages?
  • Does their use of English depend on aspects of the communicative situation? Hypothesis: the more intrusive the message and the less familiar the receiver, the less use of English there will be

Data & methods:

  • Experimental production task in which 39 young adults composed a total of 148 texts messages in response to instructions about a communicative situation.
  • Participants were 39 students of a photography course in Dutch MBO (intermediate vocational education, aged 18-23
  • Each composed four text messages with two varying factors:
    • Subjective costs: low intrusiveness of message (an invitation to a festival); higher intrusiveness (a cancellation due to illness)
    • Social distance: recipient is close in terms of distant (a friend) or more distant (a teacher)
  • All lexical (words) and orthographic (spelling) features classified as either English or Dutch in origin


  • Both communicative constraints had a significant effect
  • English words made up less than 5 percent on average and they came from a small set of rather stereotypical items
  • Switches into English happened more when communicating with peers than seniors, and more for a ‘light’ reasons rather than something serious
  • Dutch features were more frequent in the more demanding situation
  • Innovative spellings were more common in Dutch than in English words, suggesting ‘it is far easier to copy full words and expressions from another language than to change their forms. Making and applying ortho- graphic variants demands a level of proficiency in English that may go beyond that of most Dutch texters’
  • English largely occurred at the start and end of messages (greetings and salutations), as opposed to in the core content
  • There were no significant differences in texting behaviour between male and female participants


  • Texting is not an ‘anything-goes’ situation; texters take pragmatic considerations into account, are aware of both addressee and contextual characteristics and depend on ‘well-known pragmatic factors normally found in non-digital modes of verbal communication’. Texters can better be characterised as communication strategists than verbal anarchists

Reader tips: which paper on English in Dutch higher education should I summarise next? Leave a comment!


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