Reality check voor de kwantitatieve Nederlandse taalkunde: laveren tussen de Scylla van het conservatisme en de Charybdis van de zelfgenoegzaamheid

Freek Van de velde, Karlien Franco, Dirk Geeraerts


In this article, we assess the merits of Digital Humanities, and argue that this approach has advanced the field of Dutch linguistics considerably, but at the same time holds some dangers and misconceptions, like (i) the assumption that the new-fangled studies clash with older, more traditional research, (ii) a conceited but unwarranted disdain for current-day non-quantitative work, (iii) the idea that the early adoption of quantitative methods in linguistics created an unbridgeable gap with its neighbouring discipline, the literary studies, and (iv) the risk of the dialectics of lead. We then detect the weak spot of the Digital Humanities approach in linguistics. Though we acknowledge that great strides are currently being made and that earlier research grappled with the issue as well, what turns out to be frustratingly elusive is the whole field of ‘semantics’, especially given the insights from cognitive linguistics about its complicated nature, including encyclopaedic and contextual knowledge. The aporia of semantics is coped with differently in linguistics and literature. While linguistics has sought a rapprochement with the exact sciences, it steered clear from interpretation as much as possible. The field of literary studies, by contrast, remains loyal to its original ‘humanities’ mission, but is now no longer exclusively – or primarily – driven by critically interpreting the meaning of texts as such. Instead, its focus has shifted to offering a critical investigation of the field itself, and of society at large. Both approaches are in danger of derailing: the ‘semanticophobia’ of some linguists dismisses a real and fascinating part of language from its purview; the ‘critical discourse’ approach of some literary colleagues runs the risk of ignoring some useful text-based techniques for empirical research. The main task of Digital Humanities, in both fields, will be to navigate between these pitfalls.


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© Tijdschrift voor Nederlandse Taal- en Letterkunde | ISSN (print): 0040-7550 | eISSN (online): 2212-0521