Groet Mestreechs Dictee by Carol Herman

For those of us brought up in Anglo-Saxon education systems, the notion of voluntary participation in a dictation competition would be about as appealing as dropping by the local dental surgery for a spontaneous root canal treatment. Not so in the Netherlands where national as well as local “dictee” have become an annual tradition. One might even say “international”, as Flemish-speaking Belgians have proven very successful in the Dutch language version. The compulsion to put your spelling skills to the test is not only restricted to speakers of “King’s Dutch” to misappropriate a British expression but is also prevalent in more localised areas: Limburg’s dialects – and in this case, that of Maastricht, – reign supreme!

On Sunday, 21 May, Centre Céramique, Maastricht, hosts the 18th edition of the “Groet Mestreechs Dictee, 2023, sponsored by Veldeke Mestreech. This latter organisation is devoted to nurturing the city’s dialect as a living, breathing entity and is determined to foster its spelling, style and grammar so that Maastricht’s residents – and any other enthusiasts – will continue to speak and write the language in the future. What better way to demonstrate one’s fluency than to take part in this year’s “Groet Dictee”?

Carin Meijs, one of the organisers of the event, has been connected to Veldeke for 10 years and as well as the dictation, is actively involved in arranging other occasions throughout the year to foster dialect usage also by younger Maastricht residents. There are about 1000 members of the local branch but, as Carin points out, this number is deceptive as once you sign up, your whole family is granted branch membership as well as that of Veldeke Limburg, the Province-wide “mothership” for nurturing the various local dialects as “streektaal” (regional languages).

If you fancy learning the basics so that you can join in and speak a few words of the local dialect, then Carin mentioned the short guide available on the Veldeke Mestreech site. “Talk like a local” not only provides a brief summary of essential words and phrases in Maastricht dialect but also gives tuition in pronunciation – very important when attempting to go native. Give it a go – it is great fun!

The topic for this year’s dictation is “Leesplenske”, written and presented by Phil Dumoulin who, forty years ago, was one of the four Maastricht dialect enthusiasts who developed a beautifully illustrated reading board to promote the language amongst young speakers. 2023 is the 40th anniversary of its introduction so it is entirely appropriate that Phil, the only surviving member of the original quartet, should write the text and present it to the participants. The actual dictation will be narrated by Hortense Brounts, former chairwoman of Veldeke Krink Mestreech, who will read out every sentence as well as indicate the necessary punctuation.

The doors to Centre Céramique will open for participants at 10:30 with the start of the “Groet Mestreechs Dictee 2023” taking place at 11:00. It is expected that approximately 100 people will take part, a combination of those competing for the trophy as well as those participating just for fun – or, as the delightful Dutch expression says rendered in dialect as “veur spek en boene”, “for the bacon and beans”. The competitors’ versions of the dictation will be marked by the jury; the others will have the opportunity to grade their attempts when the correct text is projected on the screen for discussion after the musical interval during which the jury will be fully occupied wielding their red pens.

The Maastricht Salon Orchestra will perform during this intermission starting at 12:00. It will feature a guest appearance by André Rieu, that proud son of Maastricht and last year’s presenter of the dictation written by his wife, Marjorie.

The opportunity for discussion and the correction of their attempts at the dictation by bacon and beans fans will take place at 13:00 followed by the announcement of who has won as well as the presentation of prizes to the winners at 13:20. The occasion will draw to a close at 13:40.

Signing up is free and you can do so on the Veldeke website. It’s a great site that offers lots of information on a cultural phenomenon that is interesting to all. Enjoy… and good luck to all participants in the “Groet Mestreechs Dictee 2023”!