A month after his death, Brussels celebrates Multilingualism Day without language sociologist Rudi Janssens. Over a period of twenty years, he mapped the language knowledge and use of Brussels residents via the Language Barometer. “His research was not intended to gather dust.”
The Language Barometer is based on a face-to-face survey of 2,500 inhabitants of Brussels who represent Brussels society. The questions are about language knowledge, language use and the attitude of the inhabitants of Brussels are reserved towards language-related social developments.
Initially, everyone in the Taalbarometer did not believe Dimokritos Kavadias, director of the BRIO research institute where Janssens worked. “One person saw it as a typical Flamingant research, because it went in search of the status of Dutch in Brussels. The other thought it was an investigation that threatened to undermine the status of Dutch in Brussels. But Rudi looked closely at language behavior without any preconceived ideology of assumptions.”
Language barometer as a referee
That Language Barometer also turned out to be important for politics, says Brussels Minister of Multilingualism Sven Gatz (Open VLD). It gives the political debate more depth. “There are many prejudices about language knowledge and use in Brussels. That Arabic would come in third place, after English and French for example. But the Taalbarometer showed that Dutch still counts in Brussels. kind of referee during discussions.”
The language barometer has directly influenced Gatz’s policy. “My policy letter on multilingualism a year and a half ago built on the findings from the barometers.” The first three languages of Brussels are French, Dutch and English. The aim is therefore that Brussels children learn these three languages perfectly and that teachers also recognize the importance of other languages – such as Arabic, the fourth most spoken language. “Rudi Janssens, for example, unintentionally laid the foundation for multilingual policy in Brussels,” says Gatz.
Sober and systematic
Janssens didn’t have a nine-to-five job, but he was a failed scientist. A person who systematically played and mapped a part of the world. That is also the reason why emerita professor by special appointment Machteld De Metsenaere loved working with him so much. After completing his PhD in which he used Boolean algebra in a study of migrants of Turkish and Moroccan origin, she came on the trail for a project on university entrance exams.
“People always said that these were gender neutral and that social background did not count. That turned out to be wrong,” says De Metsenaere. Janssens concluded that such tests constitute a handicap for young people from lower social strata and women. He wrote that down in a way, without excess drum roll and with a watertight methodology. “To this day, studies have been conducted to achieve the same quality on one hand,” says Kavadias.
Science for a variety audience
It is just one example of the sociological research he conducted alongside the Language Barometer Act. For example, he also conducted research into urban flight from Brussels. For Janssens it was important that the results of his scientific research ended up well. They were not intended to gather dust in the library, but to help society move forward. He therefore did not turn his hand to come to a corner of the country for an association. Scientific knowledge had to be passed on to a wide audience.
Janssens was also to work in organizations that we are informative to encourage to encourage multilingualism. The Council for Multilingualism, for example, which was founded last year by Gatz. He was also active within the House of Dutch and was a member of the core group of the Marnixplan. This association is committed to teaching different languages among all layers of the Brussels population.
Janssens was born in Leuven and was born in Winksele. After his studies in social work, he continued at the VUB Brussels, where he also obtained a doctorate. While working on his PhD, he learned Ann Dendooven who would later become his. Together they documents to Bruges, where they formed a family with three children and also developed two grandchildren.
His wife and children remember his positivism, team spirit and his ability to bring people together. He was an entertainer and animator of conversations. The children’s friends also remember the previous Saint Patrick’s Day, which was celebrated in the family with live music and friends. “An Irish pub friend once complimented: ‘This man knows the Irish lyrics better than we do,'” Dendooven says.
Janssens enjoyed going into nature with the family, traveling thoughts to the North Cape, Canada, the United States of Ireland and Scotland. But he also liked to go out closer to home. Thanks to his walking tours through Belgium, he knew many Flemish and Walloon villages.
Janssens had been ill for a while and at a certain point it became clear that he would not win the battle. Although his loved ones, colleagues and science will miss him very much, his children are also grateful for the last months in which they shared many beautiful moments.
Multilingualism Day will take place this Saturday 25 September in the Brussels Parliament. You will find more information here.