Hans den Besten is one of the best linguists of our generation and, arguably, the most all-round Germanist of all (we can already hear his protests). We became friends with Hans in the early 1970s when he joined our small group of generative grammarians at the University of Amsterdam. Even then we were impressed by Hans’s erudition and knowledge in many different fields. Slightly eccentric in an endearing way, Hans has always been the admirable kind of scholar that has become increasingly rare, both inside and outside of linguistics.


His early work was focused on verb movements, among other things, and he gave the finishing touch to what has become the standard analysis of Verb Second phenomena in Germanic. He contributed to the analysis of numerous other phenomena, both in Germanic and beyond: hence, the title of this Webschrift. In 1976, at MIT, he met the South-African linguist Hans du Plessis, who aroused Hans’s interest in Afrikaans. Afrikaans is a very interesting language for a Dutch linguist, almost accessible like a native language, but crucially different from Dutch in many remarkable ways. For political reasons, the study of Afrikaans was not very popular in those days, almost a taboo in fact. At the time, Hans was the only Dutch linguist who broke the taboo and became one of the leading generative students of Afrikaans. Yiddish was also added to Hans’s arsenal and gradually he became the internationally acclaimed Germanist we all know and appreciate.


Thanks to his research on Afrikaans, Hans also became interested in creolization phenomena, and together with Pieter Muysken and Norval Smith, he formed the triumvirate that established the undisputed fame of the Amsterdam linguistics department as Europe’s leading center for the study of Creole languages in the 1970s and 1980s.


Since Hans has made valuable contributions to almost every topic in the study of Germanic, it is practically impossible to single out anything in particular. In addition to the wide variety of his work in a number of areas,  some of his contributions are classics: the aforementioned analysis of Verb Second and also Hans’s elucidations of verb clusters in Germanic, not only as to dialectal variety but also in terms of analytical innovation (“the third construction”).


As many may know, Hans’s life has not always been all roses in recent years. He has always accepted his various misfortunes with dignity and in a rather philosophical way, increasingly also with humor. In linguistics as well as in his struggle with Parkinson’s disease, Hans has often been an inspiring example for us.


The immediate occasion for this festive Webschrift is that Hans has turned 55 on December 18th, 2003. When the idea was first launched, we received overwhelming positive response from all linguists we approached. For practical reasons, we have limited the list of contributors to colleagues who work (or used to work) in Holland. We would like to thank all participants for their spontaneous and enthusiastic reactions, which is a measure of the unique stature that Hans enjoys in our community, both as a linguist and as a friend.


Most important of all, we warmly congratulate Hans on his 55th birthday and we hope that he will continue to be our erudite, inspiring and much-appreciated colleague for many years to come!



Jan Koster

Henk van Riemsdijk 



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