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January 24, 2006

Nederlands NewSpeak?

DutchWindmill.jpgWhen you’ve done things one way your whole life, I feel it’s not easy to do them another way - especially if you don’t see a good reason to change.

This is one reason so many Dutch people object every time the publishes a new edition of Het Groene Boekje (Little Green Book), its guide to grammar, spelling, and vocabulary for Standard or Common Dutch. Whether it’s removing hyphens in some compound words, replacing diareses with hyphens in others, or converting grave to acute accents, it’s bound to be a nuisance, at the very least, for people accustomed to doing things the old way.

The changes are meant to make Dutch easier to read and write, particularly for non-European immigrants. In the short run, however, the changes make more work for newspapers, textbook printers, and others who are required to adopt the new spellings. Many Dutch TV stations and newspapers are flatly refusing to comply with the new rules.

This is the case even in English, which has no regulatory board to govern it. Compounds in English tend to drift from two words, to a hyphenated word, to a single word.

  • Does one say ghost writing, ghost-writing, or ghostwriting?

  • What about e-mail versus email?

  • Do we really have to capitalize “Internet”?

  • Even when both versions are considered correct, companies have to make sure their usage is consistent in all communications.

    HetGroeneBoekje.jpgThis year’s changes to are minor in comparison to the wrath provoked when the Dutch Language Union decided to adopt phonetic spellings of French loan words. Suddenly department stores had new signs reading “Kado” competing with old signs for “Cadeau” (Gift).

    Of course, anyone who has studied French, as I have, knows that it’s a nightmare where spelling and pronunciation are concerned, but the “updated” spelling severs the connection between the Dutch word and its European relatives. I'm concerned that it cuts Dutch off from its own linguistic history and etymology, and it makes reading the language confusing for anyone who grew up with, or even studied, the older spelling.

    I can only imagine what would happen if English were converted to phonetic spelling overnight. It wud bee kompleet kaos for at leest a jenerashun.

    And what’s with removing 14,000 words from the official Dutch language? What did those poor words do to deserve such a fate I wonder? Deliberately diminishing a people’s vocabulary smacks of . Languages belong to the people who speak them, not to government bodies.

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    Posted by Diane Prange at January 24, 2006 9:05 AM
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    If the changes are just intended to make the language easier, then I'd say this is at least prefereble to what the Academie Francaise dictates about the French language. They want to keep French French, so instead of francofying (if that's a word) the spellings of words borrowed from other languages, they make up equivalent French words, replacing "le weekend" with "le fin de semaine," "le walkman" with "le balladeur," etc.

    As far as simplified spelling goes, I find written Kreole (Haitian) absolutely fascinating. I assume it has something to do with the fact that Haiti has a very low literacy rate, but many of the spelling rules, if you can call them rules, seem to be based on English. For example, words which in French would end in "tion" are spelled with "shun" in Kreole, and there is no "sh" in French. I've also noticed that the French word "ou," which means both "where" and "or," is commonly spelled "w" in Kreole.


    Thanks for catching the typo.

    I tend to use Hart’s Rules as the final arbiter for English, and at least the Oxford University Press doesn’t retire 14,000 words!

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