March 14, 2012 | Dutch

De Nederlandse Taalunie (The Dutch Language Union)

Certain Dutch people dictate things about the language for other Dutch people.

In my Essential Dutch Dictionary, by Gerdi Quist and Dennis Strik, who are also the authors of my Essential Dutch Grammar, I came across information about the Nederlandse Taalunie (Dutch Language Union). The authors describe it as a “kind of joint governmental language department” that since 2004 has also had ties with the former Dutch colony Surinam.

I Don't Know Whether These Are Essential, But They Are Helpful

I Don’t Know Whether These Are Essential, But They Are Helpful

This Nederlandse Taalunie publishes het Groene Boekje  (in English, this can be translated as “the little green book,” and I also saw it as “the green booklet” somewhere). The green book offers the “official spelling” of Dutch words; its contents appear online at, and it is revised every 10 years.

My knowledge about this whole official thing is limited, but not surprisingly, there has been conflict over what is deemed official spelling. After the 2005 revision “became law” in 2006, write the authors of the aforementioned “Essential” books, “a number of Dutch newspapers and magazines strongly criticized the revisions adopted for the new spelling—which attempted to iron out confusions, complexities, and ambiguous rules in the 1995 spelling—and founded Platform de Witte Spelling (the white spelling platform) which, together with het Genootschap Onze Taal (literally, the our language association, an organization of language experts and aficionados) devised an alternative spelling, de Witte Spelling, which was published in het Witte Boekje (the little white book).”

(That was a really hard quotation to follow. Sorry.)

I read elsewhere that the media in Flanders use the green spelling. So the media in the Netherlands use the white spelling, while government organizations in the Netherlands, as well as Flanders media, are green spellers. I wonder whether spelling freaks are reluctant to take jobs at organizations where they will have to spell green when they prefer white, and vice versa. There must be T-shirts for this stuff, but I haven’t been able to locate any online.

It sounds a bit complicated and political. I can’t imagine legislating spelling here, especially not now that English is so global and beyond the reach of even dictatorially inclined American spelling legislators. In other countries, however, there are ways of dealing with recalcitrant misspellers! France has its Académie française, and Germany has its Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung (Council for German Orthography). There is a long list of language regulators in Wikipedia.

Of course, people often get pissed when other people make changes to the spelling they learned in school and have become comfortable with. Language is an intimate and personal thing; people get attached to spelling. It is also hard to learn new spelling. And it is not to people’s advantage as professional adults to suddenly find themselves spelling in ways that are no longer considered official. It dates you and it is inconvenient.

Although I actually think I could live with spelling reform (my texts to my husband are often spelled phonetically), I doubt enough of the rest of the English-speaking world, which is very large, would go along with it. I have to admit, too, that the officially legislated changes to German spelling that occurred after I studied it in college are confusing to me. Still, I don’t object to modifications. I just haven’t yet been able to remember them.

I wonder how vigorous this white-green orthographic battle is in Holland. Ah, language conflict. People sometimes get so animated over words. I do not claim to be immune.

After all, as I have said previously, I aspire to be U.S. Grammar Czar should President Obama create such a position. I would love to legislate some things about English.

Not really spelling so much, but I do think we need some innovation to contend with our lack of a singular possessive gender-neutral pronoun, and I would also like to change the stupid convention in the U.S. that says periods and commas always go inside quotation marks no matter what. 

Comments (2)

Niels • Posted on Thu, July 05, 2012 - 10:18 am EST

Don’t worry. There is not such a language battle here is there is in Flanders…  (Dutch vs. French)

In fact: When I studied journalism I was taught the Green Spelling.

I also must mention that the green spelling and the white spelling are VERY similar, and they only differ in certain details. In fact: I don’t know even which details, they’re THAT minor.
Probably a few C/K issues. I remember that certain words where the Green spelling only allows C and in other cases K, the White spelling allows both.

Product (green spelling) being an example of that (produkt or product in white spelling).

Katherine • Posted on Tue, January 29, 2013 - 11:01 am EST

The history of spelling in English and other languages is pretty interesting.  I just read “Righting the Mother Tongue” by David Wolman, which talks a lot about the history of English and what the benefits are of not having rigid spelling rules.  It allows for greater adaptability, something English is known for.  Interesting side fact, it took a Spanish commission 150 years to make Spanish spelling phonetic.. Crazy!

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