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"New spelling" of the Dutch language


The "nieuwe spelling" of the Dutch language is an orthography that became official in 1996. From that year, government and educational offices were required to spell in compliance with its dictates.

The "new spelling" was not a new system, but (mostly) only a promotion of one popular system over the other.

One "bottleneck" in the spelling transition is the word for "gift."

There was a business in Nijmegen that spelled it both ways* on the shop window and on the sign.

In 1954, The Netherlands and Flanders (northern, Dutch-speaking Belgium) collaborated to publish the first Green Book,* the standard of "preferred Dutch" spellings. This was preferred, specifically, over "allowed Dutch."

The "allowed" (toegelaten) spelling of 1954 included many deviations from phonetic, and it was these which the "preferred spelling" (voorkeurspelling) was intended to correct. (This in addition to the mere fact that there were two systems of spelling the same language.) The variations — many of which originated in the adoption of foreign words* — were standardized in "preferred Dutch." There are exceptions,* but prefered Dutch is a highly-phonetic language.

The Green Book itself is not the legal arbiter of proper Dutch, but is based upon the "spellingbesluit "(besluit = "decree.") The spellingbesluit of 1996, instituting the nieuwe spelling, was drafted by experts co-operating with the Dutch-language Union (Nederlandse Taalunie.)

The Green Book, without official status, is nonetheless the "non-official official" reference. It is produced by the Nederlandse Taalunie for use in Holland, Flanders, Suriname, and the Dutch Antilles. The governments in these regions determine how to conform to the specification.

The Green Book, of course, is always in modification, through addenda and in reprint. In 1994, the Taalunie determined that the spelling system would be amended every ten years. This would involve a new printing of the Green Book and a coordinated spellingbesluit. Presumably, changes in spelling rules would be minor, compared with those of the "nieuwe spelling" of 1996 — the most important function probably being the treatment of words acquired in the interim.

The most recent Green Book reprint occured in late 2005; the minor changes in rules that pertain to this incarnation of Dutch became official in The Netherlands as of August 2006.

There has of course been debate and controversy about stipulations made in the spellingbesluit, and suggestion that government should not make rules about language.

But that's Dutch — discussion, debate, and concensus.


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*In late 2004, the word for "gift" was spelled in two different ways on the window of a Nijmegen shop....

• "Kadoshop," in the new spelling, means "gift shop."

• "Cadeautjes" is a use of the kleinwoord (diminutive) form in the old spelling, and stood above a list of items available.

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* The Dutch term for the Green Book is Groene Boekje.

This usage of the word boek, in the kleinwoord or "small-word" form, is a bit Dutch. The suffix "-je," somewhat like the Spanish "-ito/-ita,)" conveys a sense of smallness while not always describing a small object. It can function as a softening modifier: a "kopje koffie" is no smaller than a cup of coffee; but it sounds less imposing.

The Green Book is indeed imposing.

The naming of this publication as a "booklet" may in fact be an example of dry Dutch humor — the wry understatement.

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* The Dutch langauge seems to incorporate a word with ease and speed, when that word is effective.

It also makes verbs of nouns without hesitation or delay. For example, "googlen." That's a verb, and has been since the search engine became prevalent. Before anybody in the English-speaking world started noticing that the word "Google" was becoming a verb, the Dutch had already automatically converted it.

A search in October 2009 on google.nl for the term "googlen" returned about 9.2 million pages.

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* There is a list of 39 words that do not follow the 1954 voorkeurspelling.

There are various other divergences from complete regularity, for example the fact that "ei" and "ij" represent the same diphthong.

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