Dutchspelreform - Radboud Universiteit - Radboud Universiteit

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					Reforms of Dutch orthography
Anneke Neijt
Afdeling Nederlands and Center of Language Studies, University of Nijmegen

August 8, 2000.
Published with minor amendments in D.Börchers, F. Kammerzell and S. Weninger (2001)
Hieroglyphen, Alphabete, Schriftreformen, Lingua Aegyptia, Studia monographica 3,
Göttingen 2001, p. 209-222.

                      Moght iemant segghen / tes te langhe ghebeidt / ghy comt te láte:
                      het hadde wel goed gheweest / hadde déze maniere van spellen
                      ouer viif. of x. honderd iaren beghin ghenómen. Andwoorde: Het
                      es waar.
                      „Would someone say / you waited too long / you are too late: it had
                      been acceptable / had this way of spelling started 500 years or 1000
                      years ago. Answer: it is true.‟
                             Joos Lambrecht, Néderlandsche spellijnghe, 1550

Present-day Dutch orthography has its roots in medieval times, when a variety of
orthographic conventions were followed, partly due to dialectal differences in
pronunciation. After the invention of printing, a standard version of Dutch orthography
slowly evolved, with publications on orthography as landmarks in the history of this
development. The oldest publication preserved dates back to 1550: Joos Lambrecht‟s
Néderlandsche spellijnghe (71 pages). This work was published at a time when standards
for Dutch spelling had been formed already, witnessed by Lambrecht's captatio
benevolentiae, see above. The enormous variation in use, however, forced the publisher
Lambrecht to propose a spelling standard. From that time on until 1800, some fifty books
or chapters have been published on the rules and principles to follow when writing Dutch.
There remained variation in writing, which not always was due to variation in
pronunciation. The newly translated bible of 1637, known as the Statenvertaling, is
generally considered one of the publications that helped creating a standard version of
Dutch. The orthographic practice followed in this book has been influential, as was the
orthography by famous writers such as Vondel (1587-1679), but official recognition of
one orthographic system only took place in the nineteenth century. This period of spelling
regulation by the governments of Belgium and the Netherlands will be discussed in this
paper, as well as the principles of Dutch orthography and the three most important issues
of the reforms.

1 The period 1795-1997
After the foundation of the Bataafse Republiek (1795), the need for a standard variant of
Dutch was more urgent then before, since the introduction of democracy concurred with
political debate amongst representatives of different regions. The Bataafsche
Maatschappij van Taal- en Dichtkunde, an organization of men of letters, was officially
asked to further the development of a unified orthography. This Maatschappij organized a
contest for the question “To what extent should Dutch orthography be ruled by the sounds

of the language and by ease of pronunciation?” The contest was won by Matthijs
Siegenbeek (1774-1854), professor of Dutch language and oratory in Leiden. Siegenbeek
answered the question affirmatively: orthographic rules should be in accordance with
euphonic considerations and ease of pronunciation. For instance: Dutch kelder „cellar‟,
etymologically related to Latin cella and cellarium, should be written with d since [d] is
present in Dutch pronunciation and schielijk „quick‟, derived from schier and the suffix -
lijk, should not be written with r, since [r] is not present in pronunciation. His proposals
were accepted by the government in 1804, and in 1805 Siegenbeek‟s spelling dictionary
      In Belgium, French was the official language. Flemish activists unsuccessfully
pleaded affiliation with the Netherlands (cf. Willems 1824), until they succeeded in
having their native language officially recognized in Belgium in 1873. In the mean time,
De Vries and Te Winkel, professor and teacher of Dutch respectively, prepared the
publication of a large Dutch dictionary, the Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal, by
establishing a new set of spelling principles and a new spelling dictionary, differing in
minor points from Siegenbeek‟s system. The spelling regulations by De Vries and Te
Winkel were first accepted by the Belgian government (1864) and later also by the Dutch
government (1883). From this time onwards, the Netherlands and Belgium have a
common orthography.
      De Vries and Te Winkel‟s system was heavily criticized, most notably by Kollewijn
(1891), who founded a Spelling Simplification Association (cf. Daman 1941). Several
official Spelling Committees were formed, but their proposals were turned down. Partial
reforms took place in 1930, 1934 and 1936, affecting primarily the writing of case
endings, until in 1946 and 1947 the Belgian and Dutch governments decided on a more
drastic reform. The new version of the spelling dictionary appeared in 1954. This first
phase of the De Vries and Te Winkel spelling period is characterized by fierce opponents
(writers such as Multatuli and Couperus), many spelling reform committees, lots of
activities by the Simplification Association and counteractivities of other associations.
From a governmental point of view, it was a chaotic phase, with a prudent reform in
several minor steps, one re-reforming a former reform, and finally a drastic reform. In the
mean time, Dutch was written in lots of different ways, as some writers and linguist s
wrote according to the proposals by the Simplification Association, others wrote
according to the partial reforms or followed their own system and still others continued to
use De Vries and Te Winkel (Geerts, Van den Broeck and Verdoodt 1977).
      The drastic reform of 1954 did not end the discussion on spelling issues, nor did it
put an end to governmental action. One aspect of the reform was generally accepted: the
decision to allow writing of case endings only where they are present in the spoken
variant of the language. Another aspect turned out to be impracticable: the freedom of
choice for many non- native words, such as for „holidays‟ either vakantie or vacantie.
Therefore the government decided shortly after the publication of the spelling dictionary
that only one of the spelling variants was to be used in official documents. This variant,
the so-called “preferred” spelling, was the variant put forward as most appropriate by the
spelling dictionary of 1954; in a number of instances this was the dutchified form
(vakantie, also allowed vacantie), but in the majority of the words, this was the non-
dutchified form (vacant, also allowed vakant „vacant‟; apotheek, also allowed apoteek
„pharmacy‟). Schools should use this preferred spelling as well, although s ystematic use
of the other variant was not forbidden.
      Here, a note on systematic use is in order. Observe that from a linguistic point of
view neither of the variants can be called systematic, as the list of preferred forms
includes many dutchified spelling forms and the list of allowed forms includes many non-

native ones. Schools that used the dutchified versions of all words with two variants thus
were breaking the law, but as spelling mistakes were of minor importance to the exam
results, no real problems arose. The only less favorable outcome has been that the spelling
remained variable for different groups of users and sometimes even within the written
production of one user. Stability of a standard for writing was not achieved.
     Ten years after the reform, a new spelling committee was asked to investigate the
possibility of better rules for the spelling of non-native words, for the spelling of verbal
inflection and for the use of linking elements in compounds. The Belgian and Dutch
linguists of this committee published their proposals in 1967, which led to fierce
discussions between proponents of a simplified spelling, proponents of an even more
simplified spelling than the one proposed and opponents of any reform at all. A more
detailed proposal was published by the committee in 1969, but the governments decided
not to reform at all.
     In order to establish cooperate spelling regulation in Belgium and the Netherlands
(and to foster language politics in a unified Europe), the Nederlandse Taalunie was
founded in 1980. After several years of investigations by spelling committees who
advised both on the acceptability of a reform and the possibility of a more systematic
spelling, the Taalunie decided on a reform in 1994, the precise contents of which were
published in 1995 and became effective in 1996 (Rapport 1988, Spellingrapport 1994,
Spellingbesluit 1994, Woordenlijst 1995). Compared to the former one, this latest reform
is not drastic. The preferred variant became the offical spelling, except that for so me 40
words the non preferred variant was chosen. Minor points are changed: a more precise
formulation of where to write diaereses (disambiguating digraphs from sequences of
monographs, cf. the name Baäl and the noun baal “bale, bag”) and where to write e and
en for linking morphemes in compounds. A more detailed description of the problems
solved and created by this final spelling reform is given in Neijt and Nunn (1997). As to
the near future: no principled changes are foreseen, but a new spelling dictionary will
appear in 2005.
     Drastic or not, the spelling reforms of the last two centuries have not changed the
principles according to which words are written. And even Siegenbeek, who was the first
to formulate spelling principles by government order, based his principles on earlier
orthographic standards. Present-day Dutch orthograpy thus has a long history, which
began far before governmental interference.

2 Principles
The way Te Winkel (1863) phrased his orthographic principles, which are similar to those
of Siegenbeek (1804), has become widely known in The Netherlands and Belgium.
Amongst a larger number of principles the most prominent ones are:

       Regel der Beschaafde Uitspraak (Principle of Received Pronunciation)
       […] geef door letterteekens al de bestanddeelen op, die in een woord gehoord
       worden, wanneer het door beschaafde lieden zuiver uitgesproken wordt […]
       „Represent by means of letter signs all constituting parts that are heard in a word,
       when it is pronounced purely by civilised people.‟ (Te Winkel 1863, p. 8)

       Regel der Gelijkvormigheid (Principle of Uniformity)
       Geef, zooveel de uitspraak toelaat, aan een zelfde woord en aan ieder deel, waaruit
       het bestaat, steeds denzelfde vorm […]

       „When allowed by pronunciation, use the same form for one and the same word
       and each of its constituting parts.‟ (Te Winkel 1863, p. 12)

       Regel der Afleiding (Principle of Etymology)
       Bij de keus der gelijkluidende letterteekens beslist de afleiding of de oudere vorm
       uit den tijd, toen de nu gelijk geworden klanken nog duidelijk onderscheiden
       konden worden.
       „The choice of one out of different letters for similar sounds is based on the
       derivation or older form which was in use when sounds that are similar now, could
       still be distinguished clearly.‟ (Te Winkel 1863, p. 14)

       Regel der Analogie (Principle of Analogy)
       […] de woorden wier spelling noch door de uitspraak, noch door de
       gelijkvormigheid, noch door de afleiding wordt bepaald, worden op dezelfde
       wijze geschreven als andere, wier spelling met zekerheid bekend is en die
       oogenschijnlijk op overeenkomstige wijze gevormd zijn.
       „Words for which the spelling cannot be decided by means of pronunciation,
       uniformity, or etymology, are written in the same way as words of the same
       structure for which the spelling is known for sure.‟ (Te Winkel 1863, p. 15).

Dutch orthography thus obeys both the Phonological Principle (cf. the first of these four
principles) and the Morphological Principle (the second and fourth one), but the former
takes precendence over the latter, because of the proviso “when allowed by
pronunciation”. The interpretation of this proviso is not crystal clear however, as shown
by the following examples:

    phonologically inconsistent, morphologically consistent:
           [t] – [d] in hond – honden „dog – dogs‟
           [n] – [m] in onaardig – onprettig „not nice – unpleasant‟

    phonologically consistent, morphologically inconsistent:
           [] – [o] in apostel – apostolisch „apostle – apostolic‟
           [d] – [t] in stemde – lekte „voted – leaked‟

The four rules involved are Auslautverhärtung, Nasal Assimilation, Vowel Reduction in
unstressed final syllables and Voice Assimilation in past tense suffixes. Here, it may be
that the different interpretation of the proviso relates to the different status of the
phonological rules involved, such that for instance Auslautverhärtung and Nasal
Assimilation are exceptionless rules, part of the grammar of modern Dutch, whereas the
examples of Vowel Reduction and Voice Assimilation are relicts of older stages of Dutch.
Further study may clarify this point.
     For Te Winkel, the Etymological Principle applied to words with a changed
pronunciation, such as wij – wei („we – meadow‟), which in older stages of Dutch were
pronounced [wi] and [w], but nowadays share the same diphtong []. In recent
discussions, the principle is interpreted much wider, such that it applies to loan words as
well, and hence influences the choice of <c> in electie („election‟), based on the word‟s
Latin origin (eligo – electum) and <k> in elektriciteit („electricity‟), based on the word‟s
Greek origin (ήλεκτρου).
     The Principle of Analogy can be illustrated by the spelling landt (verb stem land plus
third person singular t, „lands‟) analogous to fietst (verb stem fiets, plus third person

singular t, „bikes‟) or the use of a linking s in compounds such as stationsstraat („station
street‟), with an s added because of a comparable compound stationsweg („station road‟).

Graphotaxis and sub-lexicons
The four principles presented above are by no means a complete account of Dutch
orthography, for which also a number of graphotactic rules has been developed and a
strategy for incorporating loan words (Nunn 1998). Graphotactic rules apply to letter
sequences after morphemes have been concatenated. These are also known as
autonomous rules, since they apply to letter strings irrespective of the phonology.
Examples of such rules are vowel letter degemination in open syllables and consonant
letter degemination at the end of syllables, cf.:

    maan – manen (not maanen)          „moon – moons‟
    ik eet – hij eet (not eett)        „I eat – he eats‟

In the use of these rules Dutch differs from German, as witnessed by the fact that words
with the same etymology and the same pronunciation receive a different spelling (Van
Megen and Neijt 1998):

    double vowel letter       single vowel letter
    Du. toon, sjaal           Ge. Ton, Schal                  „tone, shawl‟

    single consonant letter   double consonant letter
    Du. kan, vol              Ge. kann, voll                  „can, full‟

Notice that because of these rules, Dutch orthography is morphologically less consistent
than German:

         Du. toon – tonen     Ge. Ton – Tonen                 „tone – tones‟
         Du. vol – volle      Ge. voll – volle                „full – full+suffix‟

This aspect of Dutch spelling has been noticed explicitly by Pontus de Heuiter (1581), who
claims that it better fits pronunciation: V tale int spreken en schriven zal zeer verzahten/
indien u gelieft metter tijt afbreken/ en verlaten d’oude gewente van veel consonanten int
middel en einde der woorden bij een te breingen („Your language, spoken and written, will
smoothen considerably when you decide to stop the old habit of writing many consonants
within words and at the end of words.‟). There was a famous argument about the use of
double consonants and vowels in the seventeenth century between Vondel (writer of many
plays) and Leupenius (clergyman), the former against doublings, and the latter in favour of a
morphologically more consistent spelling. Hence, well before the introduction of an official
standard of Dutch orthography in the nineteenth century, this aspect of the system was present
already, though not as uniform or consistenty applied as today. Until 1954, for instance,
degemination was widely in use, except in words with ee and oo such as steenen „stones‟ and
toonen „sounds‟, which were pronounced differently in some dialects than their near-
homophones stenen „to sigh‟ and tonen „toes‟.
     The problem of how to write loan words was only recently taken up. In Te Winkel
(1863), the issue is discussed, but no strict rules are formulated. However, Te Winkel
distinguishes sub- lexicons of Dutch in his consistent use of foreign letters (x, y and q) for non-
native words only, whereas in earlier work, such a strict separation of letter inventories for

native and non-native words was not present, cf. the older native forms ryxdaalers, naauwlyx,
quam, ic, cloester, written by Te Winkel and presently as rijksdaalders, nauwelijks, kwam, ik,
klooster. Also, non-native words sometimes received a written form that from a modern point
of view is a mixture of orthographic conventions, cf. koncierge in Kiliaen (1599), which is
clearly the marked option today (concierge).
     Although the opposition between the native and non-native orthography standard is clear,
as is the assignment of particular morphemes to the native or non-native sub- lexicon on the
basis of synchronic features (Van Heuven, Neijt and Hijzelendoorn 1995), the issue of which
non-native words to assign to which writing standard has not been settled in any systematic
way, cf. above- mentioned vakantie – vacant „holiday – vacant‟, and numerous other related
pairs such as predikaat – predicatief „predicate – predicative‟, tekst – context „text – context‟
and kwantum – quotum „quantum – quota‟. The only regularity is, that native words, with the
exception of proper names, however, are written without foreign letters. Some non-native
words are written according to the native standard, others are written with x, y and q, without
there being clear guidance of when to take which option: sex-appeal – seksshop, cyclaam –
cilinder, quadrafonie – kwadrant.
     Perhaps, further study of the historical developments will show that sub- lexicons and
graphotactic rules are the result of opposing forces in Dutch orthography: on the one hand
conformity with Latinate writing and on the other hand accurate representation of
pronunciation. Here, Dutch may have developed another balance between these factors than
German and other European languages. Future contrastive studies and research into the
development of Dutch orthography may show whether or not this relationship forms an
explanation for the development of Dutch and other European orthographies created in a
period that Latin was the language one first learned to write and read.

3 Issues handled by orthographic reforms
Presumably, learning Dutch orthography is not more complicated than learning German
orthography, and both may be easier to learn than English orthography. No doubt, there will
be differences in the ease of use of these orthographies (see for instance Gfroerer, Günther &
Bock (1989) for the effect of writing capitals in nouns), but until now, cross- linguistic
investigations did not form the incentive of any reform in Dutch. Rather, monolingual
considerations such as the number of spelling errors, vagueness of the rules, difficulty in rule
application or the need for additional regulations were the driving forces. For an overview of
all issues present in recent Dutch discussions on spelling reform, see Neijt and Nunn (1997).
Here, the three most important issues will be presented that have changed since the first
official standard by De Vries and Te Winkel of 1863: the loss of case endings, new rules for
linking elements in compounds, and the development of rules for non-native words. To this
end, three dictionaries will be compared: the spe lling dictionary of 1881 (De Vries and Te
Winkel, 3rd edition, 1 st edition 1865), of 1954 (the Groene Boekje, named „Green Booklet‟
after the colour of its cover) and the most recent one of 1995 (also known as Groen Boekje).

The loss of case endings
Presumably, it is because of the writing conventions for case endings, that Dutch orthography
is known to have been reformed many times. The rules formulated in 1863 were difficult to
use and difficult to learn, as in the spoken variant of Dutch the final [n], [n] and [] were
absent. How to decide that it should be in ruimeren kring … haren invloed … geene
rekenschap in stead of in ruimere kring … haar invloed … geen rekenschap? In order to apply
the rules correctly, one had to know the syntactic function of the phrase and each noun‟s

gender: masculine, feminine or neuter. Many speakers of Dutch have no intuitions about
gender, or had to rely on the gender present in their dialect. Only the class of neuter nouns is
distinguished in spoken standard Dutch by the choice of pronouns and definite articles: het for
singular neuter nouns, de for all plural nouns and for the singular masculine or feminine
nouns. Guidelines for the correct choice are present in the spelling dictionary of 1865 (13
pages, 59 guidelines, some of them based on the meaning of words, some based on their
form). Simplified guidelines were formulated by the Dutch (not the Belgian) government in
1930 and 1934, but a partial re-reform of these simplifications took place in 1936. In 1954,
the explanation of gender is as extensive as the one of 1881, but its aim is different. It now
serves the sole purpose of chosing the correct pronominal forms for each noun: for instance,
dit, wat and het for neuter singulars, die, hij and zijn for masculine singulars, die, zij and haar
for feminine singulars and die, zij and hun for all plurals. The use of <n> as a case ending has
become optional, but its use is allowed only in certain contexts (adjectives followed by
masculine nouns). In fixed phrases, such as in koelen bloede („in cold blood‟) the
pronunciation is still with [n] in careful speech (as claimed by the spelling committee of 1954,
ch. 1, par. 12), and hence <n> is written. Similarly, the traditional genitive endings in /r/ and
/s/ are pronounced, hence written. In 1995, only two pages deal with the gender of nouns,
solely for the purpose of pronominal reference. In the paragraph on linking elements in
compounds, the old case ending –n is mentioned, since it is retained in compound-like fixed
phrases such as grotendeels and meestentijds („for the most part, most times‟). Other fixed
phrases are included in their traditional form in the dictionary without further explanation.
Hence, the written form still is te allen tijde even though most speakers of Dutch would
pronounce this phrase as if it were written ten alle tijde. In sum: case endings which are not
pronounced, are not written, except in fixed phrases. Once these are reformed as well, the
period of writing unpronounced cases will come to an end.

The use of linking <n> in compounds
The rules for writing or not writing <n> in between the words of a compound have been
changed twice, in 1954 and in 1995. The choice is difficult, because the writing of n is not
guided by pronunciation. An utterance such as deze boeken hebben mooie gouden randen
(„these books have beautiful golden borders‟) is a concatenation of words ending in schwa.
By convention, the suffixes of material names such as gouden and plural verbs and nouns
such as boeken, hebben, randen are written –en. Both the reform of 1954 and the reform of
1995 took as their point of departure that this aspect of Dutch orthography would not change.
The outcome of the new rule system for compounds thus could be that n would be written in
compounds even though [n] is not pronounced.
     Because of the two reforms in the history of Dutch orthography, eight classes of
compounds can be distinguished, based on the choice of e or en at the end of the first word of
the compound (other alternatives for writing the linking sound are not available):

                       1881                    1954                   1995
    e-e-e              zonneschijn             id.                    id.
    en-en-en           gebarentaal             id.                    id.
    e-en-en            vrouwebeeld             vrouwenbeeld           id.
    en-e-e             aspergenbed             aspergebed             id.
    e-e-en             pannekoek               id.                    pannenkoek
    en-en-e            gedachtengang           id.                    gedachtegang
    e-en-e             zotteklap               zottenklap             zotteklap
    en-e-en            slakkenhuis             slakkehuis             slakkenhuis

This haphazard spelling has led morphologists to conclude that the spelling contrast of e and
en in compounds is irrelevant (Trommelen and De Haas 1993, p. 402). A short enumeration
of the rules in the three dictionaries shows why:

    The dictionary of 1881:
    Formal conditions:
         en before a vowel or h (ganzenei, slakkenhuis „goose-egg, snail-shell‟)
         no n for words with obligatory e (bedehuis „chapel‟)
    Semantic conditions:
         en when the word has a plural interpretation (flessenmand „basket for bottles‟)
         e when the word has a singular interpretation (flessebakje „dish-stand for one
         e before –boom when boom („tree‟) is optional or when the first word is flower or
         en in words indicating human beings (vrouwenkleed „female‟s dress‟)
         en for the class of male animals (apengezicht „ape‟s face‟)
         e for animal‟s bodyparts when used as name for a plant (slangekop, lit. serpent‟s
        head, „penstemon‟)
         en for animal names as part of a plant name (slangenkruid, lit. serpent‟s herb,
        „viper‟s buglos‟
         choice of e or en based on the word‟s singular or plural interpretation (paardestal
        or paardenstal „horse-stable‟, dependent on the number of horses that use the stable)
    Etymological conditions:
         en in frozen phrases (grotendeels „primarily‟)

    The dictionary of 1954:
    Formal conditions:
         e in words ending in –e with only plural –s (horlogemaker „watch- maker‟)
    Semantic conditions:
         en words necessarily interpreted as plurals (bijenkorf „bee hive‟)
         e before –struik, -boom (rozestruik, pereboom „rose-bush, pear-tree‟)
         en for persons (heldendaad „heroic deed‟)
         e indicating a certain woman (Regentesselaan „lady governor‟s lane‟)
    Etymological conditions:
         e for hereboer, pete- „gentleman- farmer, godfather‟s/godmother‟s‟
         en in frozen phrases (grotendeels „primarily‟)
         else: write e (ganzepen „goose-quill‟)

    The dictionary of 1995:
    Formal conditions:
         en in words ending in en (keukendoek „kitchen-cloth‟)
         en in words with only plural en (bijenkorf „bee hive‟)
    Semantic conditions:
         e for unique persons or matters (Koninginnedag, hellevuur „Queen‟s day, hell- fire‟)
         e for intensifiers (reuzeleuk „very nice‟)
         e for fauna-flora-compounds (kattekruid „cat-mint‟)
         e for bodyparts in frozen compounds (kinnebak „jaw-bone‟)
    Etymological conditions:

         e for unrecognizable parts (flierefluiter „good-for-nothing, irresponsible person‟)
         en in frozen phrases (grotendeels „primarily‟)
         else: write e (hoogtevrees „fear of heights‟)

As shown by this enumeration, no concise and crystal clear system of rules could be designed,
and only because of the urgent need to decide which spelling form to include in the spelling
list, these kinds of rules have been established. The 1995 list of rules is complex and
linguistically less attractive than rules proposed by the spelling committee (Spellingrapport
1994, p. 76), but one of the favorable outcomes of both sets of rules is, that the subjective
judgment of the first word‟s plurality is no longer part of the system. The unpredictable
decisions of the spelling committee (kreeftenvangst „lobster catch‟ versus forellevangst „trout
catch‟ for instance) are replaced by a more objective system. Moreover, once the spelling of a
word within a regular compound is known, other compounds with the same first word follow
that example, cf.:

    before 1995
        e     geboortedag            „birthday‟ (date of birth)
        en    geboortencijfer        „birth-rate‟ (number of births)
        e     sterftecijfer          „mortality rate‟ (singulare tantum)
        en    bessenjam              „berry jam‟ (no jam from one berry of course)
        en    bessesap               „berry juice‟ (one berry may ruin your clothes)

    after 1995
         e     geboortedag
         e     geboortecijfer
         e     sterftecijfer
         en    bessenjam
         en    bessesap

Fortuitous though the new rule system is, some forms with or without n remain remarkable
even several years after the reform: klassenfoto („picture of a school class‟, by rule 2) and
waardestelsel („system of values‟, by rule 9). Here, the association of en with plural meaning
and e with singular meaning forms a clash with the outcome of the actual spelling
prescriptions. It remains to be seen how long it takes to get rid of the influence of the
semantic rules that have been replaced by rules based on formal features, but the outcomes of
psycholinguistic experiments suggest that this influence will pertain, because the association
of en with plural meaning in ordinary nouns and verbs is kept alive by the enormous amount
of such nouns and verbs in current usage (Schreuder e.a. 1997).
     One remarkable aspect of the choice between e and en concerns formations with phrases
embedded in compounds. Thus, instead of waardestelsel, one may want to write about
normen-and-waarde(n)stelsels („systems of norms and values‟). The embedding of a plural
phrase within the compound triggers the choice of the plural ending en. On the other hand,
comparison with waardestelsels triggers the choice of the singular form e. This aspect has
escaped the regulations thus far.

Hybrid words
In the earliest standard of Dutch orthography, the issue of how to write foreign words was not
regulated by rules. De Vries and Te Winkel (1881) distinguish three types: words of a foreign

origin that have become similar to native Dutch words (e.g. bijbel and keten „bible, chain‟),
words of a foreign origin with a Dutch pronunciation similar to the foreign one (e.g.
incognito, souspied „incognito, trouser strap‟) and words of a foreign origin with a hybrid
pronunciation, different from the original one, but still not completely similar to native words
(e.g. advocaat, officier „lawyer, official‟). This tripartition did not lead to systematic rules for
these word classes, since once and again, De Vries and Te Winkel wanted to follow common
practice, not rules. The spelling of foreign words included in Dutch they therefore claim to be
idiosyncratic, but the choice has been influenced of course by frequency of use or register:

   native spelling, more frequent words or words of everyday life:
   kasteel, groep, biljart, sekse „castle, group, billiards, gender‟

   non-native spellings, less frequent, more restricted use:
   catacombe, douane, milieu, sextant „catacomb, Customs, environment, sextant‟

Also, some homonyms were disambiguated by the orthography:

   economie – oeconomie „penny-wise-ness – economics‟
   kadet – cadet       „small bread – cadet‟
   komedie – comedie   „theater – comedy‟
   lokaal – locaal     „room – local‟
   praktijk – practijk concrete vs. abstract „practice‟

In 1954, this strategy of a disambiguating orthography (which had no principled basis) was
abandoned. For some aspects of the spelling of foreign words formal rules were formulated.
The mayonaise-rule for instance: the choice of single n between /j/ and full vowel in such
words, irrespective of the use of nn or n in the donor language. Hence: the forms
conditionneeren, pensionneeren became conditioneren, pensioneren. This rule however, is
not embedded in a larger strategy of formulating rules for such words. Furthermore, the rule
seems to have been abandoned in 1995 since questionnaire, a word newly introduced in the
dictionary violates it.
        For many other foreign words no clear choice was made in 1954. Two alternatives
were allowed: the preferred form next to a form also allowed. The decision which alternative
to assign which status was based on assumed frequency of use. The most frequently used
form was the preferred one. This lead to inconsistencies such as:

       vakantie, also vacantie „holidays‟
       vacant, also vakant „vacant‟
       tekst (no alternative) „text‟
       context, also kontekst „context‟
       toost, also toast „toast‟
       croquet (no alternative) „kind of game‟
       croquet, also kroket „kind of food‟

The committee‟s intention was to stimulate the natural course of development, since the
language users were assumed to choose the preferred variant for themselves. This intention
turned out to be naive and totally impracticable. Teachers at school wanted to use one and
only one form. Therefore, in 1955, schools were instructed to use the preferred variant. As

this variant is not based on systematic choices, the spelling of hybrid words in Dutch is
        The spelling committee of 1954 wanted to carefully enhance dutchification of foreign
words. To that end, some rules for the complex spelling of non-native words were introduced,
such as the mayonaise-rule mentioned above and a rule for the choice of i or ie (Neijt and
Zuidema 1995). This strategy was denied completely in 1995, when the preferred form was
established as the only form prescribed. The Principle of Analogy, formerly meant to regulate
the spelling of morphologically complex forms, was used to remedy some inconsistencies:

    vulkaan „volcano‟
    vulcaniseren > vulkaniseren „vulcanize‟

    corps „student‟s union‟
    korpus > corpus „corpus‟

However, this new interpretation of the Principle of Analogy has been applied to only a very
small number of words, and hence, it would be exaggerated to call the spelling reform of 1995
a principled one for this reason.
     The reforms of the spelling of foreign words in Dutch led to a situation reminiscent to the
one sketched for the compound words: some words were never reformed, some words were
reformed once, some words were re-reformed:

    words with a native spelling as starting point
    1881              1954            1995
    anekdote          id.             id.
    komplot           id.             complot
    conserven         conserven       id.
    katheter          catheter        katheter

    words with a non-native spelling as starting point
    1881             1954            1995
    college          id.             id.
    croquet          id.             kroket
    electrocutie     elektrocutie id.
    insect           insekt          insect

The choice of the correct spelling of foreign words still is a difficulty not solved by the

Reforming the orthography of a language is no minor issue. If the decision to reform has been
taken, the action must be carefully preplanned by the government, but even then, it takes huge
effort, raises emotions, leads to fruitless discussions, and brings along enormous costs (for the
reprinting of books in the new spelling). These disadvantages are counterbalanced by possible
advantages such as more conspicuous rules, ease of rule application and standardization of
new aspects.
     The two reforms of Dutch orthography led to the situation where words, without there
being a change in their phonology, are written differently within a short period of time, and
sometimes are re-reformed such that the oldest form is the modern one. When a more

principled approach of Dutch spelling would be developed, future reforms could be less
ludicrous than the past ones.
     It is difficult to evaluate the merit of different rule sets from a linguistic point of view.
One set of spelling rules is not necessarily superior over another set of rules. Theoretical
considerations concerning simplicity and number of rules form one dimension along which a
comparison can be made. Other dimensions that need to be taken into account are the learning
stages required and the ease with which a spelling once learned can be used both in writing
and reading (Cohen and Kraak 1972). Here, considerations of stability o f visual word forms
come into play. Presumably also patterns of letter sequences are important. As none of the
world‟s languages operates in isolation, the orthography of one language may influence the
orthography of another. This forms an ongoing factor o f influence by which l’ histoire se
répète. Once the dominant language for orthography was Latin. For Dutch, other languages,
such as French, German and English have been influential as well and that is why a system
with different rules for native and non- native words has been developed. At the moment,
English is for Dutch language users their second language, and a special paragraph of the
spelling dictionary (Groene Boekje) deals with the question how to write verbal inflection of
English words. Perhaps new rules will be developed for English words in general, creating a
third set of orthographic rules for this sub- lexicon.

I would like to thank Anneke Nunn for her feedback on an earlier version of this paper.

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