Last month I mentioned the confusion being caused by the introduction of a new version of the official guide to spelling Dutch. I see that Geraldine Coughlan, a BBC News correspondent in The Hague has a story on the same subject. It’s a good read – and I’m relieved to learn that she, like me, finds that she speaks Dutch with lots of mistakes.
Since we are both members of the EU, we have it easy – we don’t have to learn Dutch as a condition of entry here. I find that actually somewhat discriminatory – why should we escape what is imposed on those from outside the EU? Just another of the not-so-subtle ways in which the Dutch authorities, despite the tradition of tolerance, manage to put certain types of allochtonen (foreigners) firmly in their place.
And now the latest news is that Rita Verdonk, the minister for Integration, wants to make it compulsory for Dutch to be the only language that should be spoken on the streets. I always thought she was slightly mad – this seems to confirm that she’s now officially barking. Presumably tourists will be issued with a permit on entry to allow them to carry on conversing in their native tongue?
Update: The Language Log has a good entry on the Verdonk proposal. She’s definitely barking.
Update 2: Dear god, would-be immigrants from outside the EU will have to take a language test that will a) be administered over the phone, b) rely on voice-recognition technology (there’s no human examiner involved) and c) cost the applicant 350 euros for each test. Rita obviously has far more faith in voice recognition technology than I have. This is Dutch we’re talking about – a language that is notoriously difficult to pronounce. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve said something to a Dutch person and got a blank response. After two or three attempts at repeating myself, comprehension finally dawns on them, and the bastards then have the gall to say: "oh you mean…" and parrot back exactly the same words that I’ve just been saying to them… And I’ve been here for 22 years. Heaven knows how someone who has never even set foot in the country is going to cope with a test given over the phone with some smug little voice recognition system humming away at the other end. It’s probably Rita’s plot to stop immigration from non-EU countries entirely.