In the cabinet there was a fierce discussion in 1996 about a change in the spelling of the Dutch language. In particular, the new rules on intermediate sounds, which, for example, became pancake pancake, led to turmoil among ministers.
In the Council of Ministers, people were not convinced of the logic of these rules, but, among other things, because Belgium was already tack, the government officials nevertheless agreed to their introduction.
This is evident from the minutes of the Council of Ministers that were made public today, 25 years after that. Today is Public Day, the day on which the National Archives presents documents every year that had to remain secret from the public until that year.
The then Minister for Development Cooperation, Jan Pronk, was the fiercest in the Council of Ministers. He had hesitation in how “bastard words”, modified words from another language, should be written in the new spelling. “His main concern, however, concerns the regulation of the spelling of the intermediate sound in composite words,” says in the minutes.
The notelist quotes Pronk: “The language user will have to memorize the illogical and difficult to understand rules and the exceptions to them, while the old system was to explain to each child.”
Multiple ministers are attacking Pronk. They also point out that the decision to change the spelling of the Dutch language can have major financial consequences. Gerrit Zalm, then Minister of Finance, has the idea that Flanders was mainly listened to during the proposed spelling change.
Responsible Secretary of State Aad Nuis (Education, Culture and Science) tries to explain the logic of the new spelling in the Council of Ministers. “Its good to remember that the logic of the old rule can only be seen through for people who know it from an early age.” During that discussion, government officials reproach each other for responding from the emotion.
Pronk initially gets its way partly. After his “big objections”, Nuis has to investigate whether the proposed rule on intermediate sounds cannot still be changed.
Only when Nuis explains more often, also at a next ministerial meeting, that the decision cannot actually be changed anymore because the Dutch Language Union has prepared the new spelling in such a way and that Flanders has already introduced it, the Council of Ministers agrees. But not wholeheartedly. The notelist notes: “Secretary of State Nuis regrets that he has not been able to convince Minister Pronk and to a lesser extent the Prime Minister (Wim Kok, ed.) of the logic of the new spelling rules for compositions.”
So we know this kind of detail from behind the scenes political discussions thanks to Public Day. Normally, the public will hear what ministers decide, but not how the discussion goes in the Trêves Hall where they meet.
The pieces revealed today are also about more sensitive topics than the spelling of Dutch language. Ministers in the Council of Ministers also speak about the aftermath of the fall of Srebrenica. These minutes, despite the secrecy, were already allowed to be used for research. There are also Ministerial Council Minutes in which Pronk is already concerned in 1996 about the dependence on Russian gas in the future.