“Raadstaalbingo”: Protest against political jargon by Dutch local councils

This is a blog post written by Ratih Suwitra, another student from my MA course Testing Prescriptivism:

Maybe it is a coincidence, maybe it is the linguistics courses rubbing off on me, but lately I have been noticing a few things on language conservatism in my daily routine. Browsing through my stack of Dutch food and cooking magazines, I came across an article by Marjan Ippel, foodtrend watcher and monthly column writer for delicous. magazine in which the author changed the English expression  signature dish into Dutch handtekeninggerecht (Delicious. May 2011: 38-39). Doing this, she explicitly noted, was for the language purists amongst us.

It seems a bit ironical that the author of an article for a Dutch magazine that carries an English name is concerned about language purism, but then, only two days later, I read in the newspaper De Volkskrant about an initiative relating to language purism and Anglophobia. It’s called “Raadstaalbingo” (council language bingo).

Raadstaalbingo plays on the concept known as “Bullshit bingo” or “Buzzword bingo”, and cards for the game can be freely downloaded.

A Raadstaalbingo playing card

Raadstaalbingo attacks the jargon of local council members during their meetings, and if we take a closer look at these Bingo words, we see that almost half of them are originally English terms, such as benchmark, revolving fund, social return on investment, outcome criteria, and challengen (the latter verb was turned into a Dutch infinitive by the addition of the –en suffix). All Dutch local council meetings are open to the public, and citizens seem to be annoyed by the political jargon used when councillors are debating the current and future affairs that concern them. The game involves marking the ‘bullshit’ words on the card during council meetings, and the challenge is to dare calling out ‘Bingo!’ when the right number of words has been reached.

De Mystery Burger

This new Bingo game that aims to teach Dutch local council members to use more intelligible language was created by the Periklesinstituut, a Dutch institute that promotes the improvement of the political processes, including effective communication between government bodies and the people. Two members of the institute, John Bijl and Kemal Rijken, sat in on over 85 council meetings during the past two years, and concluded that the communication between council members and citizens leaves room for improvement, lots of it. They collected their findings into a book, called De Mystery Burger (2014), and they are also the ones who came up with Raadstaalbingo.

This brings up the interesting question of the extent to which Dutch speakers should use English terms and expressions when dealing with national or local matters. Do Dutch speakers feel excluded when local council members do so in public meetings? Should local council mmbers be more sensitive to their audience, whose interests they are after all representing? If doctors are taught to communicate with their patients in a jargon-free language, shouldn’t council members do so too? Many foreign terms have taken root already in the Dutch language, but perhaps now we have reached a point where we need to draw the line. What do the readers of this blog think?


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