In their book Authority in Language, Milroy and Milroy write that English has a well-established “complaint tradition” and that such a tradition is “typically found in communities that have highly developed standard languages” (2012: 39). But how about Dutch? In contrast to English newspapers, where letters-to-the-editor commonly deal with linguistic complaints (our very own Morana Lukač recently published a paper on the topic), Dutch newspapers rarely publish such complaints. With, admittedly, rare exceptions like this one on modifying adjectives like unique (which btw is also an English usage problem).
It is hard to get information from editors about this. When I last wrote to NRC-Handelsblad about this (I was hoping to be able to arrange for an internship there as a means of infiltrating the editorial office and find out), I never received a reply, nor was my own letter-to-the-editor (which I wrote by way of a test) ever published. But now that I have a monthly feature on language in the weekly paper Den Haag Centraal, I spotted a good opportunity. Though when I asked the paper’s chief editor, Casper Postmaa, he told me that they never receive such letters, on language, that is. Undoubtedly to my disappointment, he added, but I’m sure not to his. Apparently their spelling has been tested as being rather good, much in contrast to the national NRC-Handelsblad. This indeed had been the subject of my complaint: three spelling errors in one short article.
So do The Netherlands not have a linguistic complaint tradition then? Perhaps it is because we complain about everything else: the weather, over-crowded trains, you name it. The weather is nice today, and I’m working from home, so no complaints from me at the moment. But what about the language?
Very interesting! Do the Dutch have other ways to air usage complaints?There are two German Twitter accounts for errors in orthography: Deppenapostroph (@deppenapo) and Deppenleerzeichen (@dppnlrzchn) dedicated respectively to misused apostrophes and space characters. And I’ve seen several recent German on-line articles and posts on the misuse of apostrophes.