By Wouter Zwijnenburg

Sono Wouter Zwijnenburg, stenografo del parlamento olandese.Vi presento la Stanza della Lingua (de Taalkamer) del nostro Ufficio di Resocontazione e le misure per stabilire un’unità d’uso della lingua nei resoconti integrali dei dibattiti.

La nostra soluzione è la sezione domande/risposte della rete intranet e la lista delle parole. Quest’ultima è disponibile per tutti i resocontisti, ha una semplice opzione di ricerca ed è costantemente aggiornata dai colleghi. I membri della Stanza della Lingua decidono i concetti o lo status permanente di ogni parola aggiunta.

Di recente è stata prodotta una versione revisionata delle linee guida dell’Ufficio di Resocontazione olandese, che tiene conto dell’uso corrente della lingua scritta e orale.

Inoltre, l’Ufficio ha sviluppato app e dispositivi per diffondere la pratica parlamentare al pubblico tramite testi, immagini e video in diretta e in differita.

Oltre a produrre sottotitoli, scriviamo testi leggibili e utili per la futura pratica giudiziaria, rimanendo fedeli allo stile e al linguaggio originale e mantenendo aggiornato l’uso della lingua.

Questo intervento può essere ulteriore spunto di dibattito sul tema.

My name is Wouter Zwijnenburg, for already 36 years I am a stenographer in the Dutch House of Representatives and Senate.

I will be giving a short presentation about The Language Room, a subdivision of the Dutch Parliamentary Reporting Office, and its constant struggle to reach some form of unity in the use of language in the reports of the Dutch Parliament.

On a regular parliamentary day it is not unusual that thirty co-workers work on the verbatim report of the parliamentary proceedings. And those employees all have their own opinion about language and the role of the Reporting Office. And they all have their own linguistic hobbyhorses.

We all have our particular thoughts about language and about what is right and what is wrong.

But because we don’t want a report in which you can easily recognize the moment another reporter is taking her turn, we need some authority to guide us, like in real life.

Enter The Language Room, de Taalkamer. Five colleagues striving for the best possible verbatim report. And some form of unity in the use of language in the Dutch parliament.

How? By our own corner on the intranet site, with a question/answer facility

And our list of words. Available for everyone working in the parliament building. The list has an easy search option en at this moment contains some 5.200 words. Growing every week. Every colleague can add words to the list. The members of The Language Room decide on the concept or permanent status of the added word. What kind of words? Foreign names and places, organizations, laws, sayings, etc.

But writing down the names and words in the same way is of course only a first step. We definitely need more to reach unity.

With some pride The Language Room recently produced a new thoroughly revised version of the Dutch Reporting Office guidelines. The Language Room constantly monitors the way its own language guidelines connect to the changing oral and written linguistic usage. And decided a year ago that the guide did no longer do justice to the changing practice.

Things change. The way the report is used is changing, as well as the audience. For instance, the new generation is much more into images then into text. That’s why the Dutch Parliamentary Reporting Office invested in apps and devices to disclose the parliamentary practice to the public.

Nowadays, everyone can watch a debate via the app DebateDirect. And everyone who missed a debate can watch it via MissedDebate. Those are subtitled by the verbatim report. The subtitles are added within 36 hours. By doing this, everyone who watches a debate on MissedDebate has an insight in our work. They hear the words and can see what we’ve done to them.

This limits of course our freedom to alter words and sentences. Much more than in the good old days we have to be able to justify all our interventions in parliamentary speeches.

Nevertheless, providing subtitles is not our major business. We still have to produce texts that are readable and of use for future investigation and for the judicial practice.

So yes, we really needed a new guide.

It contains rules and recommendations about:

  • spelling
  • what do we record, what do we omit from the report
  • style
  • punctuation
  • capital/small letters
  • numbers in digits or letters
  • compounds with or without other languages
  • the particular nature of political speech
  • and so on, and so on

In the guide the rule ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ has a more prominent place than before. No more remarks like ‘I changed the sentence, because I think it’s better this way’ or ‘my tutor once told me’. No, we write down what is said in a readable form/shape. That means that we will remove stopgaps/fillers like ‘you know’, that we will sometimes replace subordinate clauses, that we will cut sentences in two, et cetera. But when a minister uses the word ‘extraordinary’ in every two sentences, he will do the same in the report.


The tendency is:


We know it better, so we change your words


We know it better, but you said it like this


We must not forget an important role of the parliament in the devopment of speech and language. Lots of new expressions and words are born in the parliament. We have to suppress our relentless urge for correctness and allow new expressions and words to see daylight. However ugly they are in our views.

An example: to communicate. It was only used in this way: to communicate with someone about something. A few years ago people started to use phrases like this one: we communicated this. Wrong, the stenographers said, and changed it into something like: we have spoken about this. But the use of ‘to communicate’ in this way soon became more usual. So at a certain moment we have to decide that we no longer change it. In this process The Language Room plays a role, together with the Quality Division.

Again, new words and new ways of saying things are emerging every day. Some as a flash in the pan, some here to stay.

And: parliamentary speech reflects and influences media and daily life liguistic usage.

We are not writing essays, we are writing the verbatim report.

Will this reduce our beautiful job to that of a typist? This fear is quite often expressed, but unnecessary. Dutch politicians are not always gifted speakers. And I think it will not be very different in other parliaments. There is still a lot of work to be done in the ‘translation’ from spoken word to readable sentences on screen or on paper. Our job might even be more difficult, now our almost limitless editing freedom has ended.

By providing guidelines and encouraging discussion The Language Room tries to keep the work of the Dutch Reporting Office and the views on correct usage up-to-date. It would be great when we can exchange ideas and practices. In what way reporting is changing in your own parliament? How do you strive for unity in reporting? Do you correct unintentional mistakes of a speaker? Do you record incomplete sentences or do you reformulate them into complete ones? Etc.

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