Language is a tool
By itself it serves no purpose; it is there to be used. Dutch speakers must be able to use their language as effectively as possible. All Dutch speakers, no matter where they come from, need their language in order to survive on a day-to-day basis, whether at home or at work, in school or out.
The Taalunie develops practical tools that help Dutch speakers use their language effectively in as many situations as possible. Those tools range from dictionaries and grammars to certificates in Dutch as a foreign language and Internet resources, for example a digital library of Dutch literary works. In the abstract sense, such tools may consist of rules and regulations that allow Dutch speakers to read decisions and laws produced by the European Union in their own language.
The philosophy of the Taalunie is expressed in its instrumental approach to policy. Our purpose is to help language users, and our policy is guided by what such users want and need. That's why the Taalunie pays close attention to the social function of language and language policy. The extent to which people are able to function in society and participate in the community is often determined by their language, how they use it and their language proficiency.
Language is increasingly going digital. Digital tools are becoming more important. We use them to look up things on the Internet, translate between languages, consult voice-controlled information services, carry out research and development and share ideas. The Taalunie manages a vast number of digital databases; a few examples are its on-line language advice service (Taaladvies), its list of geographical place names, and various terminology databases. Because the databases are digital, they can be linked to one another and combined to produce striking synergies.
Digital resources can only be used to their best advantage when they are accessible for universities, companies, the government and individuals. It's also vital to update, expand and manage the databases properly. That's why the Taalunie is involved in setting up a consortium for human language technologies, the HLT Agency (TST-centrale), which will pool various resources and forms of expertise.
The Taalunie is working to set up the HLT Agency (TST-centrale): a consortium for human language technologies. The HLT Agency is a collection of digital language facilities that are managed from a single location. The collection includes Dutch language corpora, lexica and vast pronunciation databases, terminology databases and bilingual electronic dictionaries. These are extremely important resources for science and the business world. They can be used to develop voice-controlled information services, for example travel information. The HLT Agency ensures that all stakeholders have quick access to these resources and can make use of them under transparent terms and conditions.
Babylon in Brussels
One of the challenges of a united Europe is how to deal with multilingualism. Is Europe merely a tower of Babylon? What is the price tag attached to multilingualism and can we control the costs if the EU continues to expand? How many working languages will the EU designate and when will they be used? And what is the position of languages like Dutch, with a medium-sized population of speakers? These are all questions that the Taalunie is exploring, and its efforts have produced results. For example, the Taalunie has developed four modules for computerised translation as part of the NL-Translex project. Translation services use the modules to translate texts in and out of Dutch quickly. The Taalunie is also working with other national organisations to develop a Europe-wide policy on language, aimed at supporting the official European languages and promoting multilingualism. One product of this cooperation is the founding of a European Federation of National Institutions for Language (EFNIL), in which the Taalunie plays a key role.
Spelling and grammar
The official spelling rules were last amended in 1995. Since then, everyone has got used to the changes that were introduced. Although the new spelling system has shown itself to be effective, some improvements are still possible at word level. In 2005, a revised edition of the official spelling dictionary - popularly known as Het Groene Boekje (The Little Green Book) - will be published incorporating those improvements. The spelling rules themselves will remain unchanged. In addition to Het Groene Boekje, the Taalunie also manages other basic reference works, for example the Spoken Dutch Corpus (Corpus Gesproken Nederlands) and bilingual translating dictionaries. These products will be updated as required in the coming years and be made available to a broad readership, specifically in digital form.