It’s ‘przewalskipaard’: TV’s Great Dictation is axed

Photo: HandigeHarry via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: HandigeHarry via Wikimedia Commons

Educational public broadcaster NTR is axing the annual spelling test The Great Dictation after 26 years because of declining viewing figures, the Volkskrant reports.

‘The dictation was an institution for years but now it is past its sell by date,’ NTR producer Willemijn Francissen told the paper. ‘Our language is changing, you can tell from how young people are using it on social media. That never made its way to the dictation. It was too archaic.’

The dictations – which in later years were written by authors such as Herman Koch and Kees van Kooten –  were famously difficult. Hardly any of the famous and not so famous contestants or the people participating at home were able to spell ‘przewalskipaard’ correctly while ‘dedaigneuze’ generated quite a few victims as well.

The contest also confirmed the – friendly – rivalry between the Dutch and the Flemish, with the Belgian Dutch-speakers pipping the Dutch to the post in the final reckoning by three wins.

Viewing figures for the programme ran into over a million in the 1990s but the last two years showed a sharp decline: from 722 thousand to 368 thousand, the paper said.

Presenter Philip Freriks is not happy about the demise of the dictation. ‘The programme has a certain stature and I think it should be handled with care. We should say goodbye to it in style at least. But no. We are being put out with the rubbish and I’m really pissed off about it.’

Freriks brought the format to the Netherlands from France where he worked as a correspondent. ‘It is anti-tv really, slow television: you’re watching people writing. And it works because it challenges people. They are reminded of their school days and they want to know if they still have the ability to do it and if the famous will make lots of mistakes,’ the told the paper.

According to Freriks scheduling issues are responsible for the loss of many viewers. ‘But to be unceremoniously brushed aside like this..they almost seem to be relieved to be rid of us.’

The NRT has rejected a more modern version of the dictation but is looking at another programme about language which it will launch in the autumn.

There won’t be a final Great Dictation, Francissen said, because the venue – the programme is filmed in the Senate building – is too expensive and ‘you don’t want to hold on to something that no longer works.’, the Volkskrant quotes her as saying.

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