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Germans balk at effort to simplify their spelling rules
Christian Science Monitor ^ | Friday, August 13, 2004 | Isabelle de Pommereau

Posted on 08/13/2004 9:59:14 PM PDT by Stoat

FRANKFURT - Mark Twain found its rules - and exceptions - so complicated, he dubbed it "The Awful German Language." Indeed, experts have struggled to streamline Germany's notoriously difficult spelling rules. Then six years ago, German culture ministers and other German-speaking countries forged a controversial agreement.

Among other things, it replaced the idiosyncratic ß, called Esszet, with a double "s" at times. It loosened the use of commas, Germanized foreign words - so that "spaghetti" became "spagetti" and "ketchup" "ketschup" - and broke up interminable compound nouns.

The new spelling was sold in schools as a breakthrough reform. But it was detested by many intellectuals.

Still, millions of children learned the new rules, publishers reprinted all their schoolbooks and dictionaries, and most newspapers switched to the new writing style. Now, one year before it becomes irreversibly binding in the schools, the reform effort is in jeopardy.

A televised spelling blunder by Lower Saxony premier Christian Wulff revived deep resentment over the issue. After blaming his poor performance on confusing rule changes, he led an initiative to dump the reform. The ensuing debate has aroused emotional questions of money, politics, and national identity.

"It cannot be that, as a result, everyone writes as they want and that there is no accepted order any more," said Edmund Stoiber, the conservative state premier of Bavaria, one in five state premiers who wants the reform scratched. "Clarity in the German language is the core of our cultural identity. The spelling reform has brought in considerable insecurity."

The pressure to go back to the old rules intensified last week after Germany's leading publishers, Spiegel and Axel Springer, which publishes the Bild tabloid, said they'd switch to the old rules.

"We support necessary and sensible reforms in our society very strongly," Der Spiegel editor Stefan Aust and Axel Springer chief Mathias Doepfner said in a statement. "But the spelling reform isn't a reform, it's a step back. We want to help correct this mistake."

Critics argue the spelling reform was undemocratic and see it as an attack on the integrity of the German language. Recent surveys show that a majority of adults over 30 demand a reversal. "This reform has brought chaos: Nobody knows exactly how to write anymore," says Karin Pfeiffer, an author in Dueren. "People write as they want.... Children are insecure and disoriented."

But its supporters accuse intellectuals of stirring emotions because of their reluctant to adapt to new spelling rules. They say the changes make the language easier to learn and more logical. For instance, the new rules make it clear when the ß should be used. Real chaos looms, they argue, if children who've grown up learning the new rules must switch back to the old rules. Most teachers have supported the reform.

Money is at stake, too. Even though educators and school publishers have spent hundreds of millions of euros to implement the spelling changes, many have agreed to revert to the old rules.

Beyond the emotions stirred by whether kids end up writing "dass" or "daß," the debate has had another result.

"The real impact of this whole discussion is that people's interest in their language has become stronger," says Rudolf Hober, president of the Society for the German Language. "At a time when there's a feeling English is encroaching upon German more and more, the Germans have been thinking about their language more and more, and the spelling reform has played a key role in that."

German language reform isn't new. In the 1870s, Konrad Duden, the inventor of the German dictionary, wanted to democratize spelling by making written words match their pronunciation more closely. After enduring threats from Chancellor Otto Bismarck, Duden's recommendations were finally accepted in 1901 as Germany's first set of spelling rules, which reformers sought to iron out six years ago.

If the reform survives the massive protest, experts predict that Germans will slowly adjust, just as other countries have overcome spelling-reform reluctance.

The Netherlands and Spain altered their written languages to follow changing patterns of speech. Other countries were politically motivated. In Turkey, for example, President Kemal Ataturk imposed a spelling reform in 1928 as part of sweeping social and economic change to separate modern Turkey from Muslim traditions. Spelling reforms in Russia were part of a cultural reform of 1917. In 1945, the Danes got rid of capitalized nouns and introduced new characters to make Danish look less like German.

"Many writers are artists - they don't have a rational view of language," says Martin Haspelmath, a language researcher at the Max-Planck Institute in Leipzig. "They think that their words have to appear in specific forms.... They have an archaic, quasi-religious view of language, like in Islam, the Koran has to be written in Arabic."

"Linguistic rules weren't created by God," says Haspelmath. "They were created by humans, and humans have different views.


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Foreign Affairs; Germany; Government; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: germany; language; linguistics; spelling

1 posted on 08/13/2004 9:59:14 PM PDT by Stoat
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To: Stoat

What did Germans do when using computers that cannot produce the esszet character?


2 posted on 08/13/2004 10:01:54 PM PDT by supercat (If Kerry becomes President, nothing bad will happen for which he won't have an excuse.)
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To: Stoat

Do they have a better language skills than Martin Luther? If not, shouldn't they leave well enough alone?


3 posted on 08/13/2004 10:03:07 PM PDT by GSlob
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To: Stoat
Mark Twain - "The Awful German Language."
4 posted on 08/13/2004 10:04:02 PM PDT by HAL9000
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To: supercat

Probably use the ALT key plus the ASCII number for the character.


5 posted on 08/13/2004 10:04:07 PM PDT by Paleo Conservative (Do not remove this tag under penalty of law.)
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To: Stoat; Charles Henrickson; mikrofon

Ich bin ein misspeller.


6 posted on 08/13/2004 10:04:08 PM PDT by martin_fierro (Humor me.)
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To: Stoat
"At a time when there's a feeling English is encroaching upon German more and more, the Germans have been thinking about their language more and more, and the spelling reform has played a key role in that."

They're getting more like the French every day. But the Germans should be more worried about the encroaching Turkish language.

7 posted on 08/13/2004 10:08:37 PM PDT by xJones
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To: Charles Henrickson; mikrofon
Er, make that:

"Ich bin ein mißpeller"

8 posted on 08/13/2004 10:09:08 PM PDT by martin_fierro (Humor me.)
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To: Stoat

Forget spelling, can they do something about all those dang rules for adjective ending, and making plurals? I mean, there are what, 52 possible different adjective endings? That's nuts!

Fyi, they already changed their alphabet and cut down what was once dozens of comma rules to something like 4. Just about everyone in Germany speaks English. Maybe someday they will wise-up and drop German altogether.

But keep the esszet (Scharfe's 'S'?). It is cool.


9 posted on 08/13/2004 10:09:19 PM PDT by explodingspleen (When life gets complex, multiply by the complex conjugate.)
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To: Paleo Conservative
Probably use the ALT key plus the ASCII number for the character.

It's not part of the original standard ASCII set; while most computers nowadays have it, that wasn't always the case. Even today, not all computer equipment can produce it.

10 posted on 08/13/2004 10:12:22 PM PDT by supercat (If Kerry becomes President, nothing bad will happen for which he won't have an excuse.)
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To: supercat
What did Germans do when using computers that cannot produce the esszet character?

Zey are sscrewed!

Actually, when I used German keyboards over there they worked okay, except that the y and z for some reason were transposed, making for lots of corrections.

11 posted on 08/13/2004 10:13:09 PM PDT by struwwelpeter
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To: Stoat

In other words, ebonics for the Germans. I'll bet they're sorry they lost the war now.


12 posted on 08/13/2004 10:25:46 PM PDT by henderson field
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To: xJones
But the Germans should be more worried about the encroaching Turkish language.

At the time, about a year after the Wall fell, Germans were fit to tied. A few years later, they stopped squawking.I can't figure out what happened or why.

13 posted on 08/13/2004 10:33:56 PM PDT by lizma
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To: GSlob

The problem here is the simple German mentality....they cannot leave something well enough alone. Their constant tendency to keep going back and updating or improving something is legendary...but it also starts to show problems with society in general. These professors who met and decided upon the language change...are actually part of the German government, and paid for their employment. When they dictated that hundreds of rules must change...there was no challenge...like the Jews, they simply accepted the changes initially. But as months have gone by...its obvious that the bulk of German society don't want this improvement. The fascinating thing, is that the printed media is the group that is simply drawing the line...if they don't cooperate, then the changes simply won't work (unless government penelities take place)...and I'm guessing that this is what the media is gauging itself for. If the government wants this changes bad enough...they will have to fine the media for not going to the new rules.


14 posted on 08/13/2004 10:38:51 PM PDT by pepsionice
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To: struwwelpeter
except that the y and z for some reason were transposed,

QWERTZ?

Is the Z used more than Y in German? Wasn't QWERTY originally designed to slow down typists enough so as to allow
the mechanically levered typewriters to work without jamming?

15 posted on 08/13/2004 10:47:25 PM PDT by Calvin Locke
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To: struwwelpeter

Fortunately for us, English has very simple rules.

i before e except after c, though is pronounced thow with the th pronounced softly, unless you follow it with a t, then it becomes a hard th, and ough is pronounced "ah". But if you you insert an "r" after the th, then you pronounce the ough "ooo". bow is pronounced like bough unless it is pronounced like boe and in bow and arrow. X is pronounced as a "z" when it is the first letter of a word, sign is pronounced "syne" unless it is followed by "ature", then the "g" must be pronounced and the i is pronounced like the "i" in "sin". to is pronounced 2 just like "two" is and "too" is. Of is pronounced "ov" unless there are two "f"'s. Then it's pronounced "awf". Oven is pronounced "uvven" unless a "w" is placed in front, then the "o" is pronounced "oh". And that's just the beginning folks.........just the beginning.


16 posted on 08/13/2004 10:50:08 PM PDT by Iam1ru1-2
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To: pepsionice
ALARUM, WO IST MEIN WORTERBUCH? And my umlaut key, too. Wir sind los!
17 posted on 08/13/2004 10:52:23 PM PDT by BIGLOOK (I once opposed keelhauling but have recently come to my senses.)
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To: Calvin Locke
Wasn't QWERTY originally designed to slow down typists enough so as to allow the mechanically levered typewriters to work without jamming?

DA

18 posted on 08/13/2004 10:55:55 PM PDT by GeronL (KERRY: "I went to Cambodia with the CIA and all I got was a hat")
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To: Calvin Locke

Pretty much every language has it's own keyboard to go with their fonts.

19 posted on 08/13/2004 10:56:58 PM PDT by struwwelpeter
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To: struwwelpeter

Does this mean that the next time they decide to take over the world, nobody will be able to understand them and just laugh and humilate them into surrendering?

"Gott in Hiemmel! How can ve be der Master Race if no von understands us, da?"

"Vat zat you zay, Fritz?"

"Vat you zay, Hermann?"


20 posted on 08/13/2004 11:19:22 PM PDT by WestVirginiaRebel (I'll put George W. Bush's four years in office over Kerry's four months in Vietnam any time!)
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To: Iam1ru1-2

The nice thing about English is that it's non-inflected. But it's so close to German that an English speaker should have no problem with German, except for its impossible grammar. In English, for example (with a very few exceptions) people, animals and children are male or female; everything else is neuter. In German every inanimate object has a gender ascribed to it, and there are no rules for determining which gender it is, other than simply knowing it by rote.


21 posted on 08/14/2004 12:54:12 AM PDT by Mr Ramsbotham ("This house is sho' gone crazy!")
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To: supercat

Germans have keyboards that produce the Esszet as well as the umlauts (ä, ö, ü).

You should see a Swiss Keyboard!! They have both the german AND the french special characters on the same keys!!!

This nonsense has been going on over here for years now - it's quite silly.

There was recently a proposal to let the people decide by referendum - the gal responsible refused - commenting that the people have "more important" things to worry about a shouldn't be bothered.

Funny thing though is that, instead of "simplfiying" the rules, they have only succeeded in creating exceptions.

German used to be easy to learn because everything was spelled according to defined rules with very few exceptions. Even the adjective endings are easy if you follow ~5 rules.

Now, everything is confused.

For example, the combation "ph" (as is Physics, dolphin, etc...) is to be replaced with "f". So, "delphin" becomes "delfin", but Philisophie remains unchanged - WHY?? - because it is an "ancient" word and the reformers didn't "dare" change it!!

So, learning to spell, now becomes a matter of memory instead of a matter of pronunciation / rules.


22 posted on 08/14/2004 1:19:49 AM PDT by An.American.Expatriate (A vote for JF'nK is a vote for Peace in our Time!)
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To: martin_fierro; Charles Henrickson
Good catch there -- now you won't get a visit from the Gesprapo...
23 posted on 08/14/2004 8:25:21 AM PDT by mikrofon (Geheime Sprache-Polizei)
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To: supercat
What did Germans do when using computers that cannot produce the esszet character?

Any modern computer can produce them even if the keyboard is not specifically set up for them.

To type letters with umlauts or accents on Windows, hold down the ALT key and then type the appropriate numbers on the numeric keypad (NOT the numbers across top of keyboard). Let go of the ALT key and the letter will then appear.

(Hold down ALT key) + 225 (Let go of ALT key) = ß

For German:

ä - 132
ë - 137
ö - 148
ü - 129
ß - 225
Ä - 142
Ö - 153
Ü - 154

For Spanish:

á - 160
é - 130
í - 161
ó - 162
ú - 163
Á - 0193
É - 0201
Í - 0205
Ó - 0211
Ú - 0218
ñ - 164
Ñ - 165
¿ -168

24 posted on 08/14/2004 8:56:55 AM PDT by Polybius
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To: Polybius
Any modern computer can produce them even if the keyboard is not specifically set up for them.

Windows boxes can produce that character, and I believe it's in the Macintosh character set as well, but prior to code page support MS-DOS based machines could not produce it (and even then, EGA/VGA displays could show it but CGA/MDA displays could not).

To be sure, almost all computing is done with GUI-boxes, but there are still applications that use ASCII terminals or whose character sets don't include the esszet character.

BTW, note that Alt-224 is an alpha and Alt-226 is a Gamma. What do you suppose Alt-225 might have been on the PC character set before Microsoft stuck the esszet there?

25 posted on 08/14/2004 11:12:41 AM PDT by supercat (If Kerry becomes President, nothing bad will happen for which he won't have an excuse.)
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