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German Spelling Reform Proves Difficult

It’s been nearly ten years, but Germans still aren’t following the new spelling rules.

by Christa Martin

In 1994 a bill was passed changing the German system of spelling (officially known as “orthography”). From that date on, Germans were assured, German spelling would prove to be easier, as everything would be spelled in the same way it is pronounced.

What has happened in the last nine years? And what were the main changes?

More than 75% of the German population still has major difficulties with the reform. One of Germany's most important newspapers Die Frankfurter Zeitung, refuses to use the new spelling, even though newpapers have been required by law to use it since 1999.

Public authorities do not use the reform yet either because they have not yet been sufficiently trained in using the new spelling. More tax money is needed to train them and to finance the millions of school books that have to be replaced with texts adhering to the new spelling rules.

So far it is generally felt that the whole reform has not had any advantages. Many people are now asking that the whole reform be called off. They complain that the reform is a violation of the language of Goethe, Schiller and Hegel.

It is also pointed out that, unfortunately, the refrom has not had the effect of reducing students’ spelling mistakes. High schoolers make as many mistakes as they always did, even more. They get confused, because they see all the old spelling in their daily environment and in their favortie books. Yet too much time has passed now to call off the reform; by 2005 everyone will have to use the new orthography—and by 2050 hardly anyone—it is hoped—will remember the old way of spelling things.

Some of the changes in German spelling:

  • foreign words: foreign words are now spelled "German," e.g Saxophon (old), Saxofon (new); Joghurt (old), Jogurt (new).
  • compounds: Schiffahrt (old for navy), Schifffahrt.
  • ß: in most cases ß (old) turns to ss , e.g daß (old for that), dass (new).
  • punctuation: punctuation has become so confused that everyone does it as he/she wishes.

Christa Martin, a German university student of English and German language and linguistics, is an intern with the Baltimore Chronicle & Sentinel.


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This story was published on August 15, 2003.
  
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