German lawmakers mandatecontroversial spelling reforms
8 October 2004 , BERLIN - Capping five years of debate, a panel of German lawmakers gave final approval to controversial reforms of the spelling of hundreds of words in the German language. Premiers of the nation's 16 regional states gave their approval to the spelling reforms, which will now be binding in schools and government offices nationwide starting 1 August 2005. The 2005 reforms will mark the first time since 1903 that speakers of German have been told to change the way they write - periodic atte
8 October 2004
BERLIN - Capping five years of debate, a panel of German lawmakers gave final approval to controversial reforms of the spelling of hundreds of words in the German language.
Premiers of the nation's 16 regional states gave their approval to the spelling reforms, which will now be binding in schools and government offices nationwide starting 1 August 2005.
The 2005 reforms will mark the first time since 1903 that speakers of German have been told to change the way they write - periodic attempts at reforms always having been doomed to failure in the past.
Unlike French, there is no academy that establishes rules of usage or spelling in German. Instead, government officials in Germany, Austria and Switzerland establish norms for use in tax-funded schools and offices - with the rest of the population falling into step.
Critics blasted the fact that "government bureaucrats" are telling people how to write and have urged a boycott.
Amid acrimonious debate, three of the state premiers opposed the new spelling rules, but were unable to obtain a mandatory unanimous vote to overturn them.
Major book, magazine and newspaper publishers have vowed to ignore the reforms, as have scores of authors, including Nobel literature laureate Guenter Grass.
But the reforms, aimed at simplifying the spelling some of the German language's ponderously long words, have been in use in most schools since they were introduced more than five years ago.
"It is senseless and confusing to switch back to the old spellings now, seeing as how 14 million schoolchildren up and down this nation have been using the new spellings since 1998," said Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit, who headed the meeting of state premiers. As mayor of the city-state of Berlin, he qualifies as a state premier.
The new spellings are binding only for school textbooks and for governmental agencies. However, German-language dictionaries have adopted the changes, as have the vast majority of publishing houses.
The rules have also been adopted by Austria and ethnic German parts of Switzerland, and a pullout by Germany would have sent reverberations through both of those German-speaking countries.
Critics object to modernisations of some words, such as changing the spelling of "delphin" (dolphin) to "delfin" as well as "philosophie" (philosophy) to "filosofie".
Also, the list of reforms drawn up by a panel of linguists and state bureaucrats includes some neologisms that look odd even to Germans accustomed to uncommonly long words.
"Flussschifffahrt" (river shipping) with a triple "S" and a triple "F" has been almost universally condemned as downright silly-looking. Hitherto, only double consonants were used in such cases.
Opposition to the new rules peaked this past summer when Der Spiegel news magazine and the nation's largest newspaper publishing house, Springer Verlag, announced plans to boycott the reforms.
But the opposition began to crumble in recent weeks, especially after German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder refused to lend his weight to the anti-reform forces. Like Wowereit, the chancellor said it would not be fair to schoolchildren to backtrack now.
Springer, publisher of such big-circulation papers as Bild and Die Welt, returned to what it calls the "classical German spelling rules" this week in all of its publications.
But Der Spiegel and a number of other magazines and newspapers have quietly dropped their opposition citing the cost and difficulty of reprogramming computers to accommodate multiple variants of spelling rules.
A recent survey of its German media customers by Deutsche Presse- Agentur dpa showed no broad consensus for abandoning the spelling reforms, although most newspaper editors and their staffs felt the reforms were superfluous.
Subject: German news